Fredonia Shakespeare Club learns about Fredonia’s history in the 1890s

The Fredonia Shakespeare Club met recently for its fourth regular meeting of the 2013-2014 year at the home of Mrs. Julian McQuiston. Club President Mrs. Robert Woodbury presided.

In accordance with the theme for the year “Creativity & the Spark of Genius,” Ms. Florence McClelland presented her paper, “A Creative Community: Fredonia in the 1890’s.”

McClelland asked listeners to imagine themselves on an “amble” through the streets of downtown Fredonia. Passing familiar buildings, they were reminded of creative contributions made there, not only inside the buildings but also on the outside through architecture and redesign.

The first “stop” was the old Normal school, which was instrumental in earning early Fredonia the nickname of “Athens of the North.” While it is remembered today for its teacher training, for a time it served as a prep school. Rural youngsters, who usually ended their education with the eighth grade, were given instruction that enabled them to enter elite universities. This kind of public education was unique at the time.

After “passing” the 1891 Fredonia Opera House, restored in the 1980s, special attention was given to Interstrassen, the large home at the corner of Temple and Central. Built as a traditional Federal Style home, it was dramatically refashioned into a Queen Anne design by a young man who married Annie Moffett, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain’s) niece. Her daughter, Jean Webster, became a writer. She wrote “Daddy-Long-Legs,” a book that is still known. Mark Twain was a frequent visitor to the house, which was redesigned for the second time and has become the Larson-Timko Funeral Home.

Last “stop” on the imaginary amble was the former East Main Street home of Grace Richmond. Mrs. Richmond, the wife of a local doctor, wrote stories for magazines and 27 novels between 1905 and 1936, including the popular Red Pepper Burns series.

Members were pleased to note that both Annie Moffett Webster and Grace Richmond were members of the Fredonia Shakespeare Club, which has been meeting weekly in the fall and winter since 1885.

At the next meeting of the club, to be held at the home of Mrs. Homer Garretson, Dr. Minda Rae Amiran will present her paper entitled, “Poet to Poet: Creativity Spurred by Another.”