December 5, 2006

C’ville seeks missing link in its archive

Town has preserved 18 volumes of its vital records; all but those from years 1879-99


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer  
A volume of Cortlandville town records shows a list of Pathmasters from 1830, each of who served as an overseer of a specific town road. About 18 volumes of the town’s vital records, such as births, deaths, and marriages, as well as town meeting minute books, have been restored since 1997.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The Town Board met in a bar on Tuesday — March 2, 1830.
The board voted to appropriate $100 for the erection and repair of bridges in the town at its annual meeting, according to the minutes of the meeting that were kept in the flowing cursive hand of the first town clerk, Homer Gillett.
That’s a far cry from today, when the repair of the East Academy Street Bridge in McGraw, following flooding in July of 2006, was estimated at upwards of half a million dollars.
“I don’t think $100 is proportionate to three-quarters of a million today,” Town Historian and board member Ron Rocco said Friday.
Of course, the board now meets monthly, rather than annually, and no longer holds meetings in the Eagle Tavern, a wedding-cake shaped establishment in Cortland Village — now the city of Cortland, which was incorporated as a city and separated from the town in 1900. The tavern was located where the Starr Bistro now sits at 117 Main St.
About 18 volumes of the town’s vital records, such as births, deaths, and marriages, as well as town meeting minute books, have been restored since 1997, said Town Clerk Karen Snyder. Previous Town Clerk Pauline Parker, who served from 1978 to 1999, started the project with the goal of restoring one or two books a year.
Unfortunately, Snyder said a piece of history has been missing since before Parker took office — the meeting minutes book documenting the years 1879-1899.
Snyder hopes that the volume will be found in a basement or an attic at some point.
The restoration for each volume, which often includes as many as 50 years of records, costs almost a thousand dollars, Snyder said.
The town meeting minutes from 1830 to 1878 was the last volume to be restored, and was returned to Snyder at the end of the summer.
Without de-acidified paper, Snyder said, the edges of the paper start to “burn” and turn brown.
“When it starts to burn, it disintegrates, it falls apart,” Snyder said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s like sand.”
The books have been rebound, and the writing is still clearly legible — as long as your head doesn’t start to ache after poring over the yellowed paper, archaic spelling and syntax, and the occasionally shaky hand of the Town Clerk.
The first few decades worth of the minutes of the meetings are relatively brief, with only two or three pages devoted to the goings-on of the town officials.
“As time went on, they started adding more things, more appointments,” Snyder said Friday. “But you can see that roads were very important to them.”
Indeed. Pages are devoted to descriptions of where a road starts, whose lot it borders, how long certain stretches extend, and in one instance, a “certain Hemlock stump.”
Cortland County Historical Society Director Mary Ann Kane said those selected to fill the position of “Pathmaster,” later renamed Overseer of Highways, were considered important appointments.
“Not that they were busy all the time,” Kane said from the society’s headquarters on Homer Avenue Friday, “But they were responsible for keeping the roads free of trees, and things like that.”
Each road in the town had its Pathmaster, and the names of about 70 are listed in the book, following meetings with the town’s three Commissioners of Highways.
It’s recorded in the 1832 meeting minutes that a jury (context unavailable) had recommended that the highway commissioners remove a “road commencing a little north of John Reed’s Dwelling House and running West through said Reed’s farm to the highway leading from Cortland Village to Virgil, near the house of Timothy West, and consider the same to be useless and unnecessary as it respects publick (sic) convenience.”
This passage apparently refers to a road connecting what is now Bennie Road and Blodgett Mills.
Residents apparently appealed, and won, the right of way for the town. “The ground upon which this appeal is made is, that this is the best rout (sic) leading from the South part of Cortlandville to Dryden, Ithaca, and Virgil,” the minutes read.
Other positions include the assessors, Commissioners and Inspectors of the Common Schools, Commissioners of the Gospel School, and even a Poormaster.
At the 1830 meeting, $100 was appropriated for the care of the town’s paupers, $400 the next year, and another $200 in 1832.
Kane said “the poor” also often included the mentally and physically disabled.
Private citizens would care for these individuals in their homes, Kane said, but when Preble seemingly became filled with “the poor,” the county Alms House on Loring’s Crossing, better known as the County Farm, took over their custody and care.
In 1832, the Town Board recommended that the Board of Supervisors (replaced by the County Legislature in 1975) “abolish the distinction between Town and County paupers.”
The town was incorporated in 1829, when it decided to secede from the town of Homer, mostly because of the distances involved in attending meetings.
“It was just too far, and travel was so much different than today,” Rocco said. “They had a vote, and the vote was pretty close, and they broke away from Homer.”



CAPE criticizes Wal-Mart final impact statement

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The Town Board appears poised to issue its findings regarding the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Wal-Mart’s proposed Supercenter on Route 13 at South Cortland.
But Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment has submitted comments asking the board to request additional documentation or deny Wal-Mart’s application outright.
Nov. 30 was the deadline for any public comments regarding the FEIS, and CAPE had retained CEA Engineers, of Monroe, and the Rochester-based law firm Bansbach, Zoghlin & Wahl to help it examine and critique the document.
Both firms produced their own documents, and CAPE’s comments were submitted on its behalf by executive board member Jamie Dangler.
“We urge the board to require Wal-Mart to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement and/or issue ‘Findings’ that the proposed project should be denied because it does no adequately mitigate adverse environmental impacts,” the CAPE letter reads.
Perhaps most importantly, CAPE asks why a detailed study of the entire length of Otter Creek has yet to be performed, as recommended by Michael Barylski of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“As residential development pressures continue in the watershed upstream of the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter; one might expect that the magnitude of certain statistical flooding events will only increase,” Barylski stated in his comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, included in the FEIS.
In the FEIS, the company stated that it has revised the site plan in order to avoid impacting the Otter Creek corridor, and that “it should be noted that this section of the stream does not contain any regulated FEMA flood plain or floodway.”
Wal-Mart has also not demonstrated that the storm water management system will protect the aquifer from contamination from herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers, according to the comments from CEA Engineers, adding that there is also potential for chemical de-icing agents to leach into the groundwater.
Despite Wal-Mart’s assurances it will use organic or biodegradable pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers “unless it is determined to be infeasible or found ineffective,” and to “restrict the use of these materials to the minimum required to maintain the landscaping and lawns,” CAPE states that this is unlikely unless the company is required to do so.
Wal-Mart has also stated it has “discussed using systems to minimize deicing agents including heated sidewalks at the store entrances and a parking lot maintenance plan that will include reduced salt use in favor of sanding main parking lot fields.”
CAPE asserts that this language isn’t strong enough and that the town needs to require that Wal-Mart implement these measures.
The preliminary plans for the parking lot also include parking spaces that are smaller than the zoning code’s minimum requirement. Wal-Mart has requested the smaller spaces be allowed because the Planned Unit Development designation, under which the Supercenter is being proposed, allows for a flexibility in design.
However, CAPE contends, “concern about potential pollution from parking lot run-off would be contradicted by allowing the higher automobile density smaller parking spaces would create.”




County aid for summer flooding tops $800,000

Staff Reporter

Final aid from state and federal  agencies for damages incurred during flooding this June and July will exceed $800,000 in Cortland County.
The county will receive at least $677,011 in aid for 19 schools, fire departments and municipal governments, while 40 individual homeowners will receive $168,336 in FEMA and SEMO assistance. Also, a county landfill project estimated at $75,000 is still in negotiation.
An additional 1 to 3 percent for each municipality for administrative costs will soon be added to the total, according to Brenda DeRusso, assistant fire and emergency management coordinator for the county, but those numbers represent, more or less, the final tally for flooding between June 28 and July 10.
Although total funding is significantly less than the $2.8 million awarded after flooding in April 2005, DeRusso said it was clear the county sustained heavier damage than originally thought.
“When all is said and done we had a lot of damage, especially considering they didn’t even think we were eligible the first time through.” DeRusso was referring to FEMA and SEMO’s initial assessment that Cortland County did not have the minimum of $150,000 in damages to be eligible for aid.
“Hopefully the work being done will help prevent flooding in the future,” she said.
DeRusso said she was hopeful that mitigations installed after the 2005 floods had helped reduce damage during the most recent flooding, and said an emphasis was placed on mitigating against future damage whenever possible this time around.
The village of McGraw, hit hard by initial flooding the last weekend of June, will receive $113,649, $22,280 of which is aimed at improving conditions and mitigating against future damage.
About $61,000 earmarked for repairs and the replacement of a portion of a walking path at the Bennett Street park includes $16,665 for the installation of heavy rock to solidify the stream bank. Another $16,705 for work along East Academy Street will include $2,128 to replace a wooden retention wall with a sturdier concrete wall.
McGraw Mayor Jay Cobb said much of the work has already been done, and that the village is simply awaiting reimbursement from the federal and state governments.
“We’ve accomplished quite a bit in the last couple months, I’m pretty proud of our crews,” Cobb said, noting that the Bennett Street park work, financially the largest project, had been completed. “We’ll find out when the rain comes how well we really did, but we’ve gotten quite a bit done.”