CANASERAGA — The Marjorie Dieter Mastin Historical Society is nestled in the heart of the Canaseraga community.
It came into existence in 2012 to preserve the town’s legacy of a time when the community thrived. Mastin served as the town historian for nearly 30 years, and this was a way to honor her. It became a community promise to take all the dedicated research, photos, and archives Mastin had collected in a lifetime, and make it so everyone could enjoy her preservation of history.
Canaseraga and Burns once flourished as a lumber and farming community from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.
Genesee Country Express stopped by the new home of the society on Pratt Street to talk with the present town historian, Holley Spencer.
Spencer dedicates much of her time to picking up where Mastin left off in keeping the town’s history alive.
“Right now we have an exhibit on the Pittsburg Shawmut Railroad. This was a huge deal for our community,” she said. “Swain still has some of the old tracks of this famous railroad. A local man who worked there did drawings of the Pittsburg Shawmut Railroad from memory, and we have those drawings on display. The old Letchworth Park railroad was part of the Shawmut.”
More information on this once vibrant railroad exists in documents at the Hornell Public Library.
The old Shawmut Depot now exists as a museum on the Lacy Property in Garwoods. It was saved from being destroyed in the early 1970s. On appointment, only a lucky visitor can see what was rescued from long ago.
Spencer mentioned that the toy exhibit would be packed up in the springtime, so if anyone wishes to see the old toys they must get an appointment to visit the museum soon.
“I wanted to make a colorful exhibit for the children when they come and visit us,” she said. “We focus on the western toys, and show some from the Depression Era. We tell them that metal and rubber toys didn’t exist until after World War II, since that material was being used for the war.”
Most of the items in that exhibit are on loan from locals, but a few are from Spencer’s family as well.
The oldest church, known as Trinity Episcopal Church, is still standing on Mill Street, and open for Sunday services. The church was erected in the 1850s, and still has the original organ.
Other remnants of days long ago still stand in hopes of being preserved, such as The Kingston Hotel, Town of Burns Jail, William Held Meats (now Garippa Tax Services), Garwoods Community Church, Shawmut Depot, and some district one-room school houses.
Some things that have been lost forever include cheese factories, Kingston Opera House, blacksmiths, Glenmore Hotel, and more.
The small town was once named Boylan Corners after the first settler in 1806, Samuel Boylan. What remains of his log cabin exists now in the core of a modern summer home on Mill Street. A historic marker is in place that honors the settler and the small patch of land he once called home.
Spencer has been working tirelessly to get the old village jailhouse on the State and National Register of Historic Places.
“It is the oldest little jail in the state, and it should be on the registers,” she said. “There were a lot of records lost in a fire, but I have all that I could find on the walls inside the jail. In small communities like ours, the records were lost in fires all the time. I know the jail closed in early 1940s. People have come from all over the country and Canada to see it.”
There are a lot of World War II veterans on the walls of the museum, and many will come in and reminisce of times they spent with these local heroes.
Long ago a prominent family in the community created a place for those seeking entertainment and luxury. The Kingston Family provided the comforts of home to the wealthy visitors who once crowded the streets of Canaseraga. The Kingston Opera House was a vibrant way of entertaining the city folk. The Kingston Hotel offered a barber shop, post office, dances, balls, dinners, and luxury rooms.
The Glenmore Hotel is still standing, but this brick historic building is now being used as low income apartments. There were once several beautiful hotels for the passengers who came on the Pittsburg Shawmut Railroad for adventures in the once booming community.
Among the hotels and entertainment, there were also nine one-room schoolhouses in the community. There are a few still standing today that have been turned into private living.
“This was once a boom town like so many other small towns in America. It was made successful by the railroad. The logging and farming items were transported all over the country by train carts. Our story is like so many other rural towns. Once the railroad left the small towns all started to die,” Spencer said. “Those who travel don’t want to come here anymore. We are too far from the Interstate 390. They came here long ago for all of our community social events. Many want to see this community turn around, and be back to what it once was.”
The M.D. Mastin Historical Society is a place that still holds the torch for the once sought-out town that offered so much joy to a weary traveler. The new location at 9 Pratt Street is open by appointment only in the winter time. It will go back to normal hours every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the springtime. If you wish to take a glance at this rich history contact them at 607-382-4267.
“When people visit the museum they are always so amazed that we were once a booming town,” Spencer said. “I want more locals to be interested in this museum as well, because they need to know where they come from. We are able to have a lot more to offer at the new location, and we want them to see how much we have grown since 67 Main Street.”
The next big event sponsored by the society is the Robbie Burns Supper at the Canaseraga American Legion on Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. It is a great way to pay tribute to the famous Scottish Poet, Robert Burns. Tickets are $45 per couple and $25 per single. You must get advanced tickets by calling 607-545-6451 or 585-472-2437. Bagpipes will start playing at 5:45 pm. The tickets include a roast beef dinner by Andy Carbone, variety of hard and soft drinks, bagpipe music and poetry, and an evening of honoring Scottish heritage.