West Almond: A Town Caught In Time

By Mark Floegel

Times Herald Staff Writer

Olean Times Herald

August 7, 1985

Transcribed by Kathy Bentley


     West Almond – West Almond is so small……

     How small is it?

     It’s so small that most residents there have an Almond mailing address and an Angelica telephone exchange.

     Even though West Almond is a small community  - even in relation to the other small communities of Allegany County – one doesn’t have to look far to find its identity.

     It will be especially easy to find the flavor of West Almond this weekend as the town’s 300 residents are joined by friends and neighbors from around Allegany County for the community’s sesquicentennial celebration.

     ACCORDING TO TOWN Historian Paula Mitchell, the town was formed in 1833 from the towns of Angelica, Alfred and Almond.

     “Even though the town was formed in 1833, the state charter wasn’t granted until 1835, so that’s the date we had to go from in planning the sesquicentennial.” Mrs. Mitchell said.

     The first town board meeting was held in 1836.

     “They didn’t move too fast in those days,” she said.  “They only held one town board meeting a year, and they only had about one paragraph of notes from each meeting.”

     The reason that a town was formed at West Almond was because the Jamestown-Bath stagecoach line stopped at a store owned by the Prentiss family, Mrs. Mitchell said.

     “The Prentiss daughter, Narcissus Prentiss Whitman, was the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains,” she said.  “We believe her parents’ graves are here in town somewhere.  We’ve found the brother’s grave, but we haven’t found the parents’ yet.”

     THERE WERE TWO churches in town at one point, a Baptist and a Methodist.  The Baptist Church is now the town’s community center, and the Methodist church has become a non-denominational community church.

     “It’s not an active church any more,” Mrs. Mitchell said.  “There aren’t services held there on a regular basis.  We had a funeral there a few months ago and we have a wedding there every now and then, but we don’t use it for the most part.”

     The church will hold worshippers again this Sunday as past ministers of the church return to conduct an interfaith service at 10:30 a.m. as part of the sesquicentennial activities.

     The town reached its busiest around the turn of the century, when it had a population of 900 and boasted three cheese factories, a hotel and eight country school districts, with each school having from 5 – 20 pupils.

     IT WAS AT THIS time that the town also saw two of its citizens murdered.

     The only history of crime in the town is the record of births and deaths kept by the town clerk.  Present-day clerk Mary Abby Hurd says that the victims were half-brother and sister, Anna Farnham, 45, and John VanGorder 54.  The records show that both died on May 3, 1904, with the cause of death listed as “stab wounds to the body and heart.”

                  The only other information in the records shows that the two had the same mother, but different fathers.  They were both born in Geneseo and were buried in Pike.  According to Mrs. Hurd, the murders were unsolved.

                   “They may have had an idea who did it, but in a small town like this, you hate to start rumors,” Mrs. Hurd said.

                   The population of the town was artificially swelled during the Great Depression by a Civilian Conservation Corps camp on County Road 2A.

                   “The camp’s still there,” Mrs. Hurd said.  “One of the buildings is used as a home for a conservation officer and some of the other buildings are used for storage.”

                   SHORTLY AFTER THAT, IN 1937, the town spent $750 for its first voting machine.  Since then, 9,728 votes have been cast behind the machine’s curtains.  Mrs. Hurd said that the machine’s original curtains were replaced with new ones in 1983.  “They were getting so old and full of holes that people were starting to complain,” she said.

                  In addition to being the vehicle of democracy for West Almond, the voting machine is also home to a family of mice.

                  “I clean the nest out every year before the election,” Mrs. Mitchell said.  “But they always come back.  They make a nest down in front, in the middle by chewing up the town’s papers that are kept in boxes in the town hall.”

                   “I just put the papers into the new boxes so they’ll have something new to chew on,” she said.  “I’m going to go to the town board and ask for a filing cabinet.”

                   Election night remains the town’s most enduring tradition.  Mrs. Mitchell said that 80-85 percent of the town’s 164 registered voters turn out at the polls each year.”  “The split between Democrats and Republicans is about 50-50,” she said.

                   “And that’s just how they vote – 50-50,” Mrs. Hurd said.

                   At 5:30 on election night the townspeople gather at the community building for a ham, scalloped potatoes and dish-to pass supper, which lasts until around 8 p.m., leaving an hour to vote before the polls close.

                   “The election night tradition keeps us close as a community,” Mrs. Mitchell said.  “Since we don’t have a church anymore, it’s the only thing we have to keep the town together.”

West Almond A Town Caught in Time 1

From Times Herald, Aug. 7, 1985

West Almond A Town Caught in Time 2

From Times Herald, Aug. 7, 1985