Monday, January 17, 2011

Chautauqua County celebrating bicentennial


Special to the OBSERVER

The land of Chautauqua County occupies a nearly complete square situated on the farthest end of New York state.

The landscape has offered many things to many people: a provider of dense forests for hardy frontiersmen, fertile soil for sprawling vineyards, and quiet shorelines for learning and leisure.

Wilderness has been transformed into farmland, and a patchwork of rural communities have developed into the modern Main Streets of today.

The county will be 200 years old in 2011. It will take a year to tell its complete story.

Michelle Henry, Chautauqua County historian, said a greater awareness of the county's history will be experienced not in one central place, but throughout the towns, hamlets and villages that combine to form the county's identity.

For the past year, it has taken several meetings of municipalities coming to the same table to figure out the best way to celebrate the two-century milestone.


"Each municipality has an appointed historian, and we have always met to discuss ongoing events. At the beginning of 2010, we met and talked about starting to collectively plan the county bicentennial," said Ms. Henry. "I really wanted to find out from the historians themselves what they thought we should do, because in many cases, those are the people in the community who are the driving force behind history and its education and preservation."

She said the invitation to the bicentennial committee has also been extended to historical societies, libraries and local cemetery associations. And the emphasis of local community has remained, as event throughout the year have been added to a growing list.

"We now have a pretty good list of things that are going to happen in 2011, that are going to have a bicentennial theme," Ms. Henry said. She added the most logical, cost-effective plan was to get schedule events that "piggy back with events and organizations that already exist."

She said one can expect to see a bicentennial message as part of the Fourth of July parade in Mayville, a booth at the county fair, as well as other local venues such as the Apple Busti Festival.


The bicentennial kicks off on an important date for the history of the county - Feb. 9.

Though Ms. Henry said it was "just a function of state law that we came into existence," on that date in 1811, the New York governor and four legislators selected the county's first officers, including a judge, justices of the peace, clerk and coroner. The same day, the town supervisors of Chautauqua and Pomfret settlements shed their Niagara County guardianship, and became the fledgling municipalities of the new Chautauqua County.

To celebrate the county's official birth, current county legislators Larry Barmore and Ron Lemon will reenact the first meeting of the board of supervisors, performing the roles of Matthew Prendergast and Philo Orton. Feb. 9 is designated as the official birthday, and the re-enactments will be accompanied by refreshments and cake, at the Chautauqua Suites in Mayville from 6 to 8 p.m.

On the same day, all first class mail processed in the county will bear a commemorative mark on its face. Each post office in the county will use a unique stamp cancel, said Vince Martonis, creator of the designs which reference part of the official county seal and identify the local post office from which it came. After their premiere, the bicentennial stamp cancels will be available as souvenirs - on any collectible page or surface - for 120 days. Martonis said that will ensure those interested can visit all 36 post offices in the county.

On Feb. 16, Westfield is scheduled to be a stop for the National Park Service's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of President-elect Abraham Lincoln's inaugural trip. The original train route left Springfield, Ill., on Feb. 11, 1861 and reached the capital Feb. 23.


The experience of traveling through Chautauqua's years will be heightened by the use of proper documentation - a Passport to History, good for 2011 only. It is anticipated that these logs for countywide travel will be made available at the Feb. 9 birthday celebration, for use throughout the year.

"We want to encourage people to get out and visit all of our local historic sites," said Ms. Henry. "You can get your passport stamped - the more stamps you get, the bigger the prizes you can enter to win."

There will be 16 special events or year-round cultural sites marking your passport, she added. Depending on the number of sites visited, travelers can qualify for giveaways such as a widescreen TV, laptop computer or a weekend getaway at the Cherry Creek Inn Bed and Breakfast.


Ms. Henry said a $12,600 provision from the 2011 county budget will be used for the programming of events. She said the restoration of county support is appreciated, but much more will probably needed to keep the celebration on track through the year.

Assistance has come from the Chautauqua County Historical Society, which she said is a co-sponsor of the bicentennial, and the town of Chautauqua has contributed to events that will be held in Mayville.

Ms. Henry said sponsors and donations can be directed to her office, by contacting 661-7857, or the historical society at 326-2977.

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