by Ruth Stahl

Grand Island’s Civil War Heroes 

          John Virgil Bedell was born in Tonawanda in 1844 but in 1863 he was living on Grand Island, where he enlisted in the New York Mounted Riflers for a period of three years. The County paid him a bounty of $300. John took part in the Seige of Petersburgh and was wounded on June 27, 1864. On July 8th, at the tender age of 20, he died. He was buried in Whitehaven Cemetery.

        How do we know all this? Town Clerk Nancy Samrany is the guardian of our local archives. One of three journals is purported to be a complete record of officers and soldiers and seamen furnished to the United States by the town of Grand Island for the Civil War, April 15, 1861. The fancy handwriting is a bit tricky to read, but the document contains some fascinating information. 

        The War Between the States began in 1861 and ended in 1865. During those years, 65 Grand Island men joined the Army to fight for the North, plus four more who were in the Naval Service. Of all the names recorded in the roster by then Town Clerk William Ryken, most were listed as white and single. Only one was “coloured”, David Schoones, born in Utica. After his discharge, he listed his post office as Grand Island. Twenty-one of the men were married. One was drafted: Samuel Carl, who was born in Pennsylvania. He died at Elmira. (Elmira was the site of a Civil War prison camp where nearly 3000 Confederate prisoners died. Perhaps Carl was a guard there.)

        Few of the men from Grand Island who fought in this war were born on the Island. Many were from Europe: France, England, Wales, Prussia, Albania, Holland and especially Germany. Americans came from Vermont, Mohawk River, Tonawanda, Clarence Hollow, Batavia, Owego, Utica, and Genesee County. Many of those who survived returned to Grand Island, curiously listed their address as ”Sheenwater”. John Williams was living at Sheenwater and had witnessed the surrender of General Lee. 

        We honor all of our veterans this time of year, including those who gave their lives for the Union. One of the saddest stories was of young John Masters who enlisted in the Naval Service as an ordinary seaman for one year. After one month he was taken prisoner on the Mississippi River and sent to Libbey Prison in Richmond. He was moved to other prisons and was last heard from in Andersonville in September 1864. We can only imagine the tragic ending there.

        Lucian Scott was fatally wounded in battle and died in Sickles Hospital, Washington. Paul Seibert was killed at the charge of Fort Waggoner. Three sons of lumberman Nathan Allen were soldiers. Lyman Allen was taken prisoner at Fair Oaks Station in May 1862. He was exchanged for a southern prisoner in November and took part in the Seige of Charleston, where he was wounded in August of ’63. Taken prisoner, he was paroled in May of ’64 and died in December. He was 18 years old. His brother Nathan was discharged with a disability in 1863. Julius Allen re-enlisted after his discharge.

        The Ziehm brothers, born in Germany, both enlisted. George was wounded at Petersburgh in 1864 and died four days later. He is buried in Washington. Philip Diermeyer was killed in Hilton Head and buried there. George Green lost his life at Petersburgh. Jacob Shoemaker died in the Battle of the Wilderness. (The forest caught fire here, and 200 federal wounded were burned to death, May 6, 1864.) Clemence Neumeyer and John Ghent were casualties. Duncan McInnes died in Elmira of typhoid pneumonia and is buried in Whitehaven Cemetery. George Bartrum died at the hospital in Hilton Head of dysentery and was placed in the burying ground there.

        Other stories are hidden in this journal, some with happy endings, many not. One man on the list deserted after a month’s service. Another received his $100 bonus but “deserted before he came to his regiment”. Both were married men. For all the names listed there are stories of sadness and fear, courage and love of country. We are fortunate to have this history, but would like to know more of these brave men who fought for their nation so long ago. Reading through this journal gave me a new appreciation of Veteran’s Day.

        This year our local Veteran’s Day ceremonies will take place at the new memorial on Bedell Road instead of at DeGlopper Park. (That site will be reserved for Memorial Day.) “Now that the new memorial is lit at night, it is a stirring sight,” reports Shirley Luther, one of the committee who spearheaded its construction. Take a look, and remember to fly your flag this Veteran’s Day.

Nine bridges and more

         No one understands the importance of bridges better than a Grand Islander. That has been especially true with so many under repair this summer.  With the Island cut in half by the thruway, it has been a case of  “you can’t get there from here”.  But now they are all finished except the one crossing the thruway at the north end, and that looks to be ready soon.

         Even if we chose not to leave home base, the North and South bridges are vital for bringing all the goods and services we require. We could probably manage without one bridge or another, but it would be darned inconvenient. Going back to the days of the ferry wouldn’t work and using helicopters would be too expensive.

         Important, too, are the bridges to Canada. Imagine having to travel for miles to reach a place you can see from your doorstep. We are lucky to have four good bridges to cross the Niagara. My favorite is probably the Whirlpool Bridge, with its narrow lanes and shaded quaintness.   I like it, too, because just a couple of blocks from the Canadian side is an indoor antique market, a pleasant place to browse. Crossing at the old Lewiston Bridge, built down in the gorge was always an experience. You couldn’t go fast because the approaches were at sharp angles to the bridge and it always seemed that the bridge might collapse before you reached the other side. It was a pretty spot; sometimes you would see the raccoon family that lived in the neighborhood. It all added excitement to any trip. The new bridge is sleek, but it isn’t a patch on the old one. 

        The Rainbow Bridge provides a magnificent view, but it seems to be just modern and matter-of-fact to me. The Peace Bridge is the one that stands out in my childhood memories. It was the one we crossed every summer when Pop drove us all, Mother, Harry and me, to Toronto for two weeks at Grandma’s. We rode in the old 1928 Chevy (it wasn’t so old then). It was dark green with yellow striping and had black fenders that would never crumple.  It had four doors, a luggage rack and scratchy upholstery. 

        It took us all day to get to Toronto traveling right along on Highway #8. The Queen E wasn’t even a dream then. Pop did all the driving and would drop hints when we got close to familiar landmarks. The most significant were bridges, specifically three concrete arches, built a few miles from each other. The game was called “I Spy Bridge” and whoever yelled it first got the credit. No prize, just recognition. By the time the third bridge had been “spied” we were almost to our destination. 

        Pop stayed only overnight at Grandma’s because it was a tiny house and he had to get back to work. Brown bread was the favorite there, so that was one of the reasons we were ready to leave when he showed up two weeks later to fetch us.  It always seemed like a long ride home, but when the Peace Bridge loomed into view we knew we were almost there. Of course, it is the sight of the Grand Island Bridges that signify home and sale haven to me now.


Wiggle Nails and Board Stretchers

      I hadn't noticed the building until Doris Rees asked m about it, just in time for Hallowe'en. It's the last structure on Webb Road near Baseline , empty and weathered but with a trace of white paint, its only color the red shingled roof
Set high on cement blocks, it is 24 feet wide and maybe 80 feet long. (The dimensions remind me of my father's house; Pop kept adding on.) A tin cut-out for a stove pipe and an old hook-up for electricity decorate the rear wall. Matching 3 1/4 inch vertical boards cover the exterior, interrupted on one side by just a couple of high, small windows. The other side has a sliding door and a smaller one near the front, indicated only by its sill and a rusty knob. A set of wooden steps is missing a tread.
There is a false front above the first floor, much like the saloons in the Old West.

     An elaborate entry, at least by contrast with the rest of the building, is sheltered by a shallow marquee. The center door had at one time a large glass panel and sidelights. Vines grow out of one comer and there are weeds all around... goldenrod and white and purple asters. Several trees are trying to alter the roofline. The building is snugly boarded up. You can see it from Baseline if you look past all the construction equipment on the comer. Could it harbor a ghost, or at least, memories from the past?
     Former resident, Bob Kaiser, remembered the building when it was the granary next to John Schutt's store, about where Bell's Market used to be. "Bob Schutt and I were teenagers when we worked there, carting grain from farms on
Whitehaven. There was a hopper inside the sliding door and a conveyer belt system.
     Much of the grain was sold to the shredded wheat plant in the Falls," he said.
In the spring of 1948, Bob Smith and Ed Dunshie, tired of going off-Island for supplies, decided the Island needed a hardware store. On March 15 they opened one in the front section of the granary, eventually taking over the whole building. Former tax collector, Lois Kaiser, will never forget being sent there by her husband and Alan Kaiser. They were building some kitchen cupboards at home.
     "Ask Ed if we can use his board stretcher, just for today ," said Bob. Dunshie kept a straight face when he told Lois, "Gee, we just lent it out, but you can have it tomorrow." The boys thought it was a huge joke so Lois was cautious when they sent her the next time for wiggle nails, refusing to go until they proved that such an item actually existed.
     In 1952 Dunshie and Smith acquired property up on the Boulevard for their store, giving up the old granary. Eventually Elmer Webb bought the building and moved it to its present location, using it for storage. There aren't any board stretchers inside, or ghosts either, but I'll bet you could find a few nuts and bolts, and maybe even some wiggle nails lying around.

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