Long Description:Taken from the 2007 Silver Lake Vacation Guide and written by Eric S. Parker, Trustee, Wyoming Historical Pioneer Association 2007)
On Walker Road, at Silver Lake, within the limits of the Village of Perry, is located a unique historic site that has played a vital part in the lives of Silver Lake area residents for the past century and a quarter. August 5, 2007 marks the 135th anniversary of the first use of the Saxton's Grove property to recognize the contributions of our ancestors in creating the community we enjoy today.
This summer's annual picnic will be a special opportunity to honor that shared heritage. In the tradition of pioneer picnics past, a whole day of entertainment is planned, including: a chicken BBQ sponsored by the Perry Rotary Club; speakers from pioneer and native American backgrounds; barbershop, swing, jazz and folk music; dancing exhibits and demonstrations; in all a very full day of fun and educational activities. Our log cabin, schoolhouse and new museum will be open so all in attendance can remember and reminisce.
Kids of all ages: plan to attend and bring your parents and grandparents to honor them as the Association has done for 135-years.
In 1972 the first "Old Folks Picnic" was held at Silver Lake. It was the inspiration and efforts of Myron Locke of Castile and Jonathon Sleeper of Perry that organized the event. It was attended by about 300 persons of all ages who gathered to honor the old folks who were the first pioneers in the area.
From the beginning, the Indian influence in our area was also celebrated. In 1874, William Pryor Letchworth, an original trustee of the Association, attended the picnic with a group of Indians. These Seneca’s entertained the several thousand Wyoming County citizens who gathered for the third annual event. Citizen interest grew steadily each year, the crowds and festivities covering a large area surrounding the current site. Old Association minutes claim a full day of entertainment was provided, including cornet bands, many speakers, dancing, and a carnival type atmosphere. By 1877, it had become time to get better organized. On August 17, 1877, the Wyoming Historical Pioneer Association (WHPA) was incorporated by the State of New York.
From the early years of the association, and through the 1920's, annual attendance always numbered in the several thousands. People attended from throughout Western New York, arriving by buggy, train, and increasingly by the newfangled horseless carriage. Although this latest trend seemed to signal a decline in participation, the Great Depression and WWII were most likely the intervening factors. In fact, there have been only two years since its beginnings in 1872 that no picnic was held.
Notable crowds were present throughout our first 60-years. Governor Theodore Roosevelt's visit in 1899 was reported to have drawn in excess of 25,000 people to Silver Lake. The participation of many important political figures over the years certainly contributed to the excitement and success of the annual event. Among many, Senator James Wadsworth, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Congressman Barber Conable have spoken at important stages of the Pioneer Association's history.
Modern day crowds have increased steadily in recent years to where several hundred people attend each year. With the completion of the new museum, many more visit throughout the year.
The W.P. Letchworth Connection:
One of our most important pioneers in Wyoming County, William Pryor Letchworth, played a very prominent role in the development of Pioneer picnic tradition. He served as a trustee of the Association from its beginnings in 1872. He encouraged and promoted its formal organization as a non-profit incorporated association and its growth in celebrating our pioneer heritage. For the 1874 annual picnic, he arranged for attendance, entertainment, and information from a group of Indian neighbors. He assisted in the collection of artifacts and relics that were important in the culture and work of our earliest settlers. The erection of the Log Cabin provided a meeting place. Display of the growing collection serves as a reminder of an exciting beginning made possible by Mr. Letchworth's involvement and generosity.
Long after his death. W.P. Letchworth's legacy contributed to Pioneer Association needs. After a fire in 1931 destroyed the auditorium on the grounds, concerned trustees loaned several hundred artifacts and relics to the Letchworth Museum in Letchworth State Park for display and safekeeping. After these items were away for 60 years, our current trustees have completed a new museum and reclaimed for permanent display much of the loaned collection.
The many activities of the WHPA, including its annual picnic, provide continuing recognition of the pioneers of Western New York. These activities have become the traditions that so many local citizens look forward to from year to year. The greatest tradition is perhaps the holding of the annual picnic and meeting for 133 of the past 135 summers. The picnics of the 2000's are in many ways the picnics of the 1870's. Speakers and musical entertainment, and of course, recognition of the contributions of the pioneers have continued to be the focus of the annual event.
Very early in its history, the Association began charging membership dues of one dollar per year per member to defray annual costs and the payment of debt on land purchases. Today, one dollar will still make anyone a contributing member, although larger contributions are welcomed.
At the picnic of 1896, gifts of chairs were presented to the oldest man and oldest woman attending the picnic (previous winners being ineligible). This practice has now been continued for more than 100 years. A silver dollar is now awarded to the youngest in attendance. The current trustees of the Association are most involved in accepting, documenting, protecting, and displaying any remembrances of the lives of local pioneers. Robert Grisewood and W.P. Letchworth started the collections; our bylaws since incorporation in 1877 have made it the continuing purpose of the trustees to collect facts, preserve relics, hold reunions, and establish a museum. Our recent progress provides a significant tribute to our founding pioneers.
The Grounds and Buildings:
The pioneer picnic grounds, on three acres near Silver Lake, include several buildings that support the traditions and programs of the Wyoming Historical Pioneer Association. The original building of the Pioneers is Log Cabin. Built with logs donated by local farmers and dedicated in 1878, it has housed the activities and collections of the Association ever since.
A few years later in 1882, a section of an Indian Council Tree was relocated to the grounds from Pavilion, NY and covered with a roof for its preservation. It is reported to have originally been fifty feet in circumference and large enough to hold nearly fifty people within its hollow trunk.
In the 1980's a broadstand was erected in memory of former Town of Perry Supervisor, Erwood (Woody) Kelly. Mr. Kelly was a long time supporter of the Association whose assistance was vital in assuring the long term future of the property by successfully establishing the grounds as a permanent historic site under Wyoming County ownership.
The 1990's brought completion of the new museum where the history of the pioneers is preserved. The museum has answered the concerns of the founders of the Association to collect facts and relics and is growing thanks to the efforts of the current trustees and especially the tireless work of John Morgan who served many years as curator of the collection.
One recent improvement was the addition of the Covington one room schoolhouse. It has been restored and is ready for visitors. Our most recent change, the 1834 church building, has been relocated from downtown Perry to the grounds and we are in the process of raising the funds to complete repairs and renovations. Please help if you can.
The annual picnic is scheduled for Sunday, August 5, 2007. The buildings can be visited at most any other time by appointment. During the summer months the cabin is generally open weekend afternoons. Stop by to reenter and explore pioneer times.
Generous donations of time and money are what keep this organization growing and improving. Contact us or visit us at anytime. Call 237-3001 or Phil Cowie at 237-3755 for information. Donations of your time and talent are always welcome.