Thursday, January 30, 2014

Favorite Islands by Aunt CB and Uncle Jack Kinsella

The Kinsellas have a family newsletter three times a year. Along with updates of each person, we all write about a special topic. One ‘2846’ the special topic was: ‘What is your Favorite Island?’ Everything from Oahu to St. Maarten to islands in Ontario’s Christie Lake and Otty Lake to islands off of the coast of Maine were chosen. But here we will just highlight Aunt CB and Uncle Jack’s choices, as I think the cousins would know or appreciate these two.

From Aunt CB:

Hopefully everyone has a place in their head that they can escape to when peace is needed, a Quiet Place. When I need to move my mind away from whatever my body must endure, I go to Center Lisle and the Baker farm. This, of course, is tied in with my buddy cousin, Gladys and it is with her that I found my favorite island.
Dudley Creek is more the size of a small river and runs through Center Lisle and on through Lisle to join still another large river. In 1935 the various waterways in the area ran amok and flooded the area, smashing houses, ruining barns, drowning people—to the point where the U.S. Army Engineers stepped in and decided to control them by building a dam in nearby Whitney Point. Thus the scene was set for our discovery. Dudley Creek was drained to the lowest point.

Main Street of Center Lisle--Aunt Lil's Store is in front of Church

Was the year 1936, 1937, 1938? Unimportant—we were ten and seven. There we were, Gladys, Harold and myself, a lovely sunny warm day in midsummer, sitting on the steps of Aunt Lil’s store, by the gas pumps and wondering aloud what to do with our day. We decided to start by viewing how far down the creek had gone since our last perusal the previous day. 
Much to our amazement we could not only see bottom and multitudinous stones but there was an island that appeared directly in the middle, big enough for us to build on and close enough for us to wade to!!
The creek itself ran by the store and in its flood turmoil had darn near demolished the store and its merchandise, but that is another story.
Down we scampered to the island and spent the day picking up stones, building forts and houses. We each had an area, and then we’d visit one another. Really, the day wasn’t long enough and the day was all we had, for the next morning the creek had become fuller, the engineers had released more water and our island was no more. 
However, in my head, it still exists and the pure joy of innocent childhood fun along with it, a memory to help me when future events call for a peaceful place to be.
From Uncle Jack:
My favorite island is in Waterloo where the old Distillery buildings stood. It is fittingly called ‘Distillery Island’. It is bounded on one side by the Seneca-Cayuga Canal (later the Barge Canal) and on the other by the Seneca River. But first, some history is in order.
I don’t know when the first distillery building was built but it was a thriving business by the time the Seneca-Cayuga Canal was built around 1840. It was called the Columbia Distilling Company. From the picture I have of it in the ‘Bird’s Eye View Map of Waterloo’, it consisted of numerous buildings and warehouses. I presume it was a very profitable business but Dad told me that it could have been more profitable in its early days if supervision had been tighter. He said the whiskey ran through a tube from the brewing room on the second floor to the bottling room on the first floor. 

Dad's Walk from his home at 16 Clark Street to Gorham Street Bridge and
Onto Distillery Island

A portion of this tube ran between two walls where it was out of sight from everyone. An enterprising worker figured out a way to get into this area and one night installed a spigot that could be turned on and off. He would then occasionally go there (maybe frequently) and fill up the bottle from his lunch bucket and share it with his fellow workers. I guess the tipoff to the bosses that something was awry was the productivity usually slowed down in the afternoon. Eventually the spigot was discovered and that was the end of the extended ‘Happy Hour’.

The Columbia Distillery was famous for its ‘Seneca Chief’ whiskey, named after the first boat to traverse the entire length of the Erie Canal from Buffalo to New York City.

The Columbia Distilling Company was eventually sold to Walter Duffy, owner of the Duffy Malt Whiskey Company of Rochester, NY. Duffy moved to Waterloo; he had grand ideas and built a large new manufacturing plant that utilized all the latest techniques of whiskey making. Before it was completed, he was paid a visit by the owner of a large distilling conglomerate from Kentucky who suggested that if Duffy would retire without ever opening the distillery he would make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Duffy took the offer and became a man of leisure ever after.

The result was that decades later, the distillery buildings were decaying but still there and were the most wonderful places to play hide and seek in. On rainy days we would walk over from the Gorham Street Bridge and spend hours cavorting around those old buildings.

The 100 foot smokestack that proudly displayed the words ‘Duffy’s Malt Whiskey’ could be read from 16 Clark Street (where Uncle Jack lived). It was such a challenge as we played there that Billy Currvan and I, noticing that iron rungs ran up the inside of the chimney, decided to climb to the top. We both made it but I will admit, sitting up on the top of the chimney was the scariest I have ever been. Grand view, but it was scary!! One of the neighbors must have seen us there and called the cops who promptly showed up and ordered us down. We were only too glad to oblige.


Pat said...

Loved reading these memories, Mom and Dad! Thank you for sharing. Dad, I can feel the wind whistling through your hair as you sit atop the smokestack. Mom--yes a wonderful place to return to when you need to think relaxing thoughts.


Sue Kinsella said...

Good choices for these island stories! I'd forgotten about that family newsletter issue, so these stories were new all over again for me. (Gulp!)

Love the whimsy of Mom, Gladys and Uncle Harold discovering an island and not wasting a minute in playing on it. I loved Mom's line, "The day wasn't long enough and the day was all we had." Like Brigadoon. Magical that it became a "lost world" that Mom could return to again and again, and that she could show it to us through her memory and make me long for such an island myself.

And Dad's story about the smokestack - I'm still shivering from it! Not least of all because I think it might be the first time I EVER heard Dad say that he was scared by any of the terrifying (to me, as a Mom) things he did when he was a kid!

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for your stories, and to Pat for remembering them and putting them up here for us all to enjoy (some of us again).

Evelyn Taylor said...

CB, It may have been an "island for a day" but it has remained in your memories all these years! How wonderful is that?
Thanks for sharing.