By Derek M. Otto
The Cattaraugus and Erie County Fairs are upon us and Springville has always had a large involvement in the fairs. This week, I want to focus on one interesting aspect on the fair that doesn’t include agriculture as much as it does history.
If you have ever entered the Historical building at the Erie County Fair, you have most likely seen some familiar faces from the Springville area. Tom Hawkins and his wife Jolene have worked there for many years, and local Dale McCool has taken over as the building manager for this year, not to mention the many Concord Historical Society members who volunteer many hours doing displays and watching the door at the building.
This would all not have been made possible if Mrs. Julia Boyer Reinstein, the first Cheektowaga historian and Concord’s own, had not worked to create the Erie County Historical Federation in 1953, which operates the Historical Building at the fair.
Though many feel that Lucy Bensley was the first historian acknowledged by the State, Lillian Geiger was self-proclaimed and later acknowledged by the Town of Concord.
A letter found in the archives addressed to Supervisor Cranston in 1958 alluded to Ms. Bensley’s discontent as Mrs. Geiger claimed the historian title. As Lucy pointed out, “I have for many years by New York State been named the official historian of the Town of Concord.” Nonetheless, Lillian Geiger would be named the Concord Historian and served well into the 1980s. During this time of Concord politics is when Geiger made a friend of Mrs. Reinstein, a prominent historian and educator in her day. Her legacy has been marked by the Reinstein Nature Preserve, the Julia Reinstein Library in Cheektowaga and the Women’s Study Program at Elmira College.
In the 1960s and 1970s, these ladies worked to spread historical education to the residents of Erie County through the Historical Building displays and historical interpreters we see today like Deborah the soap lady (who will not be there this year), Little John and his brooms, Leo the Concord Historical Society’s famed sitting mannequin and many others. As the displays evolved, they also became juried and are awarded ribbons just like many other competitive entries in the fair.
Over the years, Concord has displayed many scenes based on the decided theme. It always great when Concord gets a blue ribbon when competing against Amherst, Hamburg, East Aurora and Orchard Park; I have participated in several of the displays myself.
So this year as you attend the fair and go into the Historical Building, remember Concord’s leadership and involvement over the years.