Another phenomenon, still more strikingly modern, was a package of lucifer matches, which, in old times, would have been thought actually to borrow their instantaneous flame from the nether fires of Tophet.
― Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
Last week, in Exploring my Scottish Roots at Cazenovia’s Brea Loch Inn George Cassidy Payne took us on a charming tour of the Brea Loch Inn. George’s montage reminded me that about ten years ago at a garage sale I bought a large bagful of matchbooks and some matchboxes collected possibly in the 1960s, but mostly in the 1970s and 1980s and perhaps part of the 1990s (with one wedding matchbook dating back to 1956) — until now mostly forgotten in the attic.
[Editor’s note: About ten years ago, at a garage sale I bought a couple of hundred vintage matchbooks from restaurants around western and central New York, mostly forgotten in the attic. George’s piece inspired me to retrieve two matchbooks of the Brea Loch Inn. From David Kramer’s collection.]
The technical term for matchbook and matchbox collecting is Phillumeny. The hobby was especially popular from the 1960s through the 1980s. Several factors led to the decline of phillumeny. Smoking in general decreased while bans on restaurant and bar smoking increased. At the same time, smokers mostly switched to disposable butane lighters. Many businesses stopped offering matchbooks altogether. In addition, bulky cardboard matchboxes with less distinct images and much poorer quality of print were widely introduced — to the dismay of phillumenists who revel in the distinct and varied matchbook aesthetic.
I can’t recall exactly where or from whom I bought the matchbooks for less than five dollars. The seller was not the collector; I vaguely recall the seller mentioning the collector had died and no one wanted to keep the collection, itself a potential fire hazard.
Going through the matchbooks was a poignant experience. Perhaps the collector hoped a family member would continue the tradition, no doubt a labor of love. Now, here were the matchbooks, being sold to a stranger for basically a song. (On ebay, I discovered none of the books have a value of more than three dollars and most have none.)
The matchbooks offer a glimpse into someone’s life many decades ago. I imagine the matchbooks were mementos kept by a couple to chronicle their scenic journeys. Most of the books are from the Finger Lakes region where I assume they lived, possibly in Rochester where I bought them. One book is from the Rochester Marine Midland Bank that ceased operations in 1999.
The couple’s taste ran from folksy restaurants and diners to quaint inns, at least three of which are haunted. I can see them taking weekend getaways, soaking in the rich history of central and western New York. They mainly stayed in New York except for several trips to rural Connecticut, where perhaps they had family or a child in college. The couple did go once to the Grand Canyon, Arizona and Hawaii and once out of the country to Toronto.¹
About half the inns and restaurants still exist.
Long a western NY icon, Shore’s Orchard Downs Restaurant was demolished in 2001.
circa 1960. Photo from Orchard Park (NY) (Images of America) 2003 by Suzanne S. Kulp
Village Inn, Massena, NY
A 2017 comment on tripadvisor.com. “My favorite restaurant in Massena – so sad they are closing. 🙁 A long-time Massena landmark will be closing at the end of the year, The Village Inn. They have had a long, successful history in Massena and I am very sad to see them close. Generations of Casselmans have enjoyed many happy times, celebrations, and just great dinners at the Cecots’ restaurant. Tonight I had dinner there with a wonderful friend, Judith. It was excellent as usual. I had the Mussels as an appetizer, with a fresh, garlic broth. I could have used the entire bread basket sopping that up. 🙂 Followed that up with the St. Lawrence Perch. Always one of the best dishes, the breading is so light and crispy. Topped it off with a piece of lemon meringue pie, which really brought back the family memories…it was my favorite that my grandmother used to make, and this one was perfectly tart. Shawna and Cathy – once again an excellent meal; Sara – thank you for top notch service. I’ll be back a couple of times before I leave for the summer (please don’t close)!! :)”
Golden Buck, Ovid, NY
Customer review from tripadvisor.com, “So many locals love the Golden Buck in Ovid, NY. There are fancier places, ones that are more costly, but “the Buck” is a favorite for good fare in an unpretentious atmosphere. There are specials every night offered at very reasonable prices. This is a great value not too far from the hustle/bustle of the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.” [Photo: BizBuySell]
Glen Iris Inn, Letchworth Park, Castile, NY
The Glen Iris Inn, William Pryor Letchworth’s former home, is located on the top of a cliff overlooking Middle Falls in Letchworth State Park, New York State, USA. William Letchworth found the day-to-day operations of business burdensome and so sought refuge from the business world and decided to build a home; he settled on the location while as a tourist gazing at the view in what the Seneca Indians called the Sehgahunda Valley through which the Genesee River flowed. In 1859 he purchased his first tract of land near Portage Falls. Letchworth hired noted landscape architect William Webster to design the grounds of the estate, which Letchworth named Glen Iris after the Greek goddess of rainbows. Webster and some special guests would eventually plant huge varieties of differing trees and flowering bushes throughout the park, including white and red pines, oaks, and dogwoods. He bequeathed his 1,000-acre (4 km2) estate to New York in 1906, which now forms the heart of Letchworth State Park. In 1914 Letchworth’s home became a country inn and grew to become the center of a thriving state park. (Wikipedia)
The Holloway House, East Bloomfield, NY
Since 1808 this fine dining restaurant in a colonial dwelling in Bloomfield, NY has catered to those in quest of great food, served in a quiet and restful atmosphere in the Finger Lakes Region of NY. (thehollowayhouse.com)
Crystal Barn, Pittsford, NY
As reported in a 2010 Rochester Business Journal article, “The Crystal Barn Restaurant in Pittsford, a fixture for years among fine-dining establishments in the Rochester area, is on the market.” The restaurant never reopened.
Avon Inn, Avon, NY
Local historians maintain that if the history of the Genesee Valley had never been written, it could easily have been recreated from the reflective history of the Avon Inn. Built circa 1840, this beautiful Greek revival structure was initially the residence of Jonathan H. Gerry, a successful grower of broom corn. After 1866, it was operated as a health center that was well known from Maine to Florida. Water from the sulfur springs was used to treat rheumatism, neuralgia, malaria and other conditions. Among many “firsts,” the Avon Inn had the first central heating system in the Genesee Valley; the first elevator in upstate New York; and was the site of the first bank and post office of Livingston County. The wealthy and the famous were often guests at the Avon Inn. Some of these well-known personages were George Eastman, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, General Jonathan M. Wainwright, Corregidor hero of World War II and Katharine Hepburn. Beginning as early as 1883, the Avon Inn was featured in many newspapers and magazine articles, both locally and nationally. In February 1979, the Avon Inn was extensively damaged by a fire. The fire destroyed the 3rd floor, which was added on in the earlier years as a health resort. The Inn was restored after two years of extensive renovations by then owner Frank Csapo. The property was then sold to Linda Moran who successfully operated the Inn for 34 years until her retirement in 2016. Which brings us to present day. The Inn is again being renovated (2017) and reopened its doors in 2018 under new ownership. The Inn features a newly designed ballroom to host special events, corporate retreats and weddings of up to 200 guests. Fourteen boutique style hotel rooms are also available. Both guests of the hotel and the local community will be able to enjoy casual dining in the bar/tavern area as well as the expansive wrap-around porch. (avoninnny.com)
Aurora Inn, Cayuga, NY
Set on the shores of Cayuga Lake amidst a tiny, heritage village in the heart of the Finger Lakes, the Aurora Inn and its lakeside dining room has a pedigree dating back to 1833. The original country inn has been impeccably restored to appeal to today’s most discerning guests. The Aurora Inn has all the intimacy of a bed and breakfast with services and amenities that only a luxury hotel can offer. (TripAdvisor.com)
The Original HamThatAmHam Restaurant, Chittenango, NY. Established in 1910, The Original later became the Blue Barbeque which closed within the last ten years.
Vintage postcard, ebay
Beardsley Manor, Little Falls, NY
Beardslee Manor is the restaurant inside Beardslee Castle, a three-story castle in Little Falls, New York, USA constructed in 1860 as a replica of an Irish castle. The manor has been rebuilt twice, after having been burned down by fires in 1919 and 1989. (Wikipedia). The castle is well known to be haunted. According to lite987.com, “Throughout Central New York there are countless haunted historic sites that have fallen from public recognition. While not every historic site is haunted and not every haunted location is historic there are large numbers of sites that have found their way back into the public consciousness due to their paranormal activity. One of the most renowned historic locations in the region also known for its haunting is Beardslee Castle. Built in the 1860’s by Augustus Beardslee in Little Falls, the manor was designed to imitate Irish castles. It wasn’t until 1983 when owner Joe Casillo brought in a ghost hunter to investigate the manor was there a mention of the paranormal at the site. The ghost hunter captured strange voices on their recorder and promptly shared these findings with all of the local media. The accounts garnered attention for years until the manor burned for the second time in 1989.”
Belhurst Castle, Geneva, NY
According to lite987.com, “In discussing the topic of haunted locations one of the most cliched and iconic spots for a haunting is that of a castle. The imagery of a European castle silhouetted against a stormy sky brings to mind classic horror stories from Dracula to Frankenstein and not without just cause. In Europe castles are some of the longest standing structures with a bloody history that lends to extensive accounts of paranormal activity. Haunted castles are not limited to Europe however; there are hundreds of castles throughout the United States with 14 of the most prominent castles in New York. One local haunted castle is Belhurst Castle in Geneva.” [Photo: beardsleecastle.com]
The Sherwood Inn, Skaneateles, NY
Built as a stagecoach stop in 1807, the Sherwood Inn has been a favorite resting place for travelers and locals for over two centuries. The Inn has been meticulously restored to the beauty of a bygone era with four fireplaces, pegged wood floors, antique furniture and fine wood detailing to create a relaxing harmony away from everyday cares. (Skaneateles.com)
Weber’s Wayside Inn, Elbridge, NY
Wayside Irish Pub [Photo: HauntedHistoryTrail.com] According to waysideirishpub.weebly.com, “The original building or “Munro House” was built in the 1800s. Reports of ghostly activity at the location date back to at least the 1960s. While the building was closed after a second fire, a passerby looking in the windows saw a transparent woman in a long dress on the stairs. There have been numerous reports of the apparition “Sara” since this event. Sara is believed to be the young girl who hung herself on the third floor. Since the 1960s there have been many sightings of various ghostly beings and reports of paranormal events in the building. Most of the poltergeist-like activity is attributed to a friendly ghost named Harry. However, there are other ghosts also thought to be spending their afterlife in the building. They include the Inn’s original owner, Squire Munro, and an unknown traveler who died in the building. Multiple reports from employees and patrons tell of a male figure dressed in a soldier uniform, and shadow figures in the basement. Many of our patrons and bartenders have felt “touches”, “pokes”, and “cold” spots. It is not unusual to have a female patron complain of having her hair tugged on with no one around her. You are also liable to have a glass fly off the bar without explanation. Pictures just might drop off the walls or an orb may show up in a photo you have taken here.”
Remington’s, Merchants Road, Rochester, NY
Remington’s. [Photo: David Kramer, 3/14/19]
Chase’s Family Restaurant, Waterloo, NY
CHASE’S FAMILY RESTAURANT, Waterloo/Seneca Falls, NEW YORK USA unused postcard (ebay)
The “Big Elms” Victorian, Hornell, NY
Vintage photo of the “Big Elms” (flickr.com) “196 Seneca St. – Hornell, N.Y. Since 1925 One of New York State’s finest restaurants. Over 50 years of fine food service. Beautifully decorated in antiques of the Victorian Era. A favorite place for dining and parties. “The Fawcetts” C.E. Hughes Photography”
I found next to nothing on these gone restaurants. Plums was last mentioned in the Democrat and Chronicle in 1989; Beafsteak Mining Company in 1999. There are a couple of references to the Boardwalk Café from people who worked there in the 70s or 80s.
¹ I found an intriguing clue as to who originally owned the matchbooks. On the Grand Canyon book is a signature from a woman, now deceased, who lived in Town of Campbell northwest of Corning. I learned that her husband, coincidentally, now lives in Rochester only a block and a half away from me. I wondered what the man knew about the signature on the Grand Canyon book and if his late wife — or himself — was the collector. The man was intrigued by the matchbook but said he didn’t know why his wife’s signature was on the book. The man said neither he nor his wife collected matchbooks. It’s a mystery.
Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College.
I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism.
Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones. So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are are invited to join.
I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.”
Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.