HANOVER - As the country approaches the presidential election, several people gathered at the intersection of Allegheny and Mackinaw toads in Hanover recently to celebrate a tangible piece of presidential history.
In celebration of the Town of Hanover Bicentennial, the last in a series of five New York State Historical markers was unveiled in front of Hanover's "Lincoln Maple." The sprawling tree, situated on the property of Ruth Ball, and her son, Wesley Ball Jr. served as a canopy for the unveiling, which took place as the sun started to set, and ended just before part of a lake effect rain system made its way into Hanover. Those present included some of the more than 20 donors who gave financial contributions and who helped place the marker in front of the grand tree.
Town of Hanover Historian Vince Martonis conducted the unveiling, and reminded those who attended just how the roots of the Lincoln Maple began:
OBSERVER?Photo by Ann Belcher
The Lincoln Maple stands at Allegheny and Mackinaw roads in Hanover as a reminder of the kind act of schoolchildren who mourned the death of their president by planting a maple tree. The former Balltown School house is now the residence of Ruth Ball and her son, Wesley Jr. The latter and his late father, Wesley Sr., added to that history by planting a seedling of that maple 40 feet away.
Many know the history of Grace Bedell, and her connection with Abraham Lincoln. But few know about Lincoln's first visit to Hanover. It was during the president-elect's 1861 journey from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C.
The 12-day trek traversed New York state from the state line beginning in Chautauqua County, and covered the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York. On Feb.16, 1861 the presidential train, service from Cleveland to Buffalo, was slated to make three stops for essential travel resources, water and wood: one in Westfield; one in Dunkirk and the last in Silver Creek.
Lincoln's stop in Westfield saw the famous president seek out young Grace Bedell following her note to him asking him to grow a beard. But later that day, during his stop in Silver Creek, the late Hattie Calhoun of Forestville witnessed Lincoln's encounter with another Chautauqua County child. Martonis summarized the account of Miss Calhoun, who passed away at the age of 101 in a 2010 article appearing in The Hanover Historical.
"Lincoln spoke from the platform at the back of the train. When he finished, a little girl, whose name is unknown, walked up and presented him with an arrangement of rose buds. He thanked the little girl, bent down, and kissed her and said 'You are a sweet little rose bud yourself. I hope your life will open into perpetual beauty and goodness.'"
The president's next visit to Silver Creek would be his last as his funeral procession train journeyed from Washington back to Springfield. Again, a stop for water and wood on April 27 1865, saw the funeral procession to stop in Silver Creek. The stop was late in the evening due to the day-long procession through Buffalo, which yielded a crowd of over 100,000 mourners for the open-casket viewing. Ironically, a "pilot train," or a train running ahead to confirm the tracks were safe and clear, was engineered by Silver Creek native William Van Duzer.
The death of Lincoln, which saddened thousands upon thousands of Americans at the time, prompted the school children of the Balltown School House (Ball's current home) including Avril Hartman and his mother (the original owners of the home once the former schoolhouse was moved across the street) to offer a gesture of sympathy and kindness. They planted a maple tree in front of the school house in remembrance of their great president. Wesley Ball Jr. and his father, Wesley Sr. further solidified that kind act, by planting a seedling from that large maple approximately 40 feet away. That seedling now stands over 20 feet tall, and is a sturdy descendent of Hanover's Lincoln Maple.
While the leaves of those historic maple trees will soon change color and fall to the ground, the idea of relating history through storytelling and word of mouth is alive and well and Martonis added, "I think that's the most significant aspect to conclude today's event with that we need to remember people, to remember how our local history was formed is significant and we need to share that with people."
"This tree was the school children's' expression of love and grief, it was a simple gesture but now 140 years later, it's a piece of history for us. Wesley Ball Sr. heard that piece of the tree's history from Avril Hartman, that former school child who planted this tree. If it weren't for him relating that history to me during an interview and letters, none of us may have know, it may have never gotten passed on. Some of our donations for the marker came from a local Cub Scout pack, and that probably touched me the most. I try to get children involved in local history as much as possible when I speak and present history programs. Kids get excited to learn this piece of history they know Lincoln they can relate to him."
Donors for the marker include: John and Sue Sipos; Joe and Meg Castiglia; Stuart Swanson; Frank Kibelsbeck; Doris Welch; Suzanne and Robert Orr; Ronald Cinelli; Norm Carlson; Brandt and Bill Bock; Kathy Hanes; Carl Fila; Ted Gestwicki; Lou and Theresa Dispenza; Pat and Lyle Kepple; Dolores and Ed Newman; George Sinclair; Sandy and Ken Cross; Joanne and Vince Martonis; and Cub Scout Pack 252 of Silver Creek. Previous Bicentennial Historical markers commemorated: Broadway great, George Abbott of Forestville; a Hanover American Revolution event; Hanover resident, King James J. Strang of the Mormons; and Historian Everett R. Burmaster, of Irving.
Fila, who helped the marker get placed to mark the Lincoln Maple, summarized his feelings about the unveiling of the marker "History bonds everyone together, it's a community's bonding agent, binding person to person, generation to generation."