April 9, 2008
Celebrating 200 years
Bicentennial honors county notables
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland County’s bicentennial fireworks display can be seen Tuesday night beyond the dome of The Cortland County Courthouse.
CORTLAND — Immigrant culture, progressivism and patriotism were among the themes at a musical Tuesday evening at Cortland High School honoring the county’s 200th birthday.
All those themes have played a significant role in the county’s history, participants in “200 years of Cortland County, a musical narrative” explained to a gym audience of about 400 people.
“They are still here and they are still permanent members of our community,” Nabila Khazzaka said of Cortland County’s Lebanese immigrants, who started coming in the late 1800s and are responsible for such road names as Lebanon Drive in Cortland, Abdallah Avenue on the Cortland-Cortlandville border and Syrian Hill Road in Solon.
Other immigrant groups that have played a significant role in the county’s history include Italians, the Irish and Ukrainians.
In honor of those groups, during the show the Old Timer’s Band played an Italian march, the Montague School of Irish Dance performed an Irish dance and Fiddlestix, a Cortland High School fiddle band, played a Ukrainian medley.
After the musical, Cortland resident Bill Haight, 65, of Cortland, added that Scottish people also immigrated to Cortland in significant numbers.
His mother’s side of the family, the Sears family, for example, came over from Scotland seven generations ago to farm, he said.
During Tuesday’s show, local residents portrayed some of the county’s most famous historical figures, a number of whom fought for progressive causes.
Samuel Ringgold Ward, for example, played by Nathan Wright, was an abolitionist, while Amelia Jenks Bloomer, played by Michelle Ryan, fought for women’s rights.
“I made popular an outfit already worn by some called the bloomers,” Ryan said.
Similar to the spirit of progressivism is the spirit of innovation, which certain Cortland County figures such as Elmer Sperry demonstrated, narrator Eric Mulvihill said.
Sperry, who was portrayed Tuesday by Bill Lee, is credited with more than 350 patents, including one for a gyroscopic compass.
“You know, about the time I turned 20 I owned my own factory,” Lee said.
Another famous Cortland County native mentioned Tuesday was Patrick Conway, who toured the country playing in a band before serving in World War I.
When he got back, he founded the Military Band School in Ithaca.
Cortland residents have long fought in wars, Mulvihill said during Tuesday’s show. To honor veterans, including Conway, the Old Timer’s Band played the “Patrick Conway March,” members of the Homer American Legion displayed flags and the Old Timer’s Bank played the “Star Spangled Banner.”
Cathy Bertini, former head of the United Nations World Food Program, told the audience that Cortland County instilled in her a feeling of patriotism when she was just a child.
She traveled to more than 90 countries for her work, but each time people ask her to name her favorite place, the answer is simple: Cortland.
“(In Cortland) I learned about doing the right thing, I learned about trying to make a difference,” Bertini said.
Following Tuesday’s musical, 74-year-old Cortland resident Arlene Turnbow said one of her favorite parts of the show was seeing people she knows perform, including Bertini, and local attorney John Ryan Jr., who portrayed Homer horse trader David Hannum, who was the basis for a popular novel.
“That made it interesting,” she said.
Theresa Ripley, 46, of McGraw said while she loved the show and understands it occurred on the anniversary of Cortland County’s incorporation, she wishes it could have fallen on a weekend.
“I think it’s unfortunate they couldn’t do it when more people could come,” she said.
Rebecca McGory, an eighth-grade student at Homer Junior High School, missed most of the event due to International Night at Homer High School. But she still showed up at the end to see her social studies teacher, Martin Sweeney.
Sweeney, who portrayed William Stoddard, assistant secretary and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, has taught her class a lot about the county’s history, she said.
“Before people came here, this was all forest and marshland,” McGory said.
Bell ringing marks county anniversary
Sherry Byron and Curtis and Ethelyn Gardner checked their watches as they stood out in the sun on the front lawn of Cincinnatus’ Heritage Hall.
Each of the members of the Cincinnatus Area Heritage Society had been selected to help do Cincinnatus’ part to mark Cortland County’s bicentennial anniversary.
At noon Tuesday they joined in a countywide bell ringing as nearly 40 bells rang out for 10 minutes at churches, firehouses and other public buildings.
“(We’re) pleased to be part of the celebration.” Gardner said. Gardner explained she and Byron had been chosen to ring the Heritage House’s bell because their schedules allowed for the free time at midday.
For John Hartsock, official county bell ringer whose task was to organize the event, the history behind the bells creates a meaningful link between the bicentennial celebration and the county’s past.
“These bells used to ring regularly to call people to services, for special events like weddings, like funerals, special historical events … they’ve always been a center of the community,” Hartsock said.
Bells are still used to commemorate events today, he said, with Homer using them during an annual reading of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July, and for the death of soldier Shaun Falter in the Iraq War.
“It seemed appropriate in terms of remembering the earlier generations that made Cortland what it is.”
Cortland County Historian Jeremy Boylan first proposed the bicentennial bell ringing, Hartsock said, after which Hartsock helped to put the event together.
“I had to call and call and call, and drive around” to find which buildings had bells, Hartsock said.
Most of the buildings with bells are churches or former churches that were converted to other uses.
Hartsock said he is pleased with the enthusiasm others have for ringing in the historic date.
“People have been wonderful about it,” he said. “They’ve been very encouraging, they like the idea. By last count, we have 36 (buildings) committed.”
Since he was would be teaching a class at SUNY Cortland where he is a professor, Hartsock said he wouldn’t be able to participate in the bell ringing he helped organize, but that he would pause at noon, open a window, and listen as Cortland County celebrated the bicentennial.
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