Tag Archives: childhood

Old Fort Niagara: History of America

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You are now entering Old Fort Niagara. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

By Jasmine Willis

YOUNGSTOWN — Along the banks of the Niagara River rests an important part of our American history that has withstood more than three centuries.

After two previous posts had failed to make it through the harsh brutality of war the French established Fort Niagara in 1726. It has forever been known as “The French Castle” for its impressive architecture.

The British gained control over the famous fort after a 19-day siege during the French and Indian War in 1759.

Afterwards, during the American Revolutionary War, the British were forced to give the fort to the United States in a treaty signed in 1796.

However, the British managed to capture the fort once again in 1813 during the War of 1812. Once again, the United States were able to get control of the fort in 1815 at the end of the war.

After this last conflict it became a place to train soldiers from the Civil War to Korean War. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard represents the only military still present on the site.

Old Fort Niagara was restored between 1926 and 1934. It is operated today by the Old Fort Niagara Association, Inc., a not-for-profit organization, in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Admission fees, Museum Shop sales, grants, and donations provide support for the operation of the site. Membership in the Old Fort Niagara Association is open to all.

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Our tour guide Toby is explaining to us about the importance of the different cannons used in battle. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

When you think of all the battles and conflicts that took place on the grounds of this fort it makes you appreciate military history even more.

 

The last time I was at Old Fort Niagara it was back in the late 1980s, and there was not much to be seen. It was not nearly as advanced as it is nowadays. It was a breathtaking sight to be there more than 30 years later to see what the association has done with this historic gem now.

 

My mother, Lisa Yvette and I went back and saw a museum and gift shop had been established in a magnificent building across the parking lot from the Old Fort Niagara Lighthouse.

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The Historic Old Fort Niagara Lighthouse. It is a beacon in the storm. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

Within the museum we were able to see the story of the fort unfold with photos, uniforms, documents, and items dug up from the ground by archeologists. Also, there was the original Old Fort Niagara Flag that had been taken by the British long ago. It had been hidden away in Scotland since the early 1990s. Now it is finally back where it belongs at Old Fort Niagara.

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The Original Old Fort Niagara Flag had been captured by the British. It was later taken to Scotland. We got it back in the early 1990s. It was restored and now sits behind glass in the museum. It is 25 feet tall, and has 15 stripes and 15 stars. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

They also show you a 15-minute video talking about the rich history of the fort, and the importance of what you are about to witness as you walk around the grounds.

Once we were out and about to take in the sights of the gorgeous fort and all the history that she had to offer our guide (Toby) gave us a quick story about her.

It was at that moment we realized that a lot had changed in 30 years. This was not going to be the same experience we had three decades ago. We saw that the towers, powder room, and the castle itself had been furnished with items that took us back in time.

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The French Castle is the oldest building still standing at the fort. It has withstood every battle for 300 years. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

As I walked through the castle, I saw a chapel, officers’ headquarters, military kitchen, trading post, and so much more. We were able to see the castle come to life. We could hear the echoes of times long ago. We could feel the souls of those who had come and gone from within those walls.

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The Jesuit Chapel is across the hall from the trade post. It was a lovely sight. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

On a decent day you can clearly see Fort George across the river and the shores of Canada in the distance. This beautiful view can best be seen on the third floor of the towers and where the cannons rest.

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Across the way is Fort George. This a view from the cannons. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

We noticed a couple reenactors were giving demonstrations outside on the grounds. One had the British uniform and the other was wearing the French uniform.

This is our renactor who spent most of his life doing this kind of work. Photos by Jasmine Willis.

The French reenactor said he had been doing this his whole life, and for the last eight years he had taken it on as a profession. His sister mended the uniforms and his parents got the family tradition started long ago.

He was very passionate about what it means to bring history alive, and about what it means to wear the uniforms and be the part of a soldier. He talked about the epic battles they would get to reenact with hundreds of them out on the grounds right after Fourth of July.

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A view from the third floor of the towers. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

The last thing we did before we ended our adventure at Old Fort Niagara was pay our respects at the cemetery. This is the final resting place for those who fought and died for our freedom from the American Revolutionary War to WWII. The thing that touched my heart the most was the decorated tomb of the unknown soldiers who rest there.

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Here is a decorated tomb for the unknown officers and enlisted men who lost their lives in battle here. PHOTOS BY JASMINE WILLIS

There is passion and heart that still rests on the shores of the Niagara River. If you wish to take part in the rich history take time to visit Old Fort Niagara. For more information including hours, ticket prices, and events go to https://www.oldfortniagara.org

 

Pictures of a beautiful life (Part One)

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Sherwood Homestead

My Grandmother’s fond memories of her childhood

By JASMINE WILLIS

“Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age the child is grown, and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies” Edna St. Vincent Millay

After an inspirational road trip to our old hometown my grandmother was gracious enough to share some family treasures with me. Some of which I would like to share. Verna Jean Willis grew up on a farm in Wellsvile.

My grandmother shared some insight on what it was like being a child in the Great Depression.

“We lived on a farm and we were poor,” Verna said. “We had things from the farm to eat. My mother made almost all our clothes, and we went bare foot a lot. I remember placing cardboard in the bottom of my shoes when they would get too worn down.”

Verna recalls all the local farmers helped each other.

“We were a close knit group,” she said. “We helped each other harvest. That was our social life in the farming community, other than going to church on Sundays.”

We visited the old Sherwood Homestead. It was there my Great-Grandmother Ina Church had an emergency appendix surgery on her mother’s kitchen table in 1908. The Sherwood cemetery is nestled in the wooded area that slopes down the hill. My grandmother’s Uncle Abram Slocum lived there the whole time she was growing up.

Off to the Great- Great- Grandmother Addie Adams homestead, Verna pointed out some other cherished childhood memories. Her uncle Herb Adams owned the farm and grew potatoes.

“We would come up here from the school house down the road and after being very tired and hungry we would visit our uncle,” Verna said.” Aunt Maggie had marshmellows, which were a great treat to us. We would stop there to get warmed up.”

Our ancestor Henry Adams from England used potatoes in the 1600s to make beer.

“This is a very old family tradition,” Verna said about potato growers in the family lineage. “Farming was hard work but lovely. We made our own play time. We made fur hula skirts and tied them around our hips with belts. We picked berries, played house, and walked in the swamp collecting frogs and polly wogs.”

Baby animals were part of the turf growing up on the farm. This was true on the Ray Church Homestead. My great grandfather purchased the farm in 1916 from his uncle Abram Slocum and owned it until his death in 1966. His nephew Alan Kruger bought the home and rebuilt it. My grandmother was born in the house with help from the mid-wife who lived next door.

“We had fun with a baby lamb,” Verna recalled. “Our neighbor had three lambs, and could only keep two, so he let us have one. We raised it on a  bottle and she was with us a long time. She had babies and for a long time my father had sheep on the farm. My father wouldn’t let us milk cows, because he was afraid we would get stomped on.”

At what was once my grandmother’s childhood home she got teared up seeing most of her childhood gone.

“It is sad for me to see the barn gone,” she said. “We would jump in the hay piles and feed the horses. I loved watching the large forks lift the hay into the barn. My siblings and I were in there to spread the hay around so it wasn’t in a huge pile. I really loved this place.”

(This is the first part in a series on my grandmothers stories during a Mother’s Day road trip to Wellsville Ny)

A Soldier’s Journey

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Pfc. Donald M Willis WWII US Army

By Jasmine Willis

Before he was a husband, a father, a grandfather,and a carpenter he was part of what is known today as the greatest generation.

Donald M. Willis joined the thousands of other young soldiers in the journey to bring back their countries freedom in the second great war known as World War II.

He was trained in Camp Upton, New York and Camp Eustis, Virginia, before sailing across the choppy ocean waters to Germany, where he feared he would have to fight his own family.

The 18 – year- old from Wellsville, NY came from German lineage. He thought he may still have cousins who lived over there, and told his commander this on the boat ride over. His commander told him ‘Believe me son, when they start shooting at you, you will shoot back.’

This was the story I heard growing up about my grandfather and his war. He had come from a long line of patriots, so maybe he felt it was his duty to be part of the ranks. Although he was drafted like many others in that time period it always seemed like he was proud to be part of this journey with his fellows.

Every year our country honors these men for their sacrifice, along with all those before and after them. I have been wanting to honor my grandpa’s story for a long time now. Recently I got my hands on some of his war letters to his family. In them he talks about the “frozen tundra” of the Upton Camp; the eagerness to be a pilot and the every day routines of training.

Most of these letters are to his mother to ease her mind her oldest son was well and staying out of trouble.

They haven’t made any films about my grandfather, or honored him in any legions, but whenever I see anything to do with World War II I stand proud and call it grandpa’s war. We honor him as his family, and we know the stories. We tell these stories to others in hopes of keeping them alive.

Donald M. Willis didn’t belong to the world, and that is quite alright. He belonged to those who loved him and those who fought beside him; he belonged to those fellows in his barracks who were just as honored as he was to fight for the country they all loved; he belonged to the stories we tell ourselves.

For the sake of his privacy I can’t publicize all 600 pages of his thoughts on the war, family, friends, and my grandma Jean. However, I can give pieces of it to those who wish to know another person of the greatest generation.

While in training to be a radio operator, Don worries about his little brother Fredrick getting a job; his father working very hard at the plant; his aunts and uncles and cousins; he even talks about the pride he takes in the special duties he performs for his platoon.

“Our platoon is always the first one to fall out in the morning,” he writes proudly to his mother. “I wish dad could have come down to see me, but it would have been difficult.”

“I get along fine with the fellows in my barracks,” he continues to write to his mother.” After I get out of here I will make some girl a nice husband.”

That girl was Verna Jean Church. After he was honorably discharged in April 1946 he came home to marry his sweetheart  he lovingly called Jeanie. They had seven beautiful children, and he had two other beautiful girls from his second marriage many years later.

Don was a church goer and a big band player. He loved the heartbeat in music.

“I have a chance to go to church every Sunday, but they are just general services. I don’t like those too well,” he writes. “This morning I was playing my Touette for the fellows, and the sergeant heard me. He asked me to come in his room and play for him. He said he knew some of the fellows in the band and he could get me in OK.”

Willis fought at the Rhineland and East Europe Battles, as well as being stationed in Japan at the end of the war. He received the American Theater Ribbon, two bronze stars, Victory Medal, and Good Conduct Medal.

Grandpa’s story may never be a movie, or spoken out to giant crowds by his fellow comrades on Memorial Day Parades, but that is OK. He passed away on June 4, 2002 and there was a 21 gun salute. There was a flag draped over his coffin and folded by two veterans. This was his ‘thank you for your service’ from his fellow soldiers.

This is my way of honoring his memory and being the keeper of his stories.

Coming back to family roots ~ An American Tale

By Lisa Willis
Photo by Lisa Willis ~ The Hann Homestead Inn

By JASMINE WILLIS

A Connecticut man came to Andover with $300 in his pocket in hopes to buy a saw mill, but that is just the beginning of a cherished American story.

In 1840 Simeon Hann purchased several hundred acres of land, and built a lovely home for his wife Rachel (Adams) Hann and their 10 children. For the next 120 years the large white luxurious home provided shelter for many generations of the Hann family.

In the 1960s the home was sold to an outsider, Harold Ford. After that the place stayed vacant and forgotten for nearly 40 years, before being purchased by David Herr in 2000.

Herr bought the home with intent on restoring it back to its natural beauty.

“He (Herr) bought the home for $50,000 and moved in with his wife and six children,” New Owner Barbara Strouse Rechenberg said. “He liked to incorporate the old with the new.”

Rechenberg saw great pride in her family home, and in March 2014 she was finally able to buy the 174- year- old house.

The Rechenberg’s opened their doors in July 2014, turning their family home into a Bed and Breakfast called The Hann Homestead Inn.

Rechenberg is the third great grandaughter of Simeon and Rachel Hann. She has several historical artifacts showcased, as well as keeping everything family oriented.

The five rooms available are named after the family lines: Adams, Lever, Burdick, Burch and Downs. There are two rooms with a private bathroom at $140 a night; three rooms with a shared bathroom at $100 a night.

“When people stay here we stay downstairs,” Rechenberg said. “There is a lot around here that people are interested in. Whether they are just passing through or coming back to the area everyone is welcome.”

The Hann House began as a home built by a loving husband for his dear wife and 10 children, a shelter for generations of Hann relatives, a sanctuary for the underground railroad, a place lost in time for decades on brink of extinction, rescued and restored to its natural beauty, and finally ending back where it all started … a place to call home for the weary traveler, familiar face or curious tourist alike.

Contact information can be found on The Hann Homestead Inn