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Grand Island Historical Society Since 1962

News Page 2016
PO Box 135
Grand Island, NY 14072


Previous Historical Society News Page

River Lea
The Grand Island Historical Society restored and maintains the farm house known as River Lea and located in Beaver Island State Park. It was built on Lewis F. Allen's property, Allenton Farms, by his son, W. Cleveland Allen.
Today it is owned by New York State.

Membership Form - Please Join       Directions To River Lea      Mission Statement
Society Officers        2016 Newsletter       2016 Calendar of Events

Historical Society Holiday Luncheons - December 2016

Left: Docent Robin Shipman. Right: Top: Robin Shipman, Adele Upton. Middle: Jeri Benzing, Sharon Nichols. Bottom: Jean Brighten, Carolyn Doebert.

Part of the miniature collection.

Denise Voelker (left) assisted Nancy LaChiusa with the presentation.
Mary Stewart photos.

   The Grand Island Historical Society hostied their annual holiday luncheonsthis week. This years program was "Christmas in Miniature" by Nancy LaChiusa. Nancy is a member of a miniature club and had many displays of her miniature collection of houses and scenes that she has created. River Lea was decorated in the Williamsburg style and offered a gift shop that included many holiday decorative items and home made cookies!

GI Historical Society Christmas Open House - December 2016

   The GI Historical Society Open House is on Sunday, December 4th at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park from 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Come and enjoy the decorations and sounds of the season in our historic farmhouse. Shop in our boutique and enjoy some refreshments while listening to holiday music by a harpist. Costumed docents will be on hand to share information about the house.


Holiday Luncheons at River Lea - November 2016

   The Grand Island Historical Society is hosting their annual holiday luncheons on Tuesday, November 29th, Wednesday, November 30th and Friday, December 2nd at noon. The cost is $25.00. This year's program is "Christmas in Miniature" by Nancy LaChiusa. Nancy is a member of a miniature club and will have displays of her miniature collection of houses and scenes that she has created. River Lea is looking festive in the Williamsburg style and a lovely lunch has been planned for your enjoyment. This is a lovely way to start the holiday season. Reservations are required, call Carol Moore at 773-3817.

Union Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps - November 2016

Mary Stewart Photos

   The Grand Island Historical Society hosted a special event featuring the Union Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps on Thursday, November 3rd at Historic Trinity Church. This historically authentic musical group consists of two musicians; Jim Pace (fife) and Brian Seibel (drum), dressed in replica uniforms of Union soldiers, playing replica instruments. They formed in 2009 and participate in reenactments in WNY and in Gettysburg, PA.
   The one hour lecture/demonstration on Civil War Field Music, was accompanied by a power-point show of historic images. The Union Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps perform and discuss the various musical tunes and commands which directed every aspect of the war.

GI Historical Society Presents Union Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps - October 2016

   The Grand Island Historical Society inivtes you to a special presentation of "The Union Volunteers Fife and Drum Corps" on Thursday, November 3, 2016 at Historic Trinity, 2100 Whitehaven at 7:00 p.m. It will be a presentation of Military Field Music from the Civil War. Everyone is welcome to attend, admission is free. Seating is limited to 100 people so come early. For more information contact Adele at 773-5847. See flyer.

GI Historical Society Open House - October 2016

   The GI Historical Society Open House is on Sunday, October 16th at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park from 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Historical Society October General Meeting - October 2016

   The October Historical Society general meeting and program is on Thursday, October 6th at 7:00 p.m. at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park. Our guest speaker will be Timothy Bohen speaking on his book "Against the Grain", the story of Irish immigrants who toiled in the hulls of grain ships and other waterfront industries of Buffalo's First Ward. Mr. Bohen's book will be available to purchase the night of our meeting.

GI Historical Society Open House - September 2016

The Grand Island Historical Society will host an open house on Sunday, September 18th from 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park.

Fall Newsletter & Calendar of Events - August 2016

    The first fall meeting/potluck picnic for the GI Historical Society will be on Thursday, September 1st at 6:00 p.m. The guest speaker will be Steve Cichon with a presentation on "Grover Cleveland's Buffalo". For more information, review the Fall Newsletter and Calendar of Events.

Plein Air Painting Workshop - July 2016

Terry Klaaren.

Class in action.

Group photo with final painting.
Mary Stewart photos.

   Long time Grand Island resident, Terry Klaaran held a Plein Air workshop at River Lea on Friday, July 1st. Terry is a renowned artist and muralist and shared his techniques in landscape painting. A group of 13 students signed up for the class.

GI Historical Society Installation Dinner - June 2016

From left: first row- Suzanne Grafinger, Arlene Ehde and Curt Nestark.
Top row - Robin Shipman, Mary Cooke and Adele Upton.
Mary Stewart photo.

   The Grand Island Historical Society Installation meeting & dinner was held on Thursday, June 2nd at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park. Guest speaker was Marty Biniasz with a presentation entitled, "100 Years of the Erie County Fair". There was a slide presentation with fair pictures dating back to 1902. The Erie County Fair was established in 1819, originally moving to a different location each year. In 1868 it moved to its permanent location in Hamburg. 2016 will mark the 177th anniversary of the fair. Last year the fair was ranked #12 in the top 49 fairs in the country. Officers installed were Robin Shippman, recording secretary; Mary Cooke, corresponding secretary; Adele Upton, vice president; Suzanne Grafinger, past president; Arlene Ehde, treasurer and Curt Nestark, president.

Plein Air Painting Workshop - June 2016

    Special Engagement: Plein Air Painting Workshop, July 1st. 6:30-9pm @ River Lea, Beaver Island State Park. Instructed by Grand Island native, Terry Klaaren. Renowned artist and muralist will give instruction on Plein Air landscape painting techniques. Guests will also have the opportunity to receive a guided tour through the River Lea House/Museum. Class limited to 20 students. Event presented by the Grand Island Historical Society. Call George at 716-796-1719 or email geo_smith@live.com to RSVP.
Cost: $35 per person, all materials provided, $25 per person if you bring your own brushes, easel and canvas.
Note: Beaver Island State Park does NOT charge $7 entrance fee after 6pm.

Historical Society Installation Dinner - May 2016

   The Grand Island Historical Society Installation of Officers and dinner will be held at River Lea on Thursday, June 2nd at 6:30 p.m. Guest speaker will be Marty Biniasz with a presentation entitled, "100 Years of the Erie County Fair." Call Carolyn Doebert, 773-2643 for dinner reservations by May 24, 2016.

Historical Society May General Meeting - May 2016

   The May Historical Society general meeting and program is on Thursday, May 5th at 7:00 p.m. at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park. Guest speaker Mike Vogel, retired Buffalo News reporter, will present a PowerPoint presentation entitled "Early Days of Buffalo, Nostrils of Hell," covering the early days of the Canal District, now known as Canalside. Everyone is welcome. Please note new time.

GI Historical Society Open House - April 2016

The Grand Island Historical Society will host an open house on Sunday, April 17th from 2:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park.

Historical Society April General Meeting - March 2016

   The April Historical Society general meeting and program is on Thursday, April 7th at 7:00 p.m. at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park. Our own member, Chuck LaChuisa, will share a PowerPoint Presentation entitled "The Women of Millionaire's Row and Their Houses". This is the area on Delaware Ave. near North St. that has many mansions from Buffalo's early days. Everyone is welcome. Please note new time.

GI Historical Society Spring Tea - March 2016

   The Grand Island Historical Society will have a Spring Tea on Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park. A program entitled "Quilting in American History" will be presented by former Islander Susan Long. Refreshments include tea or coffee, sandwiches, cookies, scones and cakes. Cost is $25.00. For reservations call Carol at 773-3817.

GI Historical Society Library Reorganization - March 2016

From left: Trudy O'Connor, Ruth Englert, Mary Cooke & Barbara Bert.

   Members of the Grand Island Historical Society got together on Tuesday, March 15th to reorganize the library at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park. There are many documents that need to be identified and then placed in filing cabinets. Two other dates are planned in the next month. River Lea has Open Houses planned for Sunday, April 17th and May 15th from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Historic Artifact Recovered from the Niagara River - March 2016

The LDC Construction Crew from left to right: Lyle Szapakowski, Greg Dinsmore, Mike Szapakowski, Jeff Dinsmore and Dan Dinsmore.

Paul Leuchner and Jeff Dinsmore shown here posing in front of the old well that was recovered from the Niagara River.

Research & Photos by Paul Leuchner - Slideshow
    On Groundhog Day 2016 something a bit more significant than a little furry guy looking for his shadow occurred at the historic Riverlea homestead in Beaver Island State Park. The day was the culmination of a seventeen year of effort to recover an old well from the Niagara River that once enchanted the luxurious gardens around this home. Although the historic record is not entirely clear, the available evidence indicates that the well was probably constructed around 1910 making it more than a century old.
    During the early 1900's the owner of Riverlea James Tillinghast and his next door neighbor at Marble Hall, George Haywood, engaged in a friendly competition with each trying to outdo the other in an attempt to fashion the most prestigious homes and gardens. The old well in its heyday resembled a classic storybook wishing well and no doubt complemented the famed gardens that graced the Riverlea property. Subsequent owners carried on the competitive tradition. The magnificent classical garden settings were not to last however, as the properties fell on hard times during and after the Great Depression. Years of neglect and relentless erosion by the Niagara River scoured out the land around the old well. The once prominent garden feature became an island onto itself. As the decades ensued, the roof was lost. Then the underlying foundation shifted causing the well to lean at a precarious angle.
    In 1999, island resident Paul Leuchner who at the time worked for the Corps of Engineers Buffalo District Office proposed a plan for recovery the old well. Although there was some interest, no funds could be found to implement this project. Several additional attempts were made over the years but it was not until his appointment to the Niagara River Greenway Commission in 2005 that he was able to persuade the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to endorse the project. During the ensuing years he met with Parks officials and members of the Grand Island Historical Society on numerous occasions to refine the plan. He reviewed the final project specifications with the State Historic Preservation Office in Albany and received approval in 2013 to proceed with the recovery of the old well. Again, funding was still an issue. However after hearing about the project from Mr. Leuchner, islander Jeff Dinsmore of LDC Construction stepped forward and agreed to bear the entire cost of the project donating his time, that of his crew and the use of the heavy equipment needed to recover and relocate the old well.
    Before the well could be relocated, a right of way had to be established for heavy equipment access. During the preceding month of December, island resident Steve Birtz and Paul Leuchner spent several weekends clearing a path to the waterfront. Finally, on February 2nd the day arrived for the recovery of the old well from the river. Jeff Dinsmore and the LDC Construction crew arrived early in the morning and by 1:30 p.m. that same day completed the entire project. During the carefully orchestrated lifting and transport operation the well, which weighed more than six tons, arrived at Riverlea without incident. In fact, the rigging work was accomplished so expertly that not even one of the blocks of the Medina Sandstone comprising the old well was lost.
    Arrangements are now being made to restore the well base which was ravaged by years of Niagara River ice scouring. Once completed soil will be brought in to raise the land surface around the perimeter of the structure so it is easier to look into the interior of the well. Recycled paving stones from elsewhere in Beaver Island State Park will be placed to provide access off the main path to the Riverlea home. A replica of the original well roof fabricated and donated by Andy Hillman the Beaver Island Park Manager will be the crowning touch and the last step of this extraordinary project.

Historical Society March General Meeting - February 2016

   The first Historical Society general meeting and program of 2016 is on Thursday, March 3rd at 7:00 p.m. at River Lea in Beaver Island State Park. The program will feature history teacher, Greg Kinal, with a program on Amelia Earhart. Everyone is welcome. Please note new time.

Grand Island Historical Society & River Lea History
Grand Island History - Published 1898 By Truman C. White
Jim Fisher's Avocational Archaeology & Lithic Technology Web Site
Grand Island History and Photos (Update 9/20/09)
River Lea Artists - Photos - Paintings
- Artists James Edward Montanari - Eugene Matthew Dyczkowski ("Dick")