County man’s home surrounded with area history

Photos by Beverly Kehe-Rowland Retired school administrator Roger Gilbert has turned his home into a museum of local and family history.

LAKEWOOD — From the moment one enters Roger Gilbert’s Lakewood home they are immersed in history.

The first thing one notices is a grandfather clock, made in 1941 by his maternal grandfather Karl E. Spear, who resided and owned many businesses in Conewango, N.Y. The most unique part of the clock is the face, which is made from an aluminum pie plate. Spear, who was a watchmaker, had many talents. One such talent was that of a woodworker. Two intricately detailed pieces of the same artisan’s work are displayed inside a lighted cabinet a few feet away in the living room. The first is a 3-mast ship with cannons and crew. The other is a model of an Erie Railroad engine with a coal car attached.

Gilbert’s paternal grandparents’ first phone from their Waterboro Hill farm, hangs a few feet away. At the time the phone was used, every neighbor was on the same party line. Incoming calls rang into each home at the same time. Each residence had its own ring, which was differentiated by the length and number of rings, such as one long and two short rings.

“My parents instilled in me a great love of family and local history. They took our family on vacations to visit historical sites when we were young,” says the 87-year-old. “My history teachers at Randolph Central School furthered my interest in history.”

Two of his wife’s grandfather’s oil paintings, one of a water wheel and the other of a light house, hang on the dining room wall. The china closet is filled with his great-grandmother’s set of china, with its many serving pieces, including two soup tureens. Mr. Gilbert still uses these beautiful heirlooms for special occasions.

This clock was made by Gilbert’s grandfather, a woodworker and jeweler.

Both of his parents could trace their lineage to the Mayflower. William Brewster from his mother’s side of the family and who Gilbert says was the reputed leader of the Pilgrims when they came to Plymouth in 1620, gave the first Thanksgiving prayer. Samuel Fuller from the Gilbert side of his family was on the ship and was the settlement’s first doctor. Gilbert is also related to Ethan Allen, who led the Green Mountain Boys.

The museum continues in Gilbert’s basement family room, where his ration stamp books can be found in the WWII area. The stamps were issued by the government and used to buy certain items that were in limited supply during the war.

His mother’s Air Warning System pin is on display as well. The pin was given to her at the time she was an airplane observer or spotter. During World War 2 spotters waited in observation towers to identify the airplanes that flew over their area. They were able to identify the planes by comparing them with picture cards. Mrs. Gilbert and another woman would call Buffalo to report any enemy planes that were spotted in the Ellington area. Her son has knocked on doors on Wade Hill Road in an effort to find someone with information or the location of the observation tower his mother had climbed many decades ago, but found no one who could help. He did meet a woman in another area whose mother set up the spotters.

Memorabilia from the Bemus School House on Waterboro Hill is found in the area set aside for education. A slate, a list of the teachers that taught there from 1865-1879 and several student lists from the late 1800s are part of the display. His mother was the last teacher at the school when the state required it to centralize with either Falconer or Randolph, causing it to close in 1945. The residents on the hill chose Randolph, where the only remaining student, Eunice Hill Speta, was sent. The school is now a private home.

Eighty-seven years later, Mr. Gilbert still has a one-dollar bill given to him by a neighbor at the time of his birth in 1936. The framed silver certificate hangs on the wall near a pencil drawing of his grandmother. The drawing was done on the morning of her wedding by an itinerant person who stopped by her parents’ house saying he understood their daughter was getting married that day. The young bride was not thrilled with the outcome of the drawing. Years later her, beneath the picture of a horse in a frame in her attic, her grandson found what he believed to be the drawing.

A family wall holds generational photos, including those of Gilbert, his wife and their children, along with those of other family members and stories about their lives.

Three cases of arrowheads, found by Karl Spear, are displayed with the other artifacts. In this same basement room, is a round tiger paw table that belonged to his Grandparents Gilbert. He also displays small flags from every country he has visited. An oxen yoke hangs above the fireplace. A milk can, some pottery crocks of varying sizes, a candle mold and a washboard are on or near the hearth. Several oil lamps hang on the wall.

Across the room, is a miniature version of the grain cradle Gilbert’s great-grandfather, W.D. Spear, made and sold. It was used to remove grain heads at harvest time. The smaller model was used to promote the full-size version. A spinning wheel and another apparatus used for winding yarn is nearby. All of these items were found in the attics of various family member’s homes.

Education has played a big role in Mr. Gilbert’s life. His mother taught elementary students in Randolph in the 1930s until a regulation was passed allowing only men and single women to hold teaching positions during the Great Depression. Married women were considered only if men or single women weren’t available.

He met his wife, Marian, while they were both studying at Fredonia to become teachers. Marian went on to teach at Kenmore, Falconer, Pine Valley and Jefferson in Jamestown.

Gilbert was a sixth grade teacher at Samuel G. Love, where he was later hired to “get Love School ready for a new principal” after theirs had passed away. That principal happened to be his father-in-law, Arvid Mitchell. When the school was ready to take resumes, some of the Board Members insisted he apply for the position, even though he had had no intention of doing so. He became the principal at Love School at the age of 27. He later became the principal at CV Bush and at Washington when it first became a K-8 school, after transitioning from a Jr High School. He later returned to CV Bush, retiring after a 34 year career in education.

Gilbert cared for his beloved wife, who battled Multiple Sclerosis for over 30 years before her death in 2001. Marian co-founded the Chautauqua Region MS Society, along with Dr. George Lawn and two others.

“She fought MS for 34 years,” says her husband. “She never gave up.”

Mr. Gilbert has three children, Elaine, Scott and Jane, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He is proud of all of his family members and likes to tell about an adventure his granddaughter Ally had with her future husband, Johnny. The incident happened when the couple, both of which are commercial pilots, flew a classic plane to an air show in Oshkosh, WI. On the way home, the plane lost ninety percent of its power while flying over Chicago. During the course of an emergency landing, it was necessary to fly under a pedestrian bridge that crossed over Lakeshore Drive.

“Even though the incident took place during rush hour, commuters saw what was happening and were able to make an opening down the middle of the roadway,” the proud grandfather explains.

He likes to show his guests a clip of the story that ran on every major television network on that day in July 2018. His granddaughter now instructs others how to fly at Ohio State University.

The educator has written three books. The first, titled A Simpler Time was published in 2003 and was given to family members. Ellington and Its People, where he writes about the history and stories of the town and its people, was published in 2010. The proceeds from that book were donated to Ellington’s Farman Library. His last book, The History of the Land and Building-9 West Summit Avenue, Lakewood, NY, is the story of the Quonset Hut-like building which served many uses over the years, including a movie theater, a hardware store, a community center and a fitness center. It was published in 2015.


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