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“Tales of the Past” by Frank Connor

Tales of the Past

Chapters 1 thru 5 - The Hemlock Fair.

by Frank Connor


The year 1930 marks the sixty-third anniversary of the Hemlock Lake Union Agricultural Association, which for the past fifty-three years has been held at the Whitney and Ackley driving park. Records tell us that this fair grew out of race meets held on the road running south from Divon place at Livonia about 1850. Running races were also held on the road at Livonia Center which comes out at the Union Cemetery. Here horsemen from Conesus, Livonia, South Livonia and other nearby places gathered to train, time and race their horses. These meets eventually attracted so many people that in 1859 it was voted to hold a town fair and the “Green” at Livonia Center was chosen for the location, the race track being the roads that surrounded it. Irving Salsich of the Center is one of the few remaining jockeys who drove this track and he says many very exciting races were pulled off on it, the distance being one-quarter mile. A horse race was a race then, best horse won and feelings ran high as horses were owned and handled by local men.

About 1857 fairs were started at Honeoye and Hemlock. Richmond was noted for its sheep and this fair was practically a sheep exhibit. Here many records were made and broken, shearing. The fleeces were weighed and rivalry was great between the sheep men for sheep shearing the heaviest. The Hemlock Fair was both a sheep and horse exhibit; several farmers around here were owners of very fine horses. H. D. Kingsbury’s history of the Hemlock Fair says, “Hemlock Lake, then an active rival of its sister villages, established a union fair that was laughed at to start with”. This fair passed out of existence along with the neighboring fairs in 1861 when the Civil War broke out, but after the war was over in 1866 fairs were again started at Livonia Center and Hemlock.

Records of these fairs are not now in existence, but it is recorded that in 1866 a large crowd met in front of the Metropolitan Hotel and voted to hold a fair at Short’s driving park. There seems to be some confusion among older people as to the location of these early fairs. H. J. Wemett said the first fair after the war was held at Short’s, others say on land owned by William Bowen. I am inclined to believe that those held previous to 1866 were at Bowen’s and those held between that date and 1875 were at Short’s. In 1876 it moved to its present location. At the meeting held in 1866 when it was organized, George Fitzgerald was elected president, E. N. Carrol vice-president. H. J. Wemett secretary and Peter P. Barnard marshal. Ruel L. Blake was the second president (We have his leather bill-fold in the museum), and Allen Sylvester of Lima was the third.

From then on records have been lost until 1876, when the Gazette printed the first premium list of which we have a record. At that time Daniel Short was president, R. C. Beach and George J. Ray secretaries. Albert Swan and S. S. Doolittle treasurer. This premium list of 1876 carried advertisements from nearly all the business places in Livonia. Brown & Hulbert were advertising millinery and fancy goods, E. C. Long boots and shoes, Swan & Ganung a general feed and coal business as well as butter, eggs, pork and hides. Hemlock was represented by H. P. Hoppough, machinery; and J. C. Shardlow at Hamilton Station was selling lumber, giving ten reasons why it should be bought of him and also informing those who had lost planning mills by fire, and who were without insurance, that he would insert advertisements for rebuilding them in the “Socdloger” at half-price.

Chapter 2

In 1881 the fair was incorporated and was in very good financial condition. In 1890 things were not going so well, they fell behind and reported a deficit for the first time, not large, being only $14.50. This year had the first free attraction when they advertised that Professor M. A. Allen would make a balloon ascension and parachute jump. They paid him for this $115.00. Evidently this helped to draw a crowd, for they made $6.58. A very good year was 1893, for they came out with over $600.00 to the good.

It was in 1894 that the famous Wheeler steers were on exhibit and they were advertised to be shown at the fair. It was reported that these steers were so large that a bushel of grain could be dumped on either of their backs and not spill off. They were exhibited at the World’s fair at Chicago that year and then sold there.

In 1896 appears the first record of state appropriations, this fair drawing a little over $500.00. The Lehigh Valley railroad had completed their extension into Hemlock and the fair voted to donate to them the sum of $50.00. The railroad was giving reduced rates to the fair and operating special trains. The special attraction for 1899 was an automobile which was operated around the track and rides in it were given for 25 cents. Several people took advantage of their opportunity and I imagine that they had somewhat the same feeling come over them when they got in that as one does now in taking his first airplane ride.

A story of a country fair would not be complete without mention being made of the fakers. They were a class distinct from all others and in about 1900 they were going strong. People, especially in the country, did not get around so much as they do now and it did not take as much to keep them interested as it does now.

It was about 1909 that, “Brutus, the wild man”, put in his appearance. He was a shoemaker from Rochester and in dull times he exhibited himself as, “the only wild man in captivity”. He had abnormally large feet and hands and with his make-up on and chained down to the floor of his pen he was an awe-inspiring sight for a boy. His roaring could be heard for some distance, especially when they cast in a piece of raw beefsteak for his lunch.

There was the lady who was buried alive and to whom you could talk for 10 cents; the fellow with the den of snakes who, when the tent was filled, let the rattlesnake bite him on his arm; he had consumed such large quantities of “refreshments” that it was remarkable that the snake survived the bites. Outside of the grounds alongside of the road, before the anti-gambling laws went into effect, there generally was a shell game operating and men would stop, look, listen and take a chance with $5.00 or $10.00, but they never were lucky enough to locate the pea, and departed sadder and wiser men. The “Three-card Monte” player usually took his stand outside Morton’s hotel, and many a fellow bet his hard-earned money on the ace only to find that it was something else.

Chapter 3

E. H. Westbrook, who has been connected with the Fair association for the past forty years, hired the first free attraction, which was the balloon previously spoken of. He has the longest continuous record of any officer in the history of the association.

The first merry-go-round used around here was hired for the fair of 1876. It was a small affair with ten horses and was operated by two men turning a crank from the center. In 1881 an improved machine appeared. This one was considerably larger. It ran on a track and was operated by a cable from a horse tread. In 1885 a steam-driven machine was brought in. This machine was also operated on a track and run by cable. The mechanical organ appeared about this time.

William Mc Leod owned the grand stand and ran it until 1901, when the society purchased it from him for $675.00. Records do not show when it was built.

In 1905 there were eighty-eight fairs listed in New York State. A large percentage of them have gone out of existence in the past few years. Not being operated for profit they had no reserve to tide them over lean years.

The following is a list of presidents of the society from 1876 to date:

Dan Short 1876 - 1877 F. A. Wicker 1899 - 1900

H. P. Hoppough 1878 - 1879 J. H. Adams 1901 - 1902

Andrew Kuder 1880 - 1881 E. E. Coykendall 1903 - 1904

F. B. Francis 1882 - 1883 E. H. Westbrook 1905 - 1909

S. D. Short 1884 - 1885 Edward Dwyer 1910 - 1911

S. Bonner 1886 - 1887 W. W. Hoppough 1912 - 1914

R. H. Wiley 1888 W. A. Miller 1915 - 1919

H. P. Hoppough 1889 - 1891 J. M. Huff 1920 - 1921

E. N. Jenks 1892 - 1896 E. H. Westbrook 1922 - 1930

F. D. Short 1897 - 1898

While the society has had its share of hard luck, weather being against it on several occasions, it has never failed to pay its premiums which in late years have run into thousands of dollars. Its reputation has been good, it has meant much to the surrounding territory and we hope it can exist years yet to come.

Chapter 4

In as much as the county fair originated from meetings of local men interested in horses and racing, it might be of interest to mention a few of the jockeys and their horses who were native to this locality.

There was “Wheel” Hoppough with St. Elmo, a brown stallion, with a mark of 2:25, and a brown mare whose name is forgotten, with a mark of 2:17 1/4. Henry Gravel, of Livonia, with Honest Bob, 2:28. This horse weighed ordinarily around 1500 but raced at 1200. He was in his prime about 1890 when first money was twenty-five to thirty dollars. A. M. Bailey owned Dexter H, who had a mark of 2:19 1/4. This horse was generally driven by Bill Haggerty. These two were a familiar sight on all the local tracks and never failed to get in the money. A son of Dexter H., known as Jr., started a few times but failed to equal the mark of his sire.

For forty years Bill Haggerty has been king of the local horsemen. Owner, trainer, driver and starter, he never missed a meet. His hotel was a favorite gathering place of visiting horsemen. Evenings they met with him for the “post-mortems”, and what might have been - “ifs”. Bill knows the pedigree of every horse, whether race or farm, within a radius of several miles. He has seldom been without a horse to race and has owned some good ones: There was Maude D. at 2:30; H. D. B. at 2:15 1/4; Unna Belle at 2:10 1/4; Trilby at 2:08 1/4; Magic Pride at 2:14 1/2; and the team James D. and Pilot with a pole record of 2:28. In 1910 when Edward Dwyer was president of the society he put on a Stake Race with a purse of $1000.00, the most money ever put up on the local track. Several good horses came in for this event which was postponed on account of rain.

Chapter 5

In 1910, when Edward Dwyer was president of the society he put on a Stake Race with a purse of $1,000.00, the most money ever put up on the local track. Several good horses came in for this event which was postponed on account of rain until the 12th of October when it was raced on a frozen track and during a snow storm. The Lehigh ran an excursion train up to this race and it brought in a good crowd. The race was really between two horses, June owned by Turner of Horseheads and Lottie Hal, owner unknown. The latter won and was protested; Turner claimed that she was outlawed by the N. T. A. Late that afternoon the two owners had a heated argument in the waiting room at the depot. Evidently a satisfactory adjustment was made as things were again peaceable between them when they left town.

Horse trading was an important business and sport before the days of the automobile. It was no uncommon sight to see two men with horses stop in the road, hold an earnest discussion, look over each other’s horse and unhitch and swap. The horse traders’ fraternity was noted for the gameness of its members. When beaten they took it and did not complain but waited patiently for a chance to return the beating and pass it on. A peculiarity of theirs was, the winner always returned to the scene of his triumph to receive recognition of his ability to put it over. One old trader used to tell of a convention, as he called it, which was held near here every Sunday during good weather. This meeting started Saturday afternoon and broke up Sunday evening. It was no place for a novice. One young fellow who boasted of his knowledge of horses called one Sunday morning driving a perfectly good horse and walked home much wiser. A trader’s statements were guarded; if he lied (which sometimes happened) he told it to that there could be no come-back. To lie and get caught at it was bad. It is related by one trader, whom we’ll call Jack, that he had a wind-broken horse to get rid of, so one morning he started out to swap it off. He stopped at a gathering place in Conesus to let his wants be known. The proprietor had a horse to trade, they looked the horses over and made the trade, Jack guaranteeing his horse to be, “The soundest legged horse in the county”. About two weeks later Jack stopped to see how things were and was greeted with, “I thought you said that horse was sound”. “No - I didn’t say that - I said he was the soundest legged horse in the county”. “Oh”, the fellow said, “That’s different, I didn’t get the legged part of it.”