Rich In History

There is a sign right about where the downtown area starts in my hometown that reads “Welcome To Albion – Where History Lives”! I like what it says and that they chose to put it right where so much history is concentrated in one place – the downtown area! Of course, they have welcome signs at the town lines telling visitors that they are entering Albion, but this sign says “yeah, we welcomed you to our town, but now we’re welcoming you to our history!” Cool……. Albion was incorporated in April 1828.

So – what makes Albion so rich in history? What are the monuments to the past? It is the buildings! You see, many of the buildings and homes around Albion, in fact most of Orleans County, were constructed of one of two types of stone that were abundant in the area. There are several rock quarries that were mined for stone – in particular, there was a stone known as Medina Sandstone (FYI – Medina is a neighboring town in the same county). First discovered in the 1820s, Medina Sandstone is a smooth slab type stone that was popular for paving blocks, walls, bridges, and as blocks for architecture. The photo to the left shows Medina Sandstone slabs used as a walkway along one of the lovely churches that will be featured later in this post.

The other popular stone found in the area and used for building purposes was Cobblestone. During the ice age, glaciers carved out the Great Lakes and the surrounding land. The glaciers rounded and polished stones into “cobble” and the waters of what became Lake Ontario continued to work to form and smooth the stones. The resulting Cobblestone was gathered and used to construct homes and other buildings throughout the area. The photo to the left is an up close shot of the artistic detail of a wall constructed of Cobblestone and the unique masonry that holds them together.

So — here are some of the historic buildings in and around the Albion area — some constructed of Medina Sandstone, some of Cobblestone, and some used other materials, but all have a story rich in history and some even have ties to famous people!!

I’ll start with the Cobblestone buildings. Route 104 (Ridge Road) runs east and west north of Albion through the Orleans County towns of Gaines and Childs, among others. Ridge Road is a historic stage coach turnpike and is often referred to as “the road of the cobblestone houses” because there are more buildings constructed of cobblestone along a 25 mile stretch than on any other highway in America. The Cobblestone Society is focused on the preservation of the cobblestone buildings designated a National Historic Landmarks.

This first photo is of the oldest cobblestone church in North America. It is located on Ridge Road in Childs and is the church that I was married in. I wanted a special location for my wedding and always treasured the Cobblestone Museum Complex, which consists of this church, the parsonage, and several other cobblestone buildings in Orleans County. This church was built in 1834 and represented the Universalist faith. It is now a museum visited by tourists and used only for special events. The building is still true to the time with no electricity – which means that I had a true candle lit ceremony for my wedding the evening of June 21, 1985. It was a beautiful ceremony in a wonderful old church.This next photo is the parsonage situated next to the church. Also made of Cobblestone, this home was built in 1836. In 1861, a lady named Mary Ann Dwinnell purchased the house and the mortgage was held by her nephew Horace Greely, founder of the Liberal Republican Party, editor of the New York Tribune, and known as the greatest editor of his time. The house is now part of the Cobblestone Museum Complex and called the Ward House – named after Mrs. Inez Ward, the owner who sold the property to the Cobblestone Society in 1975. The home is still beautifully decorated with many of the original Victorian furnishings. The personal significance of this structure is that my bridesmaids and I used it to dress before my wedding. It made for a very romantic setting to prepare for a wedding.
Now, let’s move on to the fabulous churches and other historic buildings in Albion. First – the most distinctive church in town – the First Universalist Church, also known as the Pullman church. This church was constructed of Medina Sandstone and looks much like an incredible castle. It was built in 1894 by George Pullman (of the Pullman railroad sleeper car fame) in memory of his parents, who resided in Albion in the 1840s. George Pullman had his personal architect draw up the plans and was involved throughout the construction of the building. Additionally, Louis C. Tiffany was present for the installation of 41 windows created by his Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. This beautiful church is one of Albion’s major treasures and is depicted in the next two photos.

The next church is the First Presbyterian Church built in 1831 and built from Medina Sandstone, including slabs that make up the steps leading up to all entrances to the church. I also included a shot from further down Main Street to show how this church has an extremely high steeple that can be seen as a focal point by those traveling through town from several directions.

St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic church is another striking building built of Medina Sandstone in the mid-late 1800s. The church is accompanied by the Catholic School, as well, shown in the photo right after the church.The following photo is of the Baptist Church located next to the Catholic Church and was constructed of brick in 1832.

The church my family attended was the First United Methodist Church – also constructed of brick in 1832.

The County Courthouse is a Greek Revival Style dome building constructed of brick in 1856.

And, finally, Albion has a famous prison with significant historical value. Construction for the “Western House of Refuge for Women” began in April 1892. The institution opened in December 1893 and was designed as a “refuge” for reformable women aged 16 to 30 charged with misdemeanors such as petty larceny, drunkenness, prostitution, and “waywardness”. The mission of the institution was to give moral and religious training to form a good character and to provide domestic training that would enable them to find employment, secure good homes, and be self supporting. Over the years, the facility went from a State Reformatory School for Women to an Institution for Mentally Defective Delinquent Women to a medium security Correctional Facility for men to a co-ed facility. Once the new Correctional Facility for Men was constructed nearby, the original building returned to a Women’s Correctional Facility, which is as it stands now.The most notable inmate that the Albion facility has had was Amy Fisher (of Joey and Mary Joe Buttafuco fame) – she spent a part of her sentence for her attack on Mary Joe Buttafuco in the Albion facility.

So — that is a sampling of the rich history of my home town!!! Watch for a post about the schools and one on an incredible historic cemetery in the next day or so.

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