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Riley: A scene from a Port Byron party in 1844

Riley: A scene from a Port Byron party in 1844

Lock 52 Historical Society 2

The Lock 52 Historical Society in Port Byron.

Lock 52 Historical Society has added more papers to its digital resources. The Port Byron Herald was printed in the 1844 to 1846 period, and like most papers of its time, the pages are filled with ads for magical potions touted to cure everything from the cough to cancer. And there are plenty of ads for local businesses, which helps paint a picture of the local economy in a bustling canal village. Scanning through them, I pulled out this gem. It is from the Dec. 24, 1844 issue, and it describes a party that was to raise money to help the poor. It provides a fascinating insight into social events and what courtship was like for the young. The men send notes by way of a “post office” to the ladies and bid on cakes baked by them in the hopes of winning a gold ring. If they got the cake with the ring, did they get a new wife? It also highlights how the National Hotel was the center of social life:

The Donation Party for the Benefit of the Poor: This benevolent “getting up” of some of our liberal hearted citizens, came off on Thursday evening last, at the National: and was a truly fine affair. At an early hour the gentlemen part of the committee were on the alert, in collecting the ladies who wished to attend the gathering; and shortly in every direction sleigh loads of the fair portion of our community, were seeing “agoing” to the Donation Party. In a few hours a large collection had assembled, and still they continued to come as bearers of their ‘free will offerings.’ In the mean time the suit of rooms on the west side of the Hotel were thrown into one and converted into a supper room, extending from front to rear, with a table the whole length. This, the committee had amply supplied with a repast for the large and respectable company assembled.

The table was spread and tastefully arranged by the lady managers, exhibiting a judgment and skill creditable to them as the presiding fairies of the feast. Between 7 and 8 o’clock the numerous company commenced taking their supper. The long table was crowded for several times, and the guests served from the abundance provided; one set retiring and another coming, until the whole were waited on at the social board. After the supper, the large Hall, and the other upper rooms of the Hotel received the company. The Hall was crowded to over flowing by the numerous throng; sparkling eyes and smiling faces greeted the eye in every direction; youth and beauty were mingled in the mass, and the joyous greetings of friends with unison of feelings, presented a animated sight.

Now commenced a scene of amusements, various and pleasing among the youthful part of the assembly. After the manner of some of our ladies’ fairs, a post office had been established, from which, many of the young folks received communications addressed to them, subject to a fee; and from what we saw, we should think this department done a pretty good business. A humorous lottery was also drawn, consisting of 100 small cakes numbered to that amount, with tickets to correspond with the numbers on the cakes. There was but one prize; and that one of the cakes, containing a gold ring. The tickets being sold at a shilling each, the lottery commenced drawing, every one receiving a cake according to their number of their ticket; and it was amusing to see the anxiety to ascertain who had the sweet cake with the gold stuffing.

Mike Riley mug

Mike Riley

During the amusements of the evening, the fine band from Weedsport, which had praise worthy liberality volunteered their service on the occasion, enlivened the assembly with their fine music, giving life and animation to the scene. Beauty, taste and fashion mingled in the crowd; and the young men and the old with countenances dressed in smiles, enjoyed themselves heartily; while the evening passed off, we believe, satisfactorily to all. Too much praise, we think, cannot be awarded to the managers for their exertions to make the everything pleasant to the company; their supper, attention and polite bearing to all, reflecting credit on them; and we fancy the party will be remembered by our young folks, as a scene of enjoyment for some time. The receipts arising from the party, we understand amounts to about $110, not a small aid for the poor in this vicinity, who need the helping hand of charity.

(This was later adjusted to $92.41, which is about $3,200 today.)

Michael Riley is the Mentz town historian and the president of the Lock 52 Historical Society. The Lock 52 blog can be found at Riley can be reached at


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