How Geography Attracts Populous
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How Geography Attracts Populous

Houghton was once Jockey Street and home to horse thieves.

How Geography Attracts Populous

You may think this article may seem like a history class assignment, I promise you it’s not, nor will it read like one. This article is about appreciating the land that is around you, the riverbeds, canals, mountains, and valleys that you and I take for granted every day. These pieces of geography have more importance then we realize, and I would, for a moment like us all to appreciate it.

My grandpa recently introduced me to local historical author Arch Merrill. Merrill was born in the last few years of the 19th century and died in the mid 1970s. Throughout his life Merrill became a fanatic of the Upstate New York area and the history which formed and continues to form the land.

The Changing Years by Merrill is all about the turn of the century. New inventions were springing up everywhere and it changed the course of life. Some geographic dependent inventions such of that of the steamboat and trolley car gave rise to significant areas which now in the 21st century look like no good towns full of waste. For instance, Rochestarians are all very familiar with the Pier at Charlotte. Now a day the smelly waters of Lake Erie drive people away as quick as they came, but back in its hay day this was the place to be. Steam boats took newly-weds on cruises through New York and Canadian waters. Trolley cars brought people up to enjoy the beach on the occasional beautiful Rochester days. This harbor which can be easily looked over now was once a huge draw for people to come to the Rochester area.

River Ramble is adorable little collection of articles Merrill wrote for the Democrat & Chronical, the local Rochester newspaper which he worked for. Put together in this book is the story of Merrill’s mostly on-foot trek up the side of the West side of the Genesee River. Obviously, the importance of the Genesee is not diminished whatsoever in this book. The Genesee brought towns such as Wellsville, Belfast, Caneadea, Filmore, Mt. Morris, Geneseo, Avon, and Rochester to life.

Merrill records of the “liquid gold” oil scramble there was in Wellsville and Richburg. He writes about sweet things such as the town of Angelica being named after its original land owner Phillip Church’s mother. It is learned that Belfast is named after an old Irish sea town and how heavyweight champions used to come to the area to train under Billy Muldoon at his renowned training camp. The Erie canal and its connection of the bigger cities to Olean was an excitement back in those days.

I have loved the Alleganey area ever since I entered it. I love everything from Letchworth to the beautiful but annoying hills I have to climb at Houghton College’s campus. Therefore Merrill’s description of Houghton and the surrounding areas is very sentimental to me. Little insignificant Caneadea was the southernmost point of the Seneca Indians. The town’s name itself means “where the heavens rest upon the earth” in its native tongue. The old Council House of the Senacas was in this old town too, if it is still there I do not know. What I do know is that this line from Merrill is true “Houghton on the Genesee is one of the few college town in America where it is impossible to buy liquor or tobacco in any form” Houghton has stuck by its principles. When Merrill is writing this Houghton was entering its 60th year as an establishment. Houghton is now entering its 134th year yet the land’s beauty although altered has remained. Although only Fancher Hall one of the original “Georginain red-brick college buildings” remains to remind students of older days.

Without the Genesee, these towns would have never received any attention, let alone the little they get now. Arch Merrill shows readers how important geography is to an establishment. Big or small, the towns that live on now were once hugely important to Americans for one reason or another. I hope as you glance at the world around you, there starts to become a deeper sense of appreciation for the geography around you, because it may have drawn your family there.

Merrill, Arch. "The Changing Years". American Book-Stratford Press, New York.

Merrill, Arch. "A River Ramble: Saga of the Genesee Valley". Louis Heindl and Son; Rochester, NY.

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