FROM PAGES PAST: 1871: Middlesex wildfire consumes 1,000 acres on South Hill

Yates County History Center

The Yates County History Center’s volunteers have gleaned these entries for your enjoyment from their digitized newspapers. You can access them at the free site For more information about the YCHC, visit

150 Years Ago

October 26, 1871

Fires in Middlesex — The fires in Middlesex have burned over from 200 to 400 acres of land, mostly timber, on South Hill, next to Canandaigua Lake. On Sunday from 100 to 200 people were engaged endeavoring to check the flames and finally succeeded in burning a cordon about it, and it is now thought to be subdued. No buildings were burned, but there was a large destruction of timber. [Later] The fire in Middlesex was not subdued until Monday, and about 1,000 acres were burned over. It originated from a brush heap, imprudently kindled by Macon Fuller, on South Hill, nearly opposite Seneca Point. Among the losers are S. H. Torrey, 200 acres swept over; Peleg Gardner, 100 acres; Miss Elcota Fuller, 150 acres; and J. & A. McKechnie of Canandaigua, 100 acres. The weather is remarkably, almost alarmingly dry. Were a fire now to break out in Penn Yan, it would find ample tinder for a sweeping conflagration. What adequate means have our citizens to suppress or even hold in partial check such a disaster? Something ought to be done, and that right speedily.

Trains and Steamers — Fourteen trains a day passed through Penn Yan on the Northern Central RR; seven northbound and seven southbound. The Lake Keuka steamers switched to their autumn schedule with just one boat a day leaving Penn Yan for Hammondsport at 1:30 pm.

Letter on the Great Chicago Fire to the Editor’s Wife  My Dear Mrs. Cleveland: The Chicago that one was so proud of in her grandeur and glory, who has been so kind and generous a mother to me, has now a claim in her trouble and desolation that nothing shall break. The pride and admiration I had for her before, is changed to love and pity; and the shapeless ruins of her palaces are dearer to me now than when they towered in all their magnificence and beauty. Would that I could tell you some of my experience on that terrible Sunday night, and the still more terrible Monday, but language is too miserably inadequate. It is locked in the minds of the beholders, and they are the only ones who can ever know the awful reality, the terrible sublimity.

I have seen suffering; but the sights that greeted my eyes everywhere on Monday, were beyond anything I had ever imagined. Millionaires reduced to penury, worse than that, having no place to go, nothing to eat; old people far along on the downhill side of life turned out of home into the street by the merciless flames; women and children wakened from sleep, compelled to fly for dear life without clothing, without anything, out into that awful night; women crazed by loss of children, and men so paralyzed that they could not move to save their lives. The loss of life was terrible, and the papers are filled with the names of the missing that nothing is known about. The real loss will not be known for years; for as they build up the ruins, bodies and remains of bodies will be found continually. The waterworks burning early on Monday was a terrible calamity, for then the fire fiend had it all its own way. Building after building was blown up with powder, but it had no effect. Great tongues of flame would shoot two or three blocks, and lick up everything.

Regards to Mr. Cleveland. Hopefully, Pliny F. Munger.

NOTE: This was the Great Chicago Fire. It killed approximately 300 people, destroyed over three square miles of the city and left more than 100,000 people homeless. Remember the story of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern in the barn?

100 Years Ago

October 26, 1921

Get Together Supper for Ex-Servicemen — On Armistice Night, November 11th at 6:30 pm will be the biggest supper ever before held in Penn Yan at the Masonic Temple. It is for all ex-servicemen who care to attend, and the committee in charge hope to see everyone there on that night. After the supper, there will be a short program. Dr. Norton of Keuka College and Dr. Barrett of Hobart College will be there. And a good bill of vaudeville, smokes, and everything to make you happy. Let’s all get out this night and make it a big one!

Advertisement from October of 1921. Seeley’s Clothing Store was located at 101 Main Street at the four corners in Penn Yan between 1914 and 1926.

Dance at the Legion — On the 11th of November, the American Legion will hold the third of their Big Carnival dances. Last year was a big one. This year it is to be bigger. Don't miss it. A big nine-piece orchestra will make the music. Favors of all kinds and a good time is assured. Dancing from 9 till 2. Watch for the window cards.

Minstrel Show — COMING ONE NIGHT ONLY WATCH THE DATE - THE BIG SHOW IS BOOKED AT The Sampson, Thursday, November 3 - HERBERT’S GREATER MINSTRELS! - 40 Kings of Negro Minstrelsy - Singers, Choruses, Dancers Ensembles. Novelties - The Sunny South brought to your very doors - Big Free Street Parade at Noon. A Feature Worth Seeing - THE GREAT ADAMS will be with the Parade. Don’t Fail to See Him. It Is the greatest aggregation of Minstrel Monarchs that has ever played Penn Yan.

75 Years Ago

October 24, 1946

Cold War Tension — The Russians don’t want war now. And there are several things we can do to minimize the possibility of war with Russia in the future, Dr. Constantine, native of Russia, and a specialist in mental hygiene at the Veterans' facility in Canandaigua, told Rotarians at their weekly luncheon meeting Tuesday in the Bennam hotel. Cultivating a healthy commerce with Russia and the exchange of students and scientific knowledge would help eliminate any threat of war, he said, adding “And how about trying religion? We’ve never really put religion to work as a means towards solving our international problems.” Meanwhile, Donald Grant, principal of Penn Yan Academy and a Naval Reserve officer, advised the Kiwanis “The United States should stay prepared, no matter how much it costs." Although he was a Navy man, he said this also applies to the Army: “As military organizations they should be professionalized, democratized, and they should stay prepared. Meanwhile, Congressman John Taber, speaking to the Gu-ya-no-ga chapter of the DAR, blamed Russia and Stalin “for much of the trouble now present in the United States. Stalin agents are trying to stir up South and Central American countries against us. They are behind a good deal of the labor trouble in America and behind a great dal of the effort to break down the American government.”

Halloween Dances — With Halloween just days away, there were plenty of opportunities to enjoy the festivities. The Knapp Hotel scheduled a dance with “the merry music of the Rhythm Boys. The Crystal Valley Grange scheduled a Round and Square Dance with music by the Barrington Ridge Runners. A big square dance was scheduled at the Branchport Community Park with Ace Peterson and His Owasco Serenaders. Another big dance was slated for the Branchport Community Barn “The only year around barn dance in Yates County.” Music provided by the Royal Olde Tymers. There was also a Masquerade Barn Dance at the Spinning Wheel Roller Palace in Penn Yan with music by Woodhull’s Greater Olde Tyme Masters.

Job Openings for Girls — New York Telephone Co. offers several openings for young girls with high school education — minimum $26 a week while in two weeks training, average about $31 a week after training, wage increases regularly, pleasant and interesting work, opportunity for advancement, very good working conditions. Apply to Miss Smith, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. 138 Elm Street, Penn Yan

50 Years Ago

October 28, 1971

Mustangs Victorious — The Penn Yan Academy Mustangs succeeded in game plans against Midlakes on Saturday and the sum total of their efforts was a hard fought, come from behind battle that resulted in a well earned 19-14 win. In a misty haze that obviously related to the 4 fumbles in the contest, the Orange and Blue were paced to their win behind the constant bull-like rushes of Steve Horrigan and the excellent offensive ball carrying by Leon Jensen who had been seeing most of his action in recent weeks as a defensive back. With Midlakes linemen bouncing off the 6-2 220 pound frame like pins off a bowling ball, Horrigan picked up 133 yards in 28 carries. In the meantime the elusive Jensen, who could probably find running room in a telephone booth, picked up 38 yards in six carries besides setting up the winning TD with a 53 yard punt return in the final period. The game provided many thrills for the small group of spectators who certainly got their moneys worth.

Halloween Scare! — The Elmwood Theater in Penn Yan advertised a “Super Halloween Show; Two for the Price of One!” "The Headless Eyes" (Poor artist gets eyes gouged out while committing a robbery. When his eye heals, he goes on a killing spree and cuts out women’s eyes with a spoon.” The second feature is "The Ghastly Ones" (Three married couples are forced to spend the night in a Victorian-era house where they start getting killed off by a deranged psycho who's bent on claiming an inheritance they are all entitled to.) Now THAT’s entertainment!

Slick Roads and Fog — The past weekend’s weather conditions resulted in automobile accidents in several parts of the county. A truck on Skyline Drive went out of control, flipped twice, and struck a tree. Another car went out of control on Pre-emption Road and struck a telephone pole. Two passengers were injured. A woman from Buffalo was injured in a collision on Route 14A near the intersection with the Ferguson Corners Road. The worst of them was on Route 14, just south of Dresden when one car struck another broadside at the intersection of Lampman Road. A man from Long Island was killed. Nine others were injured, including four children. There were several other minor accidents in Middlesex, Penn Yan and along East Lake Road in Barrington.