Sheep Post

I expect everyone remembers where they were when the U.S. Postal Service issued its stamp commemorating the 450th anniversary of the introduction of sheep to North America. Especially those of you who went to the Skaneateles post office the next day, January 20, 1971, to purchase sheep stamps, designed by Dean Ellis, and there encountered two real sheep, in the wool: Sissy and Little Inky from “Jill Acres,” Ruth Jillson’s farm on West Lake Road. It was a postal first.

Born in 1896, Ruth B. Jillson majored in music at Syracuse University, and thus turned naturally to sheep-raising. She was an active exhibitor at the New York State Fair, driving her sheep there in a blue pickup truck and sleeping in the cab during Fair Week, making her meals on a hotplate at the sheep pens. In 1964, she created the Wool Queen and trained Sissy to follow the Queen about on her royal duties. She also gave rides to little Fair-goers in a sheep-drawn cart. Jillson created an endowment at Cornell University for sheep research and encouraged many young people to attend Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She was active with the local 4H Club, a member of the New York State Wool Association and of the Syracuse Weavers Guild, carding and spinning her own wool.

Ruth Jillson, at the age of 73, holds a 12-day-old Persian lamb at the New York State Fair

Ruth Jillson died at the age of 78 in 1974. Her obituary noted, “She looked with disfavor on the skinning of week-old lambs for caracul pelts, and said, ‘I’d rather sit up all night keeping a newborn lamb alive.’ She often did this, too.” She was remembered in Skaneateles as “the shepherdess of the hills,” and as the woman who brought sheep to the post office. I wish I’d known her.

Trade Cards

Trade cards were essentially colorful business cards, a popular form of advertising in the late 1800s. People began to collect them as a hobby, which led to a boom in cards made especially for trading, i.e., trading cards. Here are two arresting trade cards from Skaneateles:

Feeley & Durkan, in business between 1883 and 1894 in a store on Genesee Street, dealt in boots, shoes and “gent’s furnishing goods.” James D. Feeley was born in Ireland and came to Skaneateles as a child; he lived in Skaneateles Falls, where he served as postmaster from 1893 to 1897. He died in 1902 at the age of 58. His junior partner was John Durkan.

Frank Marshall had a store on Genesee Street circa 1882, where he sold watches, clocks, jewelry and stationery. He promised that repairs would be promptly attended to.

Every Round Trip

One might envy Clifford Dwight Beebe, the electric trolley mogul who summered in Skaneateles at his lakeside Lone Oak estate, but his working life was no bed of roses. Here’s a sample of what he had to cope with:

 Anti-Spitting Crusade in Syracuse

 “The Beebe Electric Railway System, Syracuse, N.Y., is conducting an anti-spitting campaign upon its lines. For some time the company has carried signs in its cars, stations, waiting-rooms and shelter buildings, declaring that spitting upon the floor was forbidden and punishable by a fine of $50 ‘by order of the State Board of Health.’ A recent investigation showed that the State Health Law afforded the company no protection.

“As a result, it was found necessary to ask each city that had no anti-spitting ordinance and some 50 villages and townships to adopt a uniform ordinance prohibiting spitting, and providing a fine of $5. Little difficulty in securing the cooperation of the various boards of health has been encountered, and within a month the ordinances will be effective over every line in the Beebe system.

“As soon as the ordinances have all been enacted the companies propose to have their special officers ride on the cars and arrest offenders, who will be prosecuted vigorously. As soon as the campaign was determined upon the management requested the support of each daily and weekly newspaper in the territory served by the company. As a result the campaign was given considerable publicity, and the way was paved for the adoption of the desired ordinances without opposition.

“In order that patrons might have no excuse for expectoration upon the floors of the cars, all cars have been equipped with cuspidors, which are changed at the end of every round trip.”

            — From Electric Railway Journal, April 9, 1910, p. 679

The Birthplace of the Skaneateles Country Club

While on another errand, I learned that the Skaneateles Country Club (SCC) came into being not in Skaneateles, but in Syracuse, on Thursday, October 21, 1915, at the Empire House, also known as the Electric Railway Terminal Building, where local travelers purchased their tickets for the electric railways, circa 1900-1930. Clifford D. Beebe, whose land in Skaneateles was being leased to the SCC for its first nine-holes, was the president of the Interurban Railroad and may very well have arranged for the meeting room at the Empire House.

E.N. Trump, the club’s first president, was more fully known as Edward Needles Trump. He lived several blocks up West Genesee Street from the Empire House, and was the managing engineer, and resident genius, at Solvay Process. His estate in Skaneateles, “The Beeches,” was south of the Country Club’s site, on West Lake Road.

The day after the meeting, The Auburn Citizen reported the details:

Trump of Syracuse Is Chosen First President of the New Skaneateles Club

“E. N. Trump of Syracuse was elected president of the Skaneateles Country Club at the first meeting of the Board of Directors which was held in the rooms of the Electric Terminal Building in Syracuse yesterday afternoon. The other officers chosen were: Vice president, William J. Shotwell, president of the village of Skaneateles; secretary, Harold Stone of Syracuse; treasurer, D. C. Webster of Skaneateles.

“The articles of incorporation of the club were filed with the secretary of state in Albany. The incorporators are: E. N. Trump, Harold Ahlquist, John Wilkinson, W. S. Dunning and C. D. Beebe of Syracuse, William J. Shotwell, Forest H. Weeks and H. C. Beatty of Skaneateles.

“A committee was empowered to proceed immediately with the work of laying out the club. A club house committee was also appointed but it was explained that this work will not be started until next year. Plans, however, will be considered during the Winter. Definite negotiations for the lease of the land were finished. This tract is on the Beebe grounds and much of it lies along the lake. This club as previously stated will be composed of residents of Skaneateles and the Summer colony at the village, with a few from Auburn.”

Should you want to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the SCC, you might like some background: The site is on the north side of Clinton Square, today the home of The Post-Standard. In 1806, Henry Bogardus purchased the land and built the Mansion House. In 1844, the Mansion House was replaced by the Empire House, a Second Empire-style hotel and business building that wrapped around the corner from Genesee to Salina Street. A fire destroyed the Empire House on February 22, 1942.

The lot sat vacant for eight years, until the Atlantic Building, a two-story commercial building was built on the site. Its architectural style was variously described as Art Moderne and International, both charitable appellations. I do, however, think that Clinton Square could even today benefit from a peppy slogan like “Atlantic Keeps Your Car on the Go.”

The Empire House lasted 98 years; the Atlantic Building barely made it to 18.

In 1968, the Syracuse Newspapers tore it down for their new building, finished in 1971. And there the Post-Standard building stands today, leaving the ghosts of our Country Club’s founders with nowhere to sit.

* * *

You may wonder why the news of the Skaneateles Country Club’s founding was covered so thoroughly in The Auburn Citizen. The probable reason is this: For the wealthy golfers of the “Syracuse colony” who summered in Skaneateles, the closest links had been in Auburn, at the Owasco Country Club. A new country club in Skaneateles was news — bad news — for the Owasco Country Club’s membership.