- 73 Pine Street - Port Byron, New York 13140 - Email: Lock52hs@gmail.com
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 intersections.
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
Town and Village Historians
Village and Town Information
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
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 Postcards http://www.fultonhistory.com/fulton.html. 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 http://www.townofmentz.com/. The Port Byron Library now has a history room and is constantly expanding its collection of newspaper articles, books, and reference materials.
As mentioned, Weedsport NY is only three miles to the east, and many families and businesses share a common history. Old 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 local 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 1853, 1859, 1875 and 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.