Memories by Matty
Published Feb 20, 1930 in the Allegany County Democrat
Well, here we are again. Yesterday I took a ride on a trolley car out to the Pacific Ocean, distance from my rooms about six miles. In making the trip I passed three cemeteries. One contains the remains of members of the Masonic fraternity and the second of Odd Fellows. The third place of burial of the dead is an old time cemetery where many of the pioneers of this section of California were laid to their eternal rest. This plot of ground, close to the street, has stone walls around it and shows the ravage of time! The wall in many places has crumbled and presents an appearance of decay, and the absence of once dear and loved ones who probably tenderly cared for those who are committed to mother earth in this sacred and beautifully located burial ground.
In passing this particular cemetery, my mind wandered back to Wellsville and to the Johnson cemetery at the foot of West Genesee street, close to the banks of the Genesee River. And then an old, and in his time, well known resident came into my mind, one who was familiarly known as “Uncle Nat Johnson.” It is of this once quaint Wellsville character that I am prompted to make mention at this time. Sixty eight years ago, when the writer first moved with his parents to Wellsville, Nathaniel Johnson was a man well along in years then. His home was a little distance from the Erie Railroad station, where now is the freight depot of the Erie. The house was across from the tracks of the Erie railroad close to the roadway in the rear of the Wellsville Burial Case Company plant, between that and the Elmhurst Dairy. “Uncle Nat” had accumulated considerable wealth, even in that period of Wellsville’s life, having made shingles, which he shaved by hand, bought and sold lumber and made some good money in real estate that he had accumulated. He at one time owned the land where is now located the Erie property, between East Pearl street and Farnum street, I have been told, and when he sold the land to the Erie Company for the location of a passenger and freight station, Mr. Johnson had the sagacity to have stipulated in the contract made with the Erie Company that all passenger trains of the Erie Railroad should for all time make regular stops at the Wellsville station. No passenger trains allowed to go through the place without making a stop at said station. That was a mighty shrewd move on the part of “Uncle Nat,” and that contract made at the time the Erie was looking for a location, is as binding today as it was the day it was made. The Erie management has lived up to the contract, barring the exception of a few months ago when an attempt was made to cut Wellsville out of service as a regular stop for train 6, except by a flag to pick up one or more passengers, I understand. It did not last for only a brief period – I think for a couple of days. The big guns of the Erie may have “got wise” to the fact they were violating their contract. At any rate, train 6 was at once put on its regular schedule making Wellsville as before, a regular stop.
“Uncle Nat” was a frequent visitor at the station when the trains from the east pulled in. In the summer time he invariably went about the streets and over to the station to meet the incoming trains, without any covering on his feet. He was as barefooted as any boy that ever romped in the open, and he took delight in his appearance. More than one commercial man who visited the old town in those days, mistook Mr. Johnson for some poor backwoodsman hanging around the station with the hope of catching on to some job whereby to connect with a little coin. Often he was approached by some haughty Knight of the Grip and asked to carry luggage to some hotel or down town to some store where the traveling man hoped to take an order. The best part of the joke is, “Uncle Nat’ always accepted the invitation and accommodated the traveler, taking the dime or quarter that was tendered him for his service. “Uncle Nat’ could have bought and sold those he served in that capacity, and they never knew it.
Another good thing that Mr. Johnson did for the benefit of Wellsville was the provision he made for the permanent care of the grounds of the Johnson cemetery. This was left as I understand, in the care of the officials of Wellsville Lodge No 230 F.& A.M. The little burying ground was in a dilapidated condition until a few years ago when the Masonic order got busy, had a new fence placed in front of the grounds, considerable work done in improving the grounds inside the fence, and with the work contributed by the late Martin Moogan Sr., the resting place of those still in that cemetery was made much more attractive. Old grave stones that had fallen over, some of them broken were reset, weeds that overrun and hid the graves in many instances were cut and other improvements made that were real improvements. Many of those buried years ago in this cemetery have been removed to Woodlawn and are having perpetual care under the supervision of the Woodlawn Cemetery Association. The graves that are still occupied by loved ones dead and gone, and many of them without any living relatives or friends to care for, it is hoped may have the care of the Woodlawn Association in time. Would it be possible for the local order of the Masonic fraternity to use the funds left in the care of the Lodge for taking care of the ground be used for this purpose?
The original hotel building now known as the Hotel Brunswick, at the corner of North Main and West Pearl street, owned and conducted by Clark Wells, and which has recently been reconstructed and marked alternations made in the structure, was a conception of Nathaniel Johnson and one of his investments in Main Street property. At the time the building was erected, the owner’s name N Johnson was set in the upper story front of the structure, and I think is still there. Henry Wilcox was an early riser and in the summer time used to open the barroom and lobby of the hotel about six o’clock in the morning. He was in the habit of throwing the doors of the hotel open to give the place an airing and in the mean time would draw a chair in front of the door to the lobby of the hotel, set himself in the doorway where he could get the benefit of a sun bath and take in deep inhalation of fresh air. One morning as he was in his accustomed and chosen position in the doorway, a German, I cannot recall the man’s name, who peddled fresh meat about town with a two horse rig, was coming down East Pearl street to Main with his outfit. His horses were spirited animals and becoming frightened at a piece of paper that was blown up in front of them as they were about half way between the Erie tracks and Main street, shied to one side of the street and made a wild dash for Main street.. They were going at such a rapid pace when they came from Pearl street on to Main they could not make the turn quick enough to take the street, and plunged into Mr. Wilcox, who was seated in his chair in the hotel doorway. One of the animals went clear through the entrance to the hotel and landed on the floor of the hotel lobby. Mr. Wilcox was sent spinning from his chair and was severely cut and bruised on his face, arms and body. One of the horses was slightly injured but no bones were broken. The meat wagon was wedged in the doorway and took considerable work to loosen and get it out. It might be well to state that after that occurrence the early rising Landlord sought another location to take his morning sun and air.
The Old Union School
My mind now turns to the old two story wooden frame building that in the 60’s stood about where the former High School building, I mean the building that was used for the High School before the present large and handsome high school auditorium on West State was constructed. The place referred to was then known as the Wellsville Union School. Could locations of school houses, academies and colleges talk, what tales some of them might tell. Tales of joy, of disappointments of sacrifices made to get the rudiments of the English language a start toward an education, and the thrill that came when the last or highest grade had been passed through and the successful student had received his or her certificate of honor and with the graduation class exercises had been complimented by the teachers and Board of Education members. To many of them it was their last day in school; to others it was the opening of doors to a higher education to be found in some University or college, and to all it was the letting down of bars and an opportunity to enroll in the school of “hard knocks” in a big world that few of them really knew very little about. Some of the pupils who attended the old Union School and went out into the world to buck up against experienced others, found hard work and plenty of it. Some of them have made good and reached places and positions of trust and honor and are still holding the thought that anything worth having is worth working for, and have learned that education is a continuous story, a story that is never finished until the curtains of life are pulled down. These are the ones that have been successful. Others that have missed the mark they aimed at in their younger days are still hopeful, and, like some of the oil producers in the Allegany and Bradford fields, do not give up, discouraged because they have found “dry holes,” but continue to sent the drill down hoping, always hoping, that the next venture will give them a flowing well and profitable returns. A few of those who started in life’s race in those days of long ago have failed, miserably failed, and in most instances with no one to blame but themselves. How come? Bad habits, recklessness, no thought for the tomorrows, mighty poor selection of associates etc. A man is not a failure because he has not accumulated vast wealth. The hand of Fate in many cases has retarded his actions. Ill health may have been a reason for not being able to lay up a competency for old age. The men and women who have failed are the ones who have not walked in the paths of honesty, have indulged too much in “get rich quick schemes,” and forgotten to use their “nut” (good judgment,) and it may be, tarried too long with the cup that inebriates.
The writer of this was one of the little chaps who attended the Old Union School in Wellsville, and when only about “knee high to a grasshopper” had the distinction if not the honor of being the first one to open the doors of the school buildings mornings for two or three terms in the 60’s. He did the building of fires in the school house, sweeping, dusting and shoveling snow from the walks in the winter season, and when not busy with his lessons did his part to make life miserable for the man or woman who “taught young ideas how to shoot.” Among the many teachers who have held positions in the old Union School of Wellsville, may be mentioned Henry Lewis, Mr. Rankin, Mrs. Thos L. Smith, C. B. Macken and that veteran and dearly loved teacher, Mrs. Addie Elwell, who is still a loved and highly respected resident of the old town.
There was an incident in the early school days of the writer that he had never forgotten. Among those attending the Union School at the time mentioned and during the administration of Professor Rankin, the principal, were Erastus Pooler, C. B. Macken who later was a principal of the school and one Frank Orvis. Pooler and Macken had seats together at the extreme back part of the room in the second story of the building. Orvis had a seat about half way down between the front row and the seats occupied by Pooler and Macken. The writer held a seat in the third row from the front. As quite common in those days, at times paper wads rolled up by mischievous hands were sent spinning at some lad who was sitting at his desk with head bowed low over his book intent on mastering some intricate problem, to attract his attention. One day the mischievous party was either “Rast” Pooler or Chauncey Macken. The victim the paper wad was shot at was “Sell” Madison. The wad of paper fired by Pooler or Macken hit the target, Madison looked up to see who had made the assault on him. First directing his optics on the floor to where the paper wad had caromed from his head, he cautiously reached one leg out and with an eye on the teacher, Prof. Rankin, to see that he was not wise to what was going to be next in the play, “Sell” got hold of the wad. He then, cautiously looked back to the rear seats in the room and caught both Pooler and Macken with broad grins on their faces. Feeling that he had located the firing squad, “Sell” drew back his good right arm and was just ready to let the smiling faces of his suspected assailants get the wad as hard as he could possibly fire it, when something happened that was not taken into consideration. Rankin, who was a southerner, had a temper like a wild cat and before Madison had let the wad loose, he yelled: “Madison, throw that at me!” If I had complied with the demand I know darned well I could have taken a thrashing. I did not throw the wad at the principal, and he must have reconsidered his demand, for he next told me to bring the wad to him. An explanation was made that the culprit was only trying to get even with some one who had thrown the wad and hit him,. He was excused but admonished to let that be the last time of an attempt to throw anything at another pupil during school hours, inside the school room. I can not say whether it was the last time or not. There was just as much deviltry going on in schools in those days as there is now, maybe more.
To be continued
M. S. Madison
San Francisco, Cal Feb 11, 1930