|The Lock 52 Historical Society
Of Port Byron NY is a volunteer run organization
dedicated to collecting and preserving the history of the village of Port
Byron and the Town of Mentz. The Society takes the name from an old Erie
Canal lock, Lock 52, which can be seen on the west side of the village. The
Society maintains a building that is one of the older houses in the village
and it is located on Pine Street, just south of the Route 31 and 38
The Society maintains a collection of locally produced artifacts, school
class photographs, jars and labels from the village mince-meat factories,
information on men who served in the military, and family files.
There are a number of people who can trace their roots back to Port Byron
or who settled here for awhile. Before he was a leader of the Mormon faith,
Brigham Young lived here in the early 1830's. He was a painter and builder.
One of the early buildings he lived in still exists on Pine Street. Henry
Wells of "Wells and Fargo" fame also lived here in the early 1830's. We can
trace Isaac Singer of sewing machine fame here in 1837, when he was better
known for his acting then his machinery skills. Sculptor Byron Pickett lived
here in the 1840's and his family is buried in the local cemetery. Clara
Barrus trained in Boston to become a doctor. She is better known as the aid
and biographer of naturalist John Burroughs. She also wrote a book about
her childhood, titled "A Life Unveiled" written under the name "A Child of
the Drumlins". Actress Kittie Rhoades was raised here and she kept a summer
house nearby. She is buried in the local cemetery. Opera singer (1920's to
1940's) Richard Bonelli was born here as Richard Bunn.
Hours of operation
Due to a small membership, the Society has very limited hours. The Historical
Society is open during the spring, summer and fall on Thursday mornings from
10 till noon. Board meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month
at 5:30pm. The Society conducts historical programming from April till November
on the third Wednesday of the month at 7pm. The building can be opened by
appointment by calling the President or Dorothy Walker at the numbers listed
below. We are always happy to help and we will do our best to aid you in
your research, even if that means just giving you hints as to where to research
and what might be available. Given notice, we have even taken visitors on
a tour of the village and town.
Society President- Michael Riley 315-776-3070 or
Alternate Contact- Chick Walker 315-776-4027
Town and Village Historians
The Port Byron NY Village Historian is Dawn Roe. You can contact Dawn
5 Valley Drive
Port Byron, NY 13140
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Dawn
also maintains a blog at
The Town of Mentz Historian is Michael Riley. He can be reached at:
Port Byron, NY 13140
E-mail him at
He can help you with questions related to canals, railroads, deed and probate
research, and census look ups.
The Society is in need of members. What we are able to do is limited by our
low membership, so we encourage current residents and those who have family
ties here to support our efforts. Membership is $5.00 for individuals and
$8.00 for families. Donations are always welcome. Mail your name, address,
phone and email to: Hellen Davies, 1649 Davies Lane, Port Byron, NY 13140.
Village and Town
Port Byron is a village of 1500, located about 25 miles west of Syracuse
on Route 31 and 7 miles north of Auburn on Route 38. The village sits at
the center of the Town of Mentz. The town has a population of about 2000.
Mentz was formed out of the larger town of Brutus and it is comprised of
military lots 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 60, 61, 62, 63, 71, 72, 73, 74, 82, 83,
84, and 85, with the village being made up of small parts of lots 61, 62,
72 and much of 73. There were two smaller settlements located in the town;
Centerport and Hayden Mills. Centerport is located about a mile to the east
of Port Byron, on the line of the canal. It was a place where boats could
dock to pick up or discharge cargo. There was a small agricultural manufacturer,
a store house and grocery, plus a number of homes. Hayden Mills was located
about two miles south of the village on the Owasco Outlet. The Hayden family
had a large textile mill there and there were a small number of homes.
Port Byron was a village on the
Erie Canal and canal remains
can be found in and around the village and town. East of the village, the
enlarged canal can be seen at Schasel Park. There you will find a towpath
walking trail that runs between Port Byron and Weedsport. It will soon be
part of the New York State Canalway Trail, the cross-state recreational trail.
To the west, the old canal can be followed as it passes through the muck
lands, a place where onions and potatoes have been grown for generations.
Port Byron was one of the very few villages where the route of the canal
was changed during the enlargement of the canal in the 1850's. As such, vestiges
of both canals can be found inside the village. Also to be found are remains
of the West Shore Railroad, and the Rochester, Syracuse and Eastern Trolley
line. The main line of the New York Central, which still operates as the
CSX, is located about a mile to the north of the village. At one time, Port
Byron was a stop on all these transportation systems.
Like its neighboring villages of Weedsport and Montezuma, Port Byron is now
a bedroom community with most residents working in Syracuse or Auburn. The
New York State Thruway passes through the northern edge of the village, but
to get into the village from the Thruway, you will need to get off at Exit
40, the Weedsport / Auburn exit and follow the signs west to Port Byron.
Researching Mentz and Port Byron
There are a number of sources to aid your research of family, places or events
in our community. Of course, the first place to check is by performing a
search on the Cayuga County NYGenweb site. But,
as always, be careful.
1879 History of Cayuga County is a fine resource, but it is not perfect
and there are errors. By comparing the descriptions of Port Byron and Mentz
from the 1863 and 1868 Cayuga County directories, you will see that certain
sections of Storke's history is basically a rehash of what was written before.
Of course, Storke goes into a lot more depth and in many instances, it is
the only place you will find a mention of your pre-1879 subject. E.H. Kern
updated the Town and Village history in his 1922 work, aptly titled, "History
of Port Byron and Mentz." Check all these sources for information about the
important people, first settlers, and events of the town.
The local paper was the Port Byron Chronicle, but unfortunately, no one in
town has a full series. What does remain can be accessed online at Old Fulton
You can also use this resource to research the Auburn and Weedsport papers
which cover Port Byron fairly well in "neighbors" type columns. The Town
maintains the local cemeteries and has the cemetery records, and in the past
couple years, the Cemetery Superintendent and his wife have done a fantastic
job of organizing the records, making lookups very quick and easy. The Town
Clerk also has late 1800 birth and death records, town tax records, and some
maps. You can find contact information at the Town website at
Port Byron Library now has a history room and is constantly expanding its
collection of newspaper articles, books, and reference materials.
As mentioned, Weedsport is only three miles to the east, and many families
and businesses share a common history.
Brutus maintains a very good collection of files.
The Cayuga County
Historian's office also has files that relate to our area. Also, check
with the Seymour Library in
Auburn for it has a very good
history study room and local newspapers on microfilm. The
Bourke Library at the Cayuga
County Community College has a fine local history room with census records,
newspapers, and thousands of books relating to local history.
The earliest maps we have of Port Byron are maps made of the new Erie Canal
in 1834. These "Hutchingson" maps were made in 1834. These maps cover only
the area immediately surrounding the canal, so they are limited in scope.
The surveyor's field books for these maps still exist in the
New York State
Archives in Albany and they sometimes show even more information then
the finalized published maps. There are the
1904 maps available on the
genweb site. At the
Bird Library at Syracuse University,
one can find the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, covering mostly the business
sections of the village. These date from 1870 to 1930.
The Cayuga County Clerk's
Office has deed books back to the beginning of settlement in the county
and many times the old deeds contain a great deal of information about the
seller and buyer, surrounding property owners, and even wills. Port Byron
went through a lot during the Erie Canal enlargement in the late 1850's and
the nearby owners filed damage claims against the state. These continued
throughout the canal era, so be sure to look for not only land sales, but
damage awards. Similar situations occurred during the building of the Rochester
to Syracuse trolley and West Shore Railroad lines. Also be sure to check
wills and probate records in the
Records Retention Office.