Alice in Journalismland: The story behind the story, part three

For several months, I had been hearing about a large stone that was being donated to the Grand Island Historical Society. As the recording secretary of the historical society, I dutifully added the information about the stone to the society’s minutes whenever it was mentioned. I did not think too much about the stone, however, because I was busy with other projects. Early this month, the stone became my project when the editor of the Island Dispatch asked me to write a three-part series about the stone and about the people involved with finding it and with it being donated to the Grand Island Historical Society. 

To read part one of this series, please click part one.
To read part two of this series, please click part two.

The River Lea open house was scheduled for October 19th. It happens several times a year, usually on the third Sunday of the month. In December, there are several open houses, and these are special because the house is decorated for Christmas, and a harpist plays lovely holiday music.
This open house was also special because the unveiling of the stone was to take place that afternoon.
Grand Island Historical Society President Curt Nestark picked me up shortly before one o’clock in the afternoon. The open house was scheduled to begin at two o’clock. When we arrived at the parking lot, I saw the stone. It had been mounted on wood and it was sitting at the edge of the parking lot. I asked Curt about it, and he let me know that the stone will be moved to a garden near the house, at some time in the future. At that moment, a van parked in River Lea’s parking lot. An entire family hopped out the vehicle. Curt approached them and asked them if they were coming to the open house. They said that they came to the park to hike a bit and look at the fall foliage. They might come to the open house but they weren’t sure yet. Curt said that they were definitely invited.

Because we arrived early, I had plenty of time to explore the grounds around the house. I have been here, of course. I took black and white photographs here in the winter and I wandered the trail in the summer, looking for raspberries. 

The gates had once been removed from River Lea. After a number of years of being away, those gates were returned to River Lea.

There is a plaque near the gates that lead away from River Lea and toward a path. That path used to be the end of East River Road. When the state took over the southern tip of Grand Island back around the early 1960s, it tore down the houses that were there. River Lea was also scheduled to be torn down. It was unoccupied and had fallen into disrepair. A group of island residents got together to save the house. When it was found out that the original owner of the house was related to President Grover Cleveland, it was decided that the house would be both saved from the wrecking ball and restored. There has been some dispute over who built the house. There are people who say that Lewis F. Allen built it and others who say that his son, W. Cleveland Allen, built it. At any rate, Lewis F. Allen was Grover Cleveland’s uncle. He owned the land on which the house was built, which was near his farm on the southern tip of Grand Island, Allenton Farms. He gave the land that the house was built to his son as a wedding gift. The house was built according to Lewis F. Allen’s plan. In my opinion, it is most likely that the son built the house, following his father’s plan. In 1962, the people who worked to save the house formed an organization called the Grand Island Historical Society.   

This is a close up view of the ironwork in the gate.

Historical marker on the house. Lewis F. Allen was quite well-known, both in Buffalo and in New York State. Allen Street was named for him, as was Allentown. He first developed Allen Street as a path for his cows. Later, when he was able to purchase land in Grand Island, he developed Allenton Farms, which was an experimental cattle farm. He also planted orchards and is said to have introduced the Northern Spy apple to Grand Island.

Back to the 21st century. Things are being readied inside the house for the reception after the unveiling of the stone.

The house is decorated to look as if the nineteenth century is still alive. As you walk through the doors, you find yourself transported back in time.

Kids enjoy the sunshine.

Docents Jeri Benzing, Robin Shipman, and Maggie Gushue are dressed in nineteenth century finery and are ready for the unveiling.

Some of the kids are Boy Scouts.

Town Supervisor Mary Cooke expresses enthusiasm for the stone. She said that “the stars lined up” for the donation of the stone to River Lea. “Caleb had to dig to find the stone. We had no idea that it was under the earth. It could have gone (another) 100 years without being found. It was meant to be.”    It was nice to have community participation in this project.             

Town Supervisor Mary Cooke: I am so pleased that it (the stone) ended up on the island because it didn’t have to. More people will have the opportunity to see it. This is the perfect spot here at River Lea. It is viewable any time for people who want to come and walk in the park

Curt asked for the people who participated in bringing the stone to the Grand Island Historical Society to come forward.

Curt said that he was very thankful to a number of people for bringing this outdoor display to the museum at River Lea. He said that he was thankful to Helen Black, who worked hard on behalf of the historical society to create this exhibit. He was thankful for all of the work that Ricky did, and to the Boy Scouts for digging the stone out of the ground. He was thankful to Caleb for digging and finding the stone. He said he was thankful for the guidance that Troop Leader Scott Swagler gave to Ricky and the rest of Scout Troop 630, as well as to Erik Carlson for donating materials and time so that Ricky could learn how to make the metal stand for the stone. And he added that he was thankful to Maggie Gushue of the Grand Island Historical Society for first bringing the existence of the stone to everyone’s attention.

Ricky Hoover: It as really fun making it (the stand). I learned to weld and to put in bolts. I never realized what a big impact this would make on the community.

Curt: There is so much that we still don’t know about the stone.

The stone will be displayed on a platform in the garden.

Erik Carlson: Ricky asked me if there was something that we could build (so that the stone could be displayed). I said ‘absolutely.’ I was surprised by the size. It was of industrial scale. We guessed the weight wrong. We forgot about the width of the stone. It seems heavier than 150 pounds. It has the weight of a grinding stone. It might have been used for logging, maybe at the sawmill on Whitehaven Road (in the 19th century). Ricky worked hard on this project.

Ricky and his father Rick.

People of all ages, enjoying the day and experiencing local history.

Ricky Hoover and Scout Leader Scott Swagler

The Hoover family

Helen Black, publicity chair at the Historical Society, was instrumental in arranging for the stone to be donated to the Grand Island Historical Society.

Helen has worked tirelessly in her efforts to have children more involved in local history.

Time for the reception! Cake and punch!!! All enjoy a delicious treat in the farmhouse/museum.

3 thoughts on “Alice in Journalismland: The story behind the story, part three”

  1. Lewis Allen – hadn't heard of him – but I've certainly heard of Allentown, Pennsylvania. And, the link to Grover Cleveland. You have yourself a historical gem there. Alana

  2. I enjoyed reading your post and looking at all the photos. Very interesting! Now I'm curious about the stone :).

    ~Urailak (Fruit Bearer on FB)

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