There is one situated neatly on a side road between a row of houses, another is found on the grounds of a Village Park, the third one is in close proximity to Silver Lake.
“A lot of us drive by museums and historical societies and think, ‘I’ll have to stop there someday’ and then you may not get to it,” said Wyoming County Historian Cindy Amrhein. “They don’t know the wonderful things they are missing. Our county has a fascinating history when you see how each town had a part in its creation.”
Amrhein is talking about the inaugural launch of the Eat Your Way Through History tour. Although Amrhein organized and is the “head chef” for the tours, it isn’t a fundraiser for the County Historian’s Office, but rather to benefit the museums and historical societies in the county – both financially and visibly.
The motivation behind the tour is to bring awareness to what the county has to offer from a historical perspective. This undertaking is/was set over the course of four blocks: one in June, the most recent one held Saturday, one in September, and the final one in October. There was also a “free block” during the Wyoming County Fair.
The first stop on Saturday’s tour was at the Seth M. Gates House on Perry Avenue in the Village of Warsaw.
Warsaw was founded in 1803 by Elizur Webster, says Historical Society member George Almeter. While nobody really knows why the town was named Warsaw, it was the first in the country to create the Liberty Party.
“The first Liberty Party started in 1839 in a church on South Main and Livingston streets,” Almeter said. “The Town had its own anti-slavery newspaper, which eventually moved to Perry, and it was part of the Underground Railroad at its height in 1853.”
The newspaper was made out of rags in 1838, which preserved the text allowing an almost pristine copy to be predominantly displayed in the museum/historical society. The society also houses a completely intact cloak worn by a soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War.
The idea behind the Eat Your Way Through History tour was one Amrhein was kind of thrown into when she first became a historian in 1997 for the Town of Alabama.
“The supervisor needed a historian right away for this Eat Your Way Through History tour the then Genesee County Historian, Sue Conklin, had planned,” Amrhein said. “So, in a week I whipped something together. My town was dessert. I did everything apples and talked about the apple dryer in Alabama in the late 1800s. In Genesee (County) we only did one tour a year, over several years.
“Since this is the 75th anniversary of the Wyoming County Historian’s office and our publication Historical Wyoming, I wanted to do it up big. So I thought ‘why not do a tour but on a grander scale?’ So I guess you could say it’s like the Eat Your Way Through History tour from 20 years ago, but on steroids – all the county’s museums in one year.”
All the dinnerware, napkins, and cups have the Eat Your Way Through History logo, and advertising for the event was made using modified ads from the 1950s. There are even passports, neck wallets to carry them in, trivia games, and gift bags.
However, before the bling was bought and the tour schedule set, Amrhein had to get the historians, the historical societies and the museums on board with the idea.
“Even though the plan wasn’t fully developed yet in my head, I tossed out the idea just to see if it was possible and if there was enough interest,” Amrhein said. “I wanted to try and include historians as well as historical societies even if they had no museum.”
For the tour, Laury Lakas, historian for Orangeville, teamed up with Sheldon Historical Society, which has a museum. Covington doesn’t have a museum but they have a historical society so they are holding the event at the old Town Hall. Additionally, there are two new museums without historical societies attached to them – Attica Preservation Foundation Museum in Attica, and the Perry Fire Department Museum in the Village Park in Perry (open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
“Five or six years ago we needed a place to put the antique trucks,” said museum curator Robin Poydock. “Instead of selling the trucks, we built a building.”
In addition to storing the 1937 truck – with a V-12 engine and straight pipes – which the department had purchased new at the time, it also houses a truck from 1915, photos, speaking trumpets (similar to a megaphone) and various other department memorabilia.
“The photos were in storage in the basement of the fire department and we found a photo of our first chief holding one of the speaking trumpets,” Poydock said. “Before the department was organized in 1887 there were bucket brigades. And when the department first started, there was 24-hour coverage. The fire hall was also designated as a fallout/bomb shelter.”
To organize an event that spans the entire county took a bit of finagling, Amrhein says.
“First I had to see which of our museums or historical societies or historians were willing to play. Then I had to coordinate around events they already had planned or do every year at the same time. I also wanted the route to be in some order where they were all fairly close to each other and then guesstimate travel time from one location to the other.
“If possible, I tried to end them in a spot that would encourage further exploration. For example, the tour we just had ended at the Pioneer Cabin, which is a beautiful spot by Silver Lake. The one in October ends in Castile, and that is close to Letchworth State Park. For some towns it just wasn’t possible for them to participate, and Pike we did by using the county fair museums.”
The Pioneer Association began in 1872 with a picnic, says association member Bob Murphy who was the guide at the Pioneer Cabin on Walker Road in Perry. However, it wasn’t until about 25 years ago that the association got its artifacts back after being stored at Letchworth State Park.
Along with the cabin, the last running one-room schoolhouse in Wyoming County is on the property – the building was brought to Walker Road out of LaGrange, a 2,000-year-old “meeting” tree from Covington also sits in prominent display, and the museum boasts the history of the infamous Silver Lake Sea Serpent.
On July 13, 1855, Joe McKnight had this to say about the serpent: It looked like a giant log coming toward the boat. The thing was a reptile about 80 feet long with eyes as red as hot coals. The serpent lashed out its tail and water flew four feet into the sky.
As the story spread, more people said they saw the serpent. Tourists packed nearby hotels and homes to get a glimpse of the beast but it always escaped into the foam, the legend says. Then as quickly as it came to be, the “monster” disappeared, never to be seen again on Silver Lake.
“The truth was, A.B. Walker built the ‘serpent’ with friends to stir up business at his hotels,” Murphy said. “But the story is based on an Indian legend about a monster in the sea.”
Another fun fact about the serpent is that it was built three different times, says Murphy. The contraption was stored in three different buildings, all of which had burned down destroying the “monster” each time.
Susan B. Anthony had once visited the museum and Franklin D. Roosevelt had been a guest speaker at the Cabin in 1945.
“Each tour stop has been different than the one before it,” Amrhein said. “The collections, the history to tell, the food, it’s all so unique. Our tourists are having a great time.”
This project was funded, in part, by a grant through the Arts Council for Wyoming County.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Amrhein said. “They are how it was possible to pay for most of the advertising and the printing of the passports. The revenue from the passport sales is divided up between all the museums and historical societies that participated.”
The passports were printed by The Arc of Livingston and Wyoming at the Hilltop Printshop in Mount Morris.
While there are three spots still available for the fourth block of the tour in October, Amrhein said she is already busy planning next year’s excursion.
Next year, grant willing she says, it will be a more independent tour spanning six months to coincide with regular museum and historical society hours. Participants will still get passports and prizes, however, closer to 120 to 150 people can join in the fun. (Eat Your Way Through History had to limit the number of patrons due to spatial concerns at the facilities.)
“The more players, the more our museums and historical societies benefit. There will be clues at each museum…a treasure hunt of sorts,” Amrhein said. “I don’t want to give too much away now though, but it will be called A Treasure Hunt Through History.
This year, each block tour was $12 or all four blocks for $45.
“It’s been great fun and the museums are doing an awesome job,” Amrhein said. “I’m thankful our historical societies and museums have gone all out to make this event a success, and so far, the ones I’ve talked to are on board for next year. And who doesn’t like a treasure hunt, right?”
The Eat Your Way Through History project was made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Arts Council for Wyoming County.
For more information about the tours or the Historian’s Office call (585) 786-8818.