Almond … nuts or river
By Kathryn Ross
December 9, 2012
ALMOND – Paddling against the current, settlers on flat-bottomed boats started on the Susquehanna River to Scranton, took the Chemung River to Painted Post and caught the Canisteo River west to reach a place on Canacadea Creek in the narrow Karr Valley that they would call Almond.
It took three weeks and the settlers would use oxen to pull the boats foot-by-foot along the Canisteo River. They would eventually abandon the long, bulky, arks and follow the twisting creek until they reached their land “where the earth meets the sky” in the Genesee wilderness of 1796, according to John F. Reynolds who wrote “The Almond Story”
No one quite knows why the town is named Almond. Legend has it that on the night the settlers met to name the town, someone passed around a bag of almond nuts and so they decided to name it Almond, or so it is written in the Beer’s “History of Allegany County” in the late 1800’s.
“And that kind of history dies hard,” said Almond native son and Allegany County Historian Craig Braack, “The settlers were right off the boat from the old world and being from Scotland, north of the River Almond, they named their new home after their old home.”
Braack’s theory seems to bear out, because according to Donna Ryan, of the Almond Historical Society, “When people from Almond moved west to Wisconsin, they named their new town after their old town, Almond.”
Braack, said the town thrived in the early 1800’s, with many mills and factories popping up along the narrow creek and Main Street.
“There is a 20- to 25-foot drop in elevation in the creek from Tip Top (the highest elevation along the Erie railroad line between New York and Chicago) which makes a great head race for any mill,” he said.
But unfortunately there was no room in the narrow valley for the town to grow and in the 1840’s it was “maxed out,” Braack said.
This is why though at one time the village was being considered as the site for the Erie Railroad shops and barns because there was so little flat land and room to grow, the shops went to Hornell spurring the growth of that city, both Braack and Ryan explained.
By the 1900’s, the economic growth of the town had stagnated and over the years fires decimated the old factory buildings on Main Street and businesses moved to the thriving city just a few miles away. Almond became a quiet village between Hornell and Alfred, but not without some notable events and distinguished people.
In 1856, the mile-long Main Street boasted stores, churches, hotels, factories and a stop on the Underground Railroad. Slaves escaping from the chains and whips in the South found refuge in a room behind a chimney in the Henry Crandall House, which still stands today. Almond author Helene Phelan noted the fact in her book, “Allegany’s Uncommon Folk” confirming the old story from Crandall’s granddaughter.
The town’s abolitionist tendency may have impelled young, Eugene Ferrin to march off to war, and become Allegany County’s first victim of the Civil War. He fell in the first Battle of Bull Run in 1861, and is buried in Almond.
It is not known if a Protection Fire Extinguisher was in the room at the Hagadorn House when Gov. Theodore Roosevelt stayed there. The extinguisher was made by George Young in his Main Street factory, The Almond Chemical Co., in the early 1900s. Young promised $10,000 to the Almond Free Library if his dry powder compound failed to put out a fire, when used correctly.
In 1931, Almond gained international fame when a trio of industrious, skilled and daring young men built their flying machine, which just happened to be “the smallest practical airplane in the world,” according to published reports of the times.
Clint Gillette, 23, Paul Coleman, 28 and DeVere Palmer, 24, sent away for plans printed in the “How To Build Your Own Airplane” article in the 1926 edition of “Science and Invention.” At the onset of the Great Depression, they scrounged the $800 needed to build the plane and purchase the engine. The 500-pound, bi-plane just 12 feet long from propeller to tail with wings spanning 22 feet flew from Hornell to Leroy (55miles) and back on a five-gallon tank, in May 1931.
What became of the yellow and black midget with a black cat painted on its side is unknown. Ryan wrote in the November 2000 issue of the Almond Historical Society Newsletter, “someone wanted to buy the plane, came to the airport to take it on a test flight, and took off, never to return and never paying for the craft.”
Linn and Helene Phelan also brought fame to Almond in the second half of the 20th century, Linn (1907-1992) a native of Rochester, moved to Almond in 1946 with his wife, Helene, after a meeting with Clara Katherine Nelson and Marian Fosdick of Alfred University. After viewing his Linwood Pottery, they urged Phelan to join the ceramic’s school’s faculty.
Linn Phelan taught art for Alfred-Almond Central Schools from 1950 to 1967 and was a guest lecturer at the NYS School of Ceramics at Alfred University. It is estimated that during his lifetime, he made more than 38,000 pieces of pottery sending his Linwood Pottery all over the United States and to Australia, West Germany and Yugoslavia.
In her lifetime, Helene Coogan Phelan (1911 – 2004) published several books concerning the history of Allegany County and the American Civil War: “And Why Not Everyman,” Allegany’s Uncommon Folk,” “The Man Who Owned the Pistols,” “And a white vest for Sam’l” and “If our Earthly House Dissolves.”
She also taught English and social studies and headed up the drama department at Alfred-Almond school from 1956 to 1976.
Linn was one of the founders of the Almond Historical Society and both Phelans were active in the community of artists in Allegany County.
Today, the history of Almond is preserved in the vintage Hagadorn House on Main Street, by the Almond Historical Society whose archivist Doris Montgomery and Secretary Donna Ryan provided much of the information for this story.
Transcribed by Kathy Bentley. Photos are from The Spectator.