Niagara Gazette

September 24, 2013

County historian brings back the sweet sounds of Niagara's past

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Deputy Niagara County Historian Ron Cary doesn't see his manner of dress as a costume.

When he's performing at Old Fort Niagara or, as he was Monday, in front of a crowd for the Historical Association of Lewiston, he's simply wearing clothes. That's what they are to a reenactor such as himself. Just clothes.

Still, his period attire, costume or not, was meant to replicate as close to possible the dress of a traveling musician from the late 1700s or early 1800s, the theme of his popular presentation, which includes not only his clothing but also his music. It's a show Cary, a former music teacher in North Tonawanda, said is particularly gratifying.

"It's just fun telling people about the history," he said. "And that I can couple my love for music, my love for playing the guitar, with telling the history, it's great. I've always said if I wasn't a music teacher, I would've been a history teacher."

The show is part of the outreach program the county's historian office provides. So Cary and his two colleagues are often seen around the county offering bits of history lessons to groups who want to bring them in.

In the case of the Historical Association of Lewiston, Monday's performance, which took over the bar at Water Street Landing in Lewiston, was a chance to test the possibility of a continuing program with the performer.

Association President Leandra Collesano said Cary, who first performed for the group last year to a standing-room only crowd at the Lewiston Stone House, could easily become a yearly guest should he choose to accept.

Cary, meanwhile, said just performing a second program was new.

"I have a standard set of songs I perform," he said. "This was the first time I'd ever had to come up with a second set of songs. It's also the first time I've performed as a tavern musician in an actual tavern. Usually I'm in other places."

How different was it for him? He said he needed to debut a song he'd never performed in public to fill out his set list for the roughly 90 minute program. "The Ballad of Betsy Doyle," about a wife of a soldier during the War of 1812 at Fort Niagara, is the only song in his repertoire written by himself.

Before Cary took the microphone Monday, Collesano and village Historian Pamela Hauth debuted a short video they produced about the history of the building currently known as Water Street Landing, the event's host.

Among the moments highlighted, Collesano said, was a gigantic ice jam in 1909. She said she learned a lot about what it was like before the ice boom was installed near Lake Erie's flow into the Niagara River, which has limited the amount of ice rushing to shore in the village.

"Some of the methods they took were interesting," she said. "From actually moving houses, and the governor of the state calling for dynamite to be brought down from Buffalo. They were blowing up the ice. I learned a lot, so that was cool."

The video, part of a planned series, is available on the association's YouTube account, accessible by visiting www.youtube.com/nylewiston.

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.