History Days brings Fredonia back in time
Fredonia celebrated its history Saturday with a special ceremony.
Mount Vernon resident Daniel Lyons found a World War I medal when he was a child, and has kept it safe for decades. He thought the medal should be returned to were it belongs, so he contacted town of Pomfret Historian Todd Langworthy.
The medal has Pomfret inscribed on back, which is how Lyons knew where it belonged. It will be on display at the Darwin R. Barker Library in a custom-made medal case donated by Fredonia Hardware.
“This is a very rare medal,” Langworthy explained. “He (Lyons) had it cleaned before he sent it to me. These medals were given out to citizens of their towns on October 11, 1919. “I believe there were only about 20 created and there were about 200 veterans at the ceremony that day.”
The inscription on back of the coin states the medal is presented by the citizenship of Pomfret New York in recognition of patriotic service in World War 1917-1918.
“There was a blank spot left on the medal for the serviceman honored to go to a local store and have their name engraved on it, but this one is blank,” Langworthy said. “There is no way of knowing which veteran this medal belongs to.”
The American Legion had just been established after World War I, Langworthy added.
“This remains a mystery, which makes it very interesting,” he said. “Lyons had something valuable, and took the time to call me and ask about the medal. He chose to loan it to us, but may consider letting us keep the medal. He said it isn’t a family heirloom, so it means more to us than it does to him. He wants it to have a good home here. It is a neat story with a happy ending.”
AUTHOR DISCUSSES TRAINS
Author Ken Springirth has a passion for history, particularly trains. During Fredonia History Days, he gave a brief summary of local railroad history and street cars possibly making come back.
“Dunkirk is the major builder of steel locomotives in the United States,” he said. “You are blessed with beautiful communities; you are very fortunate. The Historical Society here does an excellent job.”
Springirth resides in Erie Pa., but was born and raised in Philadelphia. His father and grandfather were street car operators, so he learned about trains at an early age. In 1957, he began taking pictures of old trolleys.
“This is a lifelong hobby of mine,” he said about his research on trolleys specifically. “I have written 23 different books on trains.”
By the 1970s there were only seven street cars left. However, after helping to rebuild Europe during the aftershock of the war, Europe began rebuilding the street-car approach and called them trains. America brought it back and called it light rail transit.
“There are now 30 modern street cars left in the United States,” Springirth said. “It is the first time in the history of the world that something was saved from going out of existence and billions of dollars was spent reclaiming the system.”
Springirth claimed he is here on a mission.
“I want people to know the importance of railroad transport and the exciting time we all live in,” he said. “The rediscovery of the transit system is bringing a whole new future. We will be energy independent. We will put people back on track.”
There was a time when Temple Street in Fredonia housed a trolley system, which allowed passengers to embark on a journey every hour to Buffalo or Pennsylvania.
OPERA HOUSE IS FEATURED
Jim Boltz gave a free tour of the Fredonia Opera House at the festival. The Opera House was constructed in 1891, due to political obligations. If someone wanted to stay in power they needed an Opera House.
“Little has changed,” Boltz said about the 123-year-old Opera House. The original seating on the floor accommodated 800 wooden chairs. “Your knees were touching your chin, because they wanted to get as many bodies in here as possible. They forgot about comfort.”
During a renovation horse hair was found lining the seats.
“For fire safety reasons the horse hair had to be cut out,” Boltz said. “Back in 1891 this whole place was gas operated. There were valves to lower or higher the lights. The gas was done to allow fumes to escape.”
When it came time to decide what to do with the deteriorating Opera House, in the 1980s a group of passionate people banded together to save the historical gem.
“There was a lot of interest in tearing this place down,” Boltz said. “The locals saw it as a pile of bricks, but due to interest from people who were not from around here, who didn’t drive by it everyday and could see the unseen riches of village hall, they put it to a vote. There was a three-to-one vote to go into debt fixing the Opera House.”
It took nine years and nearly a million dollars, which was mostly raised by grass roots groups, but it re-opened its doors in 1994.
“They wanted a formal dress and orchestra for the grand opening, but had homegrown talent instead,” Boltz said. “It was a variety show with local people. They ran a matinee and ran out of seats.”
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