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Let's go back to 1853, when the Genesee Valley Canal arrived in Belfast with much pomp and celebration. A large warehouse was built the next year along the canal at West Hughes Street. The three-story structure was the shipping and receiving center for everything and everyone that moved along the canal through Belfast.

Within 20 years, fortunes had changed. The Pennsylvania Railroad bought the towpath, and built its depot almost directly across the street. The warehouse lay abandoned. But soon the warehouse acquired a new life. Around 1905 the place was purchased by Mike and Antoinette DeCilio. Soon the hand-hewn beams and wooden walls were covered with gaudy wallpaper. The first floor became a barroom and the second floor was partitioned into tiny "bedrooms'. The old warehouse was a new whorehouse!

With three railroads laying tracks through town, Belfast was a 'gun-totin' boomtown. It boasted four hotels downtown and numerous flophouses in the "Little Italy" district, where workers built their flimsy shanties.

Plenty of shenanigans went on around DeCilio's, but the most infamous occurred on the night of April 20, 1910. That night, an angry exchange led to gunfire. When it was over, deputy sheriff Norman Chalker lay dead. Bruce Gleason, owner of a nearby bar who had rushed over to investigate the noise, died the next day of gunshot wounds. With the murders, it became apparent to the fine citizens of Belfast that happenings at DeCilio's could lead to embarrassing situations, particularly since so many of them could be called as witnesses at the upcoming murder trial. Three months after the slayings, DeCilio's was raided. Unlike previous occasions, where charges had either been dropped or fines paid (some say the Mafia was involved), this time the charges stuck. Justice was swift. Although the trial was almost farcical the DeCilio's were charged with "conducting a disorderly house" and ordered to leave Allegany County never to return.

Eventually the Decilio's son-in-law, Fred DeCapua, was tried for the double murder. He was acquitted in another shabby excuse of a trial. After the hasty departure of the DeCelio's, the brothel once again became warehouse for tools, machinery and farm implements, passing through several owners.

But its notoriety would not lay sleeping. In 1942, the other Decilio son-in-law, Lucio Vicchiano who had fled the night of the murders, was brought back from Birmingham, AL to stand trial. Evidently there was "bad blood" amongst the DeCilio clan that had simmered for 32 years. Lucio too was acquitted. The warehouse, and the village, returned to dormancy.

In 1990 the Belfast Lions Club purchased the property, with plans to restore the building. "If it hadn't been purchased, it would have been torn clown," Bill Heaney, Lions Club member, said. The plan envisions a combination of Canal Museum and Community Center. Preliminary work has been done to stabilize the deterioration and confirm the building's authenticity as the only remaining canal structure still at its original site. With local support, perhaps this old derelict will once again stand tall and proud, the center of activity for the community.

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