Saturday, November 12, 2016

Remembering Waterloo, NY Through Postcards, By Jack Kinsella

I think it is time to tell a deep dark secret I have kept hidden all my life—I was born in Seneca Falls, NY! Let me hasten to add “but I lived in Waterloo, NY ALL MY GROWING UP YEARS!!” This came about because my mother insisted in having her children born in the Seneca Falls hospital. However, since Seneca Falls and Waterloo were arch rivals, this was always an embarrassment to me.

I have always collected old postcards of Waterloo so I’ll show a few to indicate how the town of Waterloo changed over the years. The town’s origin goes back to the 1700's but from 1850 on, its population remained very stable at around 5000 people. In 1828, it completed the Seneca-Cayuga Canal which allowed boats to bypass local rapids and travel from Seneca Lake to Cayuga Lake and continue east to connect to the main branch of the Erie Canal. This canal ran right behind the stores on the south side of Main Street and it was still there when I was growing up.

So let me start by showing how the “Four Corners” (Main and Virginia St) changed over the years:

4 Corners, 1870

This is how Waterloo looked when my Great Grandparents, James and Mary Gaffney arrived in Waterloo in 1878 with their family which included my father, Daniel Kinsella.

4 Corners, 1910

4 Corners, 1920

This is how the “4 Corners” looked when my father, Dan, was a “young man about town.” The Seneca-Cayuga Canal was a flourishing business then as shown in the picture of boats on the canal below.

 4 Corners, 2014

I took this in 2014 and it really isn’t that much different from the 1920 postcard.

Cayuga-Seneca Canal

Dad often told about watching the boats arriving along the towpath pulled by mules. 
Now it has all been filled in and covered with blacktop. Probably not one in 100 Waterlooians, when they drive behind the Post Office to drop off mail realize they are parking on what was once the old Seneca-Cayuga Canal!

Cayuga-Seneca Canal-1910

Speaking of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, check out the 1910 postcard of it as it ran south of Main Street. This is how I remember it as a boy. It was no longer used as it had been made obsolete by the building of the Barge Canal in 1919. The only place where it still exists is across from Connie’s Diner on Main and Swift St. —see Waterloo Woolen Mill

Waterloo Woolen Mill

Gorham Bridge Towpath

While the Cayuga-Seneca Canal was in operation, the tow path coming to Waterloo from the east (Seneca Falls) ran on the south side of the canal. At Gorham Street, it crossed to the north side via a tow path bridge as shown in an old post card. When the Barge Canal became operational, a modern 40 foot high bridge was built on the spot and that was where I spent most of my summer days between the ages of 8 and 14. 

Columbia Distillery
 Mr. Duffy of Waterloo had a prosperous distillery in the south of Waterloo. He decided to replace it with a modern up to date one that could compete with any distillery in the USA. When he had the building finished he was paid a visit by the owner of a distillery in the Midwest. It is rumored Duffy was given an “offer he couldn’t refuse” if he never opened his new distillery. All I know is that the new distillery never did open and Mr. Duffy became a man of leisure.

Waterloo Library

 As I was growing up, we had practically no books at home. One day when I mentioned this to my sister, Mary, she said, “Come with me. I’m going to sign you up at the library.” What a wonder world. Hundreds and hundreds of books. I though I had died and gone to heaven! What a wonderful gift Mary had given me.  It started me on my way of loving to read books!

Waterloo Wagon Shop

 This is where the famous “Woodies” (traditional sedan cars converted to wooden station wagons) were made. My job one summer was to pick up the sedans and drive them to the Wagon shop where the conversion job was done. The problem was I had to drive the sedans there and I did not know how to drive (no one bothered to ask). In the beginning, several of the sedans suffered  scrapes and dents due to my poor driving but it wasn’t a problem because most of the sedan body was removed anyway.

Waterloo High School

 This is where I went from 1940 to 1944. Some years after I graduated, it was decided the school was much too small (please note: the population had not changed) The high school was made into a grade school and a new humongous high school was built! The current plan is to tear down the grade school.

Genung Funeral Home

 Across the street from the Waterloo High School stands the Genung Funeral Home. What was unusual about this funeral home? Well for one thing, the Genung family buried a man in their family plot 72 years after he had died!!

 For several generations, every school kid in Waterloo knew that a small building next to the funeral home contained a mummy!  Only the bravest had the nerve to peek into the back window of this building to confirm this fact.  Here is the story:

 Bill Bailey, born George, died in 1899. He was a poor man with no friends and his body was sent to the Genung Funeral Home. Charles Genung, the funeral director, was working on a new embalming process at the time and he received permission to try it on Bill Bailey. The experiment was very successful so Bailey’s body wrapped in a loin cloth was just kept on a platform in the small shed. When CB’s father died, the funeral was held at Genungs and I asked  the current director, John Genung, if he would show Bill Bailey to our kids. He said he would be glad to. So we all trooped out to the small building and there on a small table lay a man clad only in a loin cloth. His skin was dark as though deeply tanned but all his features and hair looked perfectly normal. I felt anyone who had known him when he was alive would instantly recognize him.

 A few years later, John Genung decided it was time to give Bill Bailey a proper burial so in 1971, 72 years after his death, he was buried in the Genung plot.

Map of Waterloo, NY