For the historian, a local author can be a treasure trove of information. Facts can be gleaned, a way of life can be learned, or one can get a sense of place. Port Byron has had a few authors who have left us small treasures from the past, and then there are the regional authors can also help to give us a sense of what life was like in the old days. Here are a few that I return to over and over again.
Clara Barrus was the daughter of a prominent local man, and she went off to college in the late 1880s to study medicine at Boston University, graduating in 1888 as one of a very few woman doctors of the time. She wrote a fan letter to naturalist John Burroughs in 1901, and became his nurse and companion for the rest of his life. She wrote many books about Burroughs, and in the early 1920s, she wrote one about her life in Port Byron. It is titled "A Life Unveiled by A Child of the Drumlins." Published in 1922, the book states that all the people are fiction, but the names used are so close to the actual names of the people that the claim is nonsense. It’s great snapshot of what life was like in the middle part of the 1800s and what life was like for a young, single female doctor. Copies are rare, but can be found quite cheaply.
"Gram’s Story" (1955) by Eva Burdick Blauvelt is a straight-out memoir presented as a older lady (Gram) speaking with a younger school teacher who happened to rent a room in the Blauvelt home. If you want a taste of life, this is it. A 1956 review in a Rome paper states that although this book was intended for a younger audience, it would have strong appeal for anyone born before the 1900s since it is such a nostalgic look backward.
Miss Carrie Belle Root wrote a interesting book about the village in "The History of Home" (1948). Called an epic poem in many of the press releases, the fact-based verse runs almost 90 pages, through which the reader is taken from the beginning of settlement up to World War II. She even included a name index. If you can find an original copy of this paperback book, you will find that even the photographs are of decent quality. Carrie was a member of the class of 1922 and was working for the government in Washington when she wrote the book, and left the sales to the local folks, who ran ads asking that people please buy it so they could pay the printing bill.
Evrand H. Kerns wrote a pamphlet history. Titled "The History of Port Byron and Mentz" (1922), this very thin “book” runs 12 pages, which is why I call it more a pamphlet than a book. An insurance man from Weedsport, Evrand’s family was from Port Byron and he had quite the collection of historical documents in his personal collection. Evrand does repeat many of the mistakes passed down through history, but the book is a decent starting place for research. In 1948, his collection was donated to the New York State Library.
If you wish to range out a bit to the western sections of New York, the collection of books from Arch Merrill will take you on a pleasurable trip back in time. Arch was a writer for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, and these books began life as Sunday feature stories. In total, he wrote 23 books filled with stories from the past, and if you enjoy history, you will certainly enjoy these. I suggest you start with "The Towpath" or "Slim Fingers Beckon."
In "Grandfather Stories" (1955), Samuel Hopkins Adams started as a “muckraker,” but not of the black earth west of Port Byron. Instead, he exposed the worthless patent medicines of the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the opening chapter, Samuel introduces us to his two grandfathers: Samuel Miles Hopkins, of Auburn, and Myron Adams, of Rochester. Samuel visited both homes and picked up stories and experiences from both places, and these he passed along to us in the pages of this really good book. It is clear that he loved Grandfather Myron's stories, but he also speaks about the great ginseng harvest along the shores of Owasco Lake. Unlike his book "Canal Town," "Grandfather Stories" is a work of nonfiction, although since it contains folklore, it seems to be regarded as fiction. This book might be a final farewell from Adams, as he died shortly after it was released.