The Grand Island Historical Society held a birthday party for President Grover Cleveland this past weekend. I had another birthday party to attend for my kids, but I stopped in at River Lea (the historical building in Beaver Island State Park that was once part of the Allen Farm) to check out the celebration. The Historical Society did a great job; they even had a cake for “Big Steve”! Steve was Grover Cleveland’s real name, and that was his nickname for obvious reasons if you see his bulbous figure.
Grover Moved to Buffalo
Grover Cleveland is not from Cleveland, he’s from Buffalo by way of New Jersey. He had a rich uncle, Lewis F. Allen (of Allentown fame). Allen, of course, owned the famous massive farm on Grand Island, which used to cover much of Beaver Island. Apparently, once upon a time there was a massive horse-operated conveyor belt across the river that used to provide a constant supply of veggies and eggs to Buffalo.
Young Grover Cleveland was looking to make his mark. He wanted to leave New Jersey and go to Cleveland of all places. His uncle convinced him he would have better luck in Buffalo, and so he came. He lived in Allen’s basement, and kept track of his herds of cattle on the Island. Eventually he started working at local law firms and was admitted to the bar. He was even appointed the Assistant District Attorney of Erie County.
During the American Civil War, he actually paid a guy from Poland (George Benninsky) $150 to take his place in combat. Talk about draft dodging—wow. But apparently, you could do that legally back then. I wonder if there is a Victorian Era version of the song ‘fortunate son’ out there featuring an oboe, a bassoon, or a fife and drum.
The Jolly Reefer
But Cleveland was not a bad guy. He assumed a lifestyle of simplicity, and dedicated his growing income instead to the support of his mother and younger sisters. He shunned the high society life of his uncle, and instead enjoyed a robust indulgence in hotel lobbies and saloons. He was a member of the “Jolly Reefers” (I kid you not; that’s the name), which was a social club made up of like-minded upwardly mobile professionals who focused their activities on Grand Island. What sorts of activities? Think full-bodied bathing suits (for men as well), parasols and traditional cocktails all along the Beaver Island shoreline.
Grover the President
Of course, Grover went on to be a popular New York State Governor and the President of the United States. Among other notable things, he was on hand in NYC Harbor when France gave us the Statue of Liberty. As President, he had a reputation for being hard working. He was married while in office and his wife had their children while they lived in the White House. One of them was named Ruth, and the popular candy bar took her name. I love Baby Ruth candy bars!
So why should we care about any of this?
These old stories speak to us still.
I read a recent piece in the Dispatch about a man on the Island (a historian) who saw “layers” of our past as he looked at our town. I loved that description. And I’m starting to see layers too—layers of what has come and what is gone.
Those smart interesting people, living out their lives on this beautiful Island—it’s all quite amazing. Grover Cleveland was a mediocre President, but something about his story—being a hard-working young lawyer on Grand Island in the day when Buffalo boomed, with his great uncle working on cutting-edge farming techniques and Grover and his friends enjoying the many forms of recreation the Island had to offer—speaks to me about where we have been and where we might go.
With highest regards,
Farms, lies, and videotape
Thankfully, (very thankfully), the Town Board came to its senses at the last board meeting and voted (3-2) for a moratorium (a pause) on the special use permit process for agricultural practices in Grand Island Ag Districts. The justification for such a change was that we are currently going through the process of creating an Agricultural Protection Plan on Grand Island. Before we continue past practices that were wrong or need tweaking or make new mistakes; we need to complete that plan.
I am happy we got to this point. I’m frustrated that it took so long. There were so many flips and flops, and I think that is in part due to the lack of knowledge our Town Board has on these subjects. Doing a comprehensive plan should help. But I do think we should hold people accountable for their votes.
I have never allowed anyone to come into Town Hall and berate or belittle my fellow board members—even if I agreed with the negative comments and even though my fellow board members have not granted me the same courtesy. At the last board meeting, I knew there were people eager to attack those who voted differently when the cameras were off. But I created an atmosphere that would not allow for personal attacks.
You can splice and cut video any way you want, and you can smile when the cameras are rolling—but without Kelly Petrie of www.grandislandnews.com providing streaming services –who knows how the votes would go every week. In the end, I’m not into seeking public retribution for bad judgement. I’m into progress. Help me make sure it’s votes and not the show that matters in November.