2013, Sahalie Publishing

2013, Sahalie Publishing
256 pages, over 100 pictures

Limited edition...

The Brass Bell can be purchased online at Sahalie Publishing and Amazon.com.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Solvay-Geddes Historical Society Hosts CRS Alums

A Meeting of Old Friends

Last October, the Solvay-Geddes Historical Society hosted a panel of Cherry Road School alums, distinguished guests who graduated from Cherry Road School in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, but still remember fondly their days at the little brick school.

If you would like to see a slideshow of pictures from that meeting, please left-click on this link: Photobucket.

One of the amazing elements of the Cherry Road School story is the enthusiasm with which people who exited through its distinctive double doors, some as many as 65 years ago, recall their days there. Many convene regularly to maintain friendships and recall Mother's Club lunches in the cafeteria, senior trips to NYC, or the excitement of being called to Miss Parsons' office. It was these small yet significant experiences and a life lived in a close-knit community that taught them the meaning of mutual respect, integrity, and responsibility, say many of the alums.

These are the same lessons we long for students to learn today. Unfortunately, there is a lack of leadership to ensure a cohesive team of teachers, the support of community, and the kind of parent involvement that existed for Cherry Road School students. I believe it is these elements, rather than fleeting standardized test scores, that will help guarantee present and future success for youngsters who are today distracted by too much media and too few consistent guidelines to be held to on a day-to-day basis.

The book in progress, The Brass Bell, will explore how strong leadership and community involvement successfully guided a small school in a cherry orchard through rough economic and social times. It will examine why the imprint of the experience is still fresh on the minds of alumni who may now be in their seventies and eighties.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Schooling, Past & Future

Terry Road School Students, circa 1917

As followers of this blog know, work is progressing on a book, The Brass Bell. The book will follow the history of Cherry Road School and the life of Miss Marion Parsons, the Parsons Family, and the community of Westvale. Before there was Cherry Road School, students in this tiny farming community (now part of the greater city of Syracuse) attended the Terry Road School. That property and building was donated to Geddes School District 1 by Guy Terry Parsons and was located less than a mile to the west of Cherry Road School. Marion Parsons, her sisters, Grace and Martha, their cousins, the Jeromes, the Terrys, the Schuylers and other families who still reside in Westvale, all attended the Terry Road School until it became too small and too drafty and outdated to serve the needs of the community.

Cherry Road School replaced Terry Road School in 1926. There was a period of time before the new school opened when many community members opened their parlors and their kitchens for classes. School was always at the top of the list of priorities in this community. The book,
The Brass Bell, will explore some questions whose answers might inspire and inform educators today who seem lost in the argument about how to make school relevant for students who are failing and floundering in the public school system. Following are some examples of some of those questions.

If you have any thoughts, opinions, or ideas related to these questions, please post a comment. If you would like to be a guest blogger and have your article or story appear here in this blog, please contact me at the email address at the end of this post.

Here are some of the questions explored in The Brass Bell:

1. If the basis of effective schooling must constantly change with changes taking place in economic and social structures around us, how will we ever settle once and for all on effective school reform?

2. How did one small community, surrounded but never engulfed by a city, make use of the best of who they were and what they had to create a school whose original students, and those who attended throughout the years, view their experience at Cherry Road School as the best of their lives?

3. In what ways do the values and the methodologies of the one room school set examples from which schools today might learn and benefit?

4. What can be learned from the life and the successes of one educator who led one school through The Great Depression and World War II?

5. What was it about Cherry Road School that draws grown men and women who’ve lived their lives successfully to keep coming back, coming together, to talk about their days there and in the community of Westvale? People who graduated in the 30s, 40s, and 50s meet regularly to talk about Cherry Road School, Miss Parsons and the other wonderful teachers who helped shape their lives.

Contact me at: schoolhouse2@comcast.net and please put "Cherry Road School project" in the subject line of your email.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


What Makes a Successful School?

This is a question on the lips of educators, politicians, journalists, and parents today.

The answer is not one word, but one of the key elements of success is Leadership. Without the strong leadership of Miss Marion Parsons, the original Board of Trustees, and every teacher carefully hand-picked by Miss Parsons, Cherry Road School would not have survived, would never have become the pivotal experience in the thousands of lives that have been positively affected by their experiences in this school and by the example set by Miss Parsons, from 1926 through today.

In the picture you see Miss Parsons rowing the boat. She lived her life as a fearless and thoughtful leader. It was her leadership that guided a small school launched in a hen house to the lighthouse it became for all who passed through its memorable brick doors after construction was completed in 1926. Miss Parsons had the gift of leadership. As her long-time secretary, Helen Wright commented, "In the 25 years of her leadership, she never made an enemy."

In the picture above, from left to right: Cousin Bertha, Grace Parsons Cole, Marion Parsons rowing the boat, and Martha Parsons.

'Ten geographers who think the world is flat will tend to reinforce each others errors….Only a sailor can set them straight'. John Ralston Saul, 'Voltaire's Bastards'.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Remembering Marion Parsons

At the recent Panel Discussion sponsored by the Solvay-Geddes Historical Society, we talked about remembrances of Miss Marion Parsons, Cherry Road School, and Westvale. Panel members each shared one special memory about the woman, the school, or the community. Not wanting to take up time with my own story that evening, I'll share it now.

We lived with my Aunt Marion when I was a baby until I was old enough to walk. As memories come into focus about the beginning of my life, I remember her coming home in the afternoon from the school, just two doors away. Always jolly. Always happy to see me, in my version of history. She would sit in her big rocking chair and hold me on her lap. I’d nestle my head into her shoulder, listen to the hum of her hearing aid. We would rock and rock. The creak of the rocking chair kept a constant rhythm and beat to the stories about the olden days, the old clock on the mantle. When I was a little girl, she would say, my father would hitch up the horse and buggie. These stories about the olden days came to be known to the two of us as "stories out of her think." I must have slept. She must have slept, too, during these afternoons in the chair, to the creak of the rocker, lulling us both into a dream-state. I would imagine myself riding with Marion, my grandmother and Aunt Martha in the rumbling buggy down the dirt road, through the potato field and on to the cherry orchard. Men and women would be working throughout the orchard, ladders extended into trees, wagons filled with boxes of fruit.

After we had slumbered and drifted through the olden days, after Marion had rested from her day at school, she would let me ride on her foot—a pretend ride on a horse to Banberry Cross, ride a horse, ride a horse.

I don’t remember her ever being cross with me. Her face always lit up when she came into the room. I would run to her. She would hold me and give me the love I craved from her. Until one day.

Each morning I would watch her put the braces onto her legs and then trudge across the lawn toward the schoolyard. I’d watch until she was out of sight. On this particular day, I must have been old enough to follow her, three or so, because after a while I followed her to the school and found my way to her office.

Expecting her to be thrilled to see me and proud of my resourcefulness, I ran straight into her office and stopped short of her towering desk. A dark cloud I had never seen or imagined descended across her face. Her voice shot across the desk in a tone I had never heard.

“What in heavens name are you doing? How did you get here?” She grabbed my hand, pulled me toward the door, gently, yet firmly, in an unfamiliar gesture. My first and my last scolding from my Aunt. I never crossed her again. Instead, from that day on, I thought things through first when it came to Aunt Marion. She was the one person in the world I didn’t want to let down.

By the time we got back to the house, it was my mother for whom Marion had words. I stood back and listened to the rebuke, terrified. Marion turned to me on her way out the door, bent down, and gave me one of those hugs I’ll never forget, the smell of her talcum powder, the tear in the corner of her eye let me know that she had suffered more from the scolding than I.

Picture: The baby is me, being held by my mother. That's Marion on the right, and my Grandmother, Grace, in the background. Our family was big on Sunday afternoon get-togethers. I believe this was a tradition brought forward from many generations in the past and shared by other Westvale neighbors.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween at Cherry Road School

The First Halloween at Cherry Road School!

Halloween is a few days away. It was my one of my Aunt Marion Parsons' favorite holidays. She loved everything about it.

Here is a picture of the first Cherry Roaders, 1927, "all fixed for Halloween!" The caption is written by Marion Parsons, a doting auntie, teacher and principal. (During the first few years, she served both as teacher and principal.)

That's my father, the baby on the ground; the two children reaching to him are my Uncle David and Aunt Helen who were twins. (They both passed this year.)

The picture was taken in their backyard at 107 Cherry Road.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Miss Parsons

Reflections on Miss Parsons:

After talking to so many alumni and former teachers of Cherry Road School while visiting in New York this month, I came home with core themes, common to everyone who remembers Miss Parsons through their own experiences. These themes include "respect" and "common sense."

One former student who graduated 8th grade at Cherry Road in 1943 put it this way:

An awful lot of common sense--that's how she educated. She didn't have any hard-set rules. Back then, when you were principal, you called the shots. To my knowledge, she always called it right.

Tonight, while rifling through my research artifacts, I came upon the program for Marion's retirement luncheon, put on by the Mother's Club of Cherry Road School. The opening page reads:

With deep affection and gratitude.....The Mother's Club of Cherry Road School joins with the community of Westvale to present this testimonial luncheon in honor of Miss Marion Parsons, who for twenty-six years has been principal of Cherry Road School.

Friend, confidante, and inspiration to countless children, Miss Parsons has served the community in more than a professional way. She is our well loved neighbor and friend.

Keeping constantly abreast of the latest trends in education, she has kept the standards of Cherry Road School high, giving our children fine instruction coupled with a happy school experience.

The founder of the Mother's Club in 1927, she has been its inspiration and staunch supporter throughout its years of service, working with the mothers of our community towards the betterment of our school and closer parent-teacher relationships.

All of Westvale salutes Miss Marion Parsons--a gallant lady. We wish her much success and happiness in her retirement as she has given those whom she has served over the years.
May 24, 1952

Monday, October 18, 2010

Successful Syracuse Visit

Home Again, Home Again...

Hard to believe the long-awaited visit to Syracuse from my perch in Portland has come and gone. It was rush, rush to get there and be ready for the Historical Society presentation. My heart raced all day the day of and then it was over and people were raving about how interesting it was. Indeed, how often do you get to listen to oral histories told as though the pranks and the good times and the paper routes were just last week instead of seventy-some years ago and more? The twinkle in the eye of a man who has long retired from a bank job is the precursor to a good story and a life well-lived and not forgotten. So my research visit was off to a good start.

I stayed in an ancient Victorian farmhouse, once the target for everyone in the Marcellus-Skaneateles area in search of apples in the fall. Now the owners are struggling to restore the house, to find the history destroyed in a fire. That setting staged my visit. I woke up early each morning with a list of appointments and interviews and obligations. Clearly I overbooked my time, but it was worth every exhausting day.

I've returned to the office with hours of conversations to listen to on the digital recorder, copies of ancient pictures and newsletters, memories of times spent with cousins I've learned to appreciate. So much fodder for the story. I found an album I thought I'd lost. My cousin uncovered letters written to Marion Parsons by our Great Grandfather during a time she had gone west, during a time he thought she might not return to Westvale.

Since returning to Portland I've read and re-read the letters and have come to the conclusion that Willis was treading lightly with Marion in these letters. He dare not demand, yet held her interest and involvement with newsy letters, filled with stories of home that must have pulled at her heart and the ties that bind one to home. In a letter dated Sept 13, 1924, Willis Parsons writes: This has been a week of almost continuous rain bad for the State Fair as well as for farming. Sowed six acres of winter wheat yesterday and have five more to sow when the ground gets dry. Got the seed wheat (Junior No. 6) from a Mr Joroleman who lives on the Weedsport-Cato road. This wheat took first prize at the State Fair. When I went to look at it, I took Mother Grace and the babies. Two young couples from Interlaken came to the Fair, and camped at the lower end of the orchard. This was the sixth time they had been here for the Fair and same camp.

(I'm guessing Grandpa made a little extra on the side at Fair time, renting out camping spots in his orchard. "Mother Grace" was Marion's sister, my grandmother, and "the babies" would have been the twins, my Uncle David and Aunt Helen. Helen died just two weeks ago and would have been 89 next month. David died earlier this year and I will miss them both more than I can find words to describe.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Solvay-Geddes Historical Society

Historical Society to Host
Cherry Road School Alumni

On September 29, 7:00 p.m., the Historical Society will host a Cherry Road School alumni panel, facilitated by the moderator of this blog. Panel alumni will represent the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

They will share remembrances of their days at Cherry Road School, and will discuss questions such as: How was it that the little school, born in a chicken coop in Willis Parsons' cherry orchard, successfully held together a community struggling through The Great Depression? What were the ways that Miss Parsons was able to make the school relevant in a time of economic flux and social change? Are there lessons to be learned through the endurance of Cherry Road School for schools and communities today? What were the values of the farm days that remain relevant for students in 21st century classrooms?

Evidence of the impact and endurance of Cherry Road School are the hundreds of alumni, many in their 70s and 80s, who still meet regularly to share memories of what has become one of the most important times of their lives, and the woman who has become their first and most beloved hero and role model, Miss Marion Parsons.

The meeting will take place at the Geddes Town Hall in Solvay, N.Y. on the evening of the 29th.

The discussion will inform the book in progress: The Brass Bell.

The Historical Society is sponsoring work on the Cherry Road School history project. Founded in 2005, the mission of the Solvay-Geddes Historical Society is to collect preserve, and showcase historical artifacts of the area. Over the past five years, they have expanded their collection and their membership.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What is the book about?

The Brass Bell

In my last post I said that the book is about a community and a school. That's the surface of the book. The story is about the woman who led the school into the 20th century. It's a story about duty and loyalty. It's about a community's will to survive in the face of economic disaster that was about to rip the entire country to its core. At its heart, it's a story about how one woman's loyalty and courage inspired generations of students and saved a struggling farm community from extinction. Miss Parsons understood the importance of the values of the past and the importance of the innovations of the future. The brass bell represents the link between the two.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Book

The Brass Bell

For those of you who don't know, this blog is in support of a book project: The Brass Bell. This is the story of a hen house that grew to be one of the highest-regarded schools in New York State, Cherry Road School. It's about the woman, Miss Marion Parsons, who founded the little school in her father's cherry orchard. The Brass Bell is a story of a small farming community that grew to be a thriving Central New York suburb.

Marion's grandparents, Edwin Clark Parsons and Julia Armstrong Parsons were one of the early settlers and farmers in the area that came to be known as Westvale. Their youngest son, Willis, was a very successful fruit farmer and operated two farms on the old Genesee Turnpike. He was the president of the New York State Fruit Growers Association for many years. Marion Parsons, the middle of Willis's three daughters, followed in the footsteps of many generations of Parsons before her with her respect for and dedication to education.

All the Parsons children, and their cousins, the Jeromes, Armstrongs, Schuylers, and more, attended the Geddes District One School, otherwise known as the Terry Road School. When the one room schoolhouse could no longer hold the children or keep them warm during the frigid winters, the people of this farming community were wise enough to look into the future. They saw the beginning of the industrial revolution. They understood the importance of an education befitting the times.

These same community members, Judge Farnham, the Parsons brothers (Willis, Frances, Charles), The Jeromes, and others, joined forces and formed a board of trustees. Willis donated nine acres of Cherry Orchard; Judge Farnham led the charge to raise money to build the school. Marion, who would later be known to her students as Miss Parsons, enlisted the help of the women picking fruit in the orchard to help her clean up the chicken coop where classes would be held that first year while the brick school was being built. The first floor, the first edition of many was finished later that year, circa 1926.

Miss Parsons was presented with the brass bell from the old Terry Road School. Tears must have sprung to her eyes as she held the bell, high above her head to ring for the first time, the bell whose resounding clang had once signaled her and her cousins and friends to the long wooden benches in the tiny one-room schoolhouse. As she rang the bell for the first time, she may not have imagined that nearly 100 years later, Cherry Road School would be the alma mater of thousands who remember Miss Parsons as their first and greatest hero.

The Brass Bell will tell the story of how that came to be.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Good Teacher

What Makes a Good Teacher?

A good teacher is formed over time in the memories of students. This is a conclusion that might be drawn from a collection of posts on the subject on a national Education Week blog: Walt Gardner's Reality Check. Last week, Walt, a 27-year education veteran from the Los Angeles Unified School District, entertained this question on the blog. He based the discussion on a recent event in Washington, DC. In July of this year, 241 teachers were fired for poor evaluations or lack of proper credentials. Another 737 teachers were put on notice that if they don't improve their teaching, they too could wind up on the street.

What is this evaluation based upon, you may ask. Well, in grades four through eight, 50 % is based on student growth on standardized tests. In other words, are they doing better on their test scores each year. If not, this teacher may not be a good teacher, according to this system.

Other variables considered on these evaluations were classroom performance, though the Chancellor from D.C. admitted, allegedly, that she did not know the numbers when it came to this distinction. And what is classroom performance? It might include classroom management skills or teacher popularity. The answer to that is not clear.

Mr. Gardner rues the idea that our classrooms have become "test preparation factories." So do I. Is it the teacher's fault if a child is failing? There are so many factors involved. And besides, what will the child remember from those standardized tests in 20, 30, even 50 years?

The numerous Cherry Road School alumni I've spoken with over the past two years agree that they hold Miss Parsons in their hearts and minds because she commanded respect. It also seems to have been clear to all of her students that she cared about them and about their education. Years later what people remember is the kind, yet firm, woman who they still strive to please, even though she's long gone.

Mr. Gardner put it this way: "...I've long believed hindsight is the fairest way of evaluating teachers....the influence of teachers doesn't show up until years after students graduate. With the passage of time and the insights of maturity, students are in a far better position to evaluate their teachers."

What do you think? Please feel free to post your opinions by clicking on the "Comment" button.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Miss Parsons

My Miss Parsons

As I mentioned earlier in this blog, I had no idea how much my Aunt Marion meant to so many other people until I began work on this project. While I always thought of her as my Aunt Marion, I've come to know her better as everyone's Miss Parsons.

The picture here is my fifth birthday party in the backyard of our house on Parsons Drive, the old family farmhouse where Marion and her sisters grew up. That's me hanging from my swing set; that's Marion standing guard.

Notice her corsage. She took my parties seriously, the hostess to all my neighborhood friends. Marion loved children. She took everything about us seriously, our education, our social life, happiness, and mostly our understanding of what it means to be a good person. How self-centered I was to think she belonged to me alone when she meant so much to so many.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cherry Road Alums

Ties That Bind~

I recently met up with some Cherry Road School alumni who also live in Oregon. Everyone you see in this picture attended Cherry Road except one. I'm in the black jacket and the others found me through this blog. How amazing is that? They were all in the same fifth grade class and two of them are married and now they are all close, held together by fond old memories and new-found friendships.

Walt Sweyer (middle, red jacket) tells me he was not the best behaved student at Cherry Road. I think he's made up for it since. Everyone agrees there was something so special about their experience at Cherry Road School that it's a strong tie that pulls all the way from Oregon.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Time Gone Past

Cherry Road School
Teachers from the 1940s

Many of the wonderful educators who helped make Cherry Road School what it is today, who some of the older alumni remember fondly, are gone. Though they are no longer with us, we remember them as though it were yesterday. As I make progress with the book, The Brass Bell, I realize how nice it would be to have pictures of these teachers and stories from their teaching days. Here is a list of CRS teachers from the 1940s (some are still with us):

  • Helen Miller
  • Pauline Steinbeck
  • Tibby Muench Dumanian
  • Ruth Walti
  • Margaret Hannigan Francoeur
  • Elsie Bedwell Haskins (still alive and kicking!)
  • Beth Schermerhorn
  • Ann Robinson
  • Jean McLusky Miller
  • Mary Costello Kinnan
  • Lorna Richards
  • Sallie Schwartz
  • Florence Wallace
If any readers/followers of this blog have pictures/stories about these educators you'd be willing to share for the book, please fell free to contact me: schoolhouse2@comcast.net

Though I do have several pictures of teachers from the olden days, I want to be sure I have a picture of each one and at least one story about how she (notice they are all "she") may have affected someone's life. Or, if for someone on this list who is still alive, if you have contact information I would love to speak with her. I have had a recent conversation with Elsie Haskins.

I appreciate the help and support I receive on this project. I plan to be in Syracuse in late September and early October this year.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Learning Backwards

The Power of Life Experiences

I heard someone say something the other day and the truth of the statement took my breath away. "Life can only be understood backwards and yet it must be lived forwards."

Thanks to the power of the Internet, I've been making contact with more and more Cherry Road School Alumni. There are many commonalities in what they remember about those days. The most common denominator is how much Miss Parsons touched their lives in one way or another. One remembers conversations on the porch when he delivered her newspaper, another remembers personal tutoring because she was "not a good student," another how much she wanted to please her, and all remember Miss Parsons as a larger than life character in the story of their childhood.

Recently I met with someone who would have graduated from Cherry Road School around 1953. He said he received much more from the school than he ever gave back, and that he was unable to appreciate it at the time. He's thankful to have the opportunity now to give back if only by sharing his memories as a contribution to the book. I have to agree with Walt. If I had even five minutes with my Aunt Marion I'd thank her for all she did for me. I'd let her know that I've discovered in this work that she was that much to many others too. But since I can't do that, I'll have to thank her by completing the book that tells the story of the farm, the family, and the many futures that were touched. Fifty, sixty, even seventy years later, many understand what one person contributed so that we might flourish and remember our days in the brick building in the old Parsons' cherry orchard.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.

Howard Zinn, the late historian

Westvale, the home of Cherry Road School, was born in bad times from the compassion, sacrifice, courage, and kindness of a farming community who saw the value of its youth and the importance of education. They saw the best in what they had and did something to ensure the future.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

In the Beginning

The little chair came from the original Cherry Road School. In 1925, Marion Parsons, with the aid of two women working in her father's cherry orchard, transformed an old farm building, a chicken coop, into a temporary classroom. With money raised by the first school board (Trustees) headed by Judge Farnham, a two-room building was constructed on the current location the following year. By 1926, the number of students grew from 11 to 50.

The nine-acre tract belonged to her father, Willis Parsons. It was a sprawling and beautiful cherry orchard where Marion had played as a child, and where the new school was built of cinder blocks, steel, and bricks. Soon the cherry orchard was a playground for the children of the growing neighborhood. Pieces of the farm were sold during The Depression, lot by lot, tract by tract, and over time, a neighborhood was born.

Ten years later, there were close to 300 K-8 students at Cherry Road School. Over the years the little school grew in size and in stature. There have been eight additions to the original building, a new gym/cafeteria in the 1930s, a new wing in 1947; in 1953, 21 classrooms were added and a formal playground installed. By 1957 there were 800 students. As time passed, the district reorganized the school. Teachers from the olden days retired, moved on. Marion retired in 1952. But there are many Cherry Road alumni who remember those times. They remember Miss Parsons, a most unforgettable person; they remember the extraordinary teachers who made a difference in their lives.

The book in progress, The Brass Bell, will keep Marion Parsons, and the teachers who worked by her side, alive for the students who spend their days in the slightly more modern chairs at Cherry Road School.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Tribute to my Uncle David Cole

I'd like to dedicate this blog to my Uncle David Cole. He was the Nephew of Miss Marion Parsons, my father's older brother, and my hero. My father and his older twin siblings, David and Helen, grew up in this house on Cherry Road, just two doors away from Cherry Road School. When they were kids, it was just their house, the school, and a couple of other houses on Cherry Road. After all, it hadn't been that long ago that Cherry Road was simply the cherry orchard, part of my great grandfather's 60-some acre farm that took up the area from Parsons Drive to Maple Drive and down way past what is now Cherry Road School.

My Uncle David died on February 22. Why was he my hero? I can't tell you specifically, in a word. He was a hero in my life because he let me know that he loved me. He showed up at moments and times that mattered. Like all of us, he wasn't perfect, but the things he did that were good left lasting impressions on the lives he touched. He was the principal of an elementary school, like his beloved Aunt Marion. To many, that's not such a big deal. He didn't ever make a million dollars and he didn't write a best-seller, but he touched a good many lives and he left his mark on the world. He did the right thing. He followed in the footsteps of the person whom he knew he could trust to set the best example.

Many years ago I wrote him a letter and asked him to share memories about Aunt Marion. He sent back a light-hearted story about how she was once asked if she prayed in school, and she replied, "Only when no one is listening, sometimes on my way to school." He also told me that not a week went by when he didn't think about her. Now that he's gone, and it's hard to believe, not a week and sometimes not a day goes by when I don't think of him.

He and his twin sister Helen were in the very first class at Cherry Road School, the class that convened in the chicken coop.

He and I shared a deep love for our Aunt Marion. I'd like to dedicate this blog to his memory.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Family Traditions

Miss Parsons' great, great grandfather, Maurice Parsons, wrote in a letter from Worthington, Mass, in January 1865: "My first nine children have all except one been teachers of primary schools, and I believe very successful in their occupation." Marion Parsons would one day uphold the Parsons' tradition, turning a hen house in her father's cherry orchard into one of New York State's premier public schools.

At the time Maurice Parsons wrote that letter, his eldest son, Edwin, had left Worthington for Syracuse many years earlier. When he first arrived in Central NY, he taught school. Later on, having saved his money, he was able to purchase property and pursue farming, another Parsons' tradition. Edwin married Julia Armstrong in September, 1846. They had six children, and as these children came of age, the farm grew in size. Their sons had inherited the father's love for making a living off the land. Their eldest daughter, Mary Amelia, married James Schuyler Jerome. The Jerome Dairy would provide milk for its Westvale customers for three generations.

Their youngest son, Willis (Miss Parons' father), purchased a sixty-some acre farm in the spring of 1890--just up the road from the family farm where he had grown up. The road back then was a dirt turnpike connecting New York State from east to west, the Genesee Turnpike. Over time, Willis added another 138 acres to his holding along the Turnpike and became one of the most respected fruit growers in the state. All along the Turnpike were the farms of aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins, creating a widespread community of Parsons relations. Though Willis dedicated his life to farming, he had not failed to notice the Parsons' love for and dedication to education.

When Willis's three daughters were children, they attended the Terry Road School, donated to the community by Cousin Guy Parsons. When the Terry Road School became too small for the growing community, many people opened their parlors for classrooms. By the time his daughter Marion had graduated from college and had taught school in a small frontier town in the wild west, Willis had committed his mind and his property to the idea of building a new school for the children of Westvale. Miss Marion Parsons would be the founding teacher and principal and would serve in that role for 25 years.

By the time she retired in 1953, the school had been built of brick and several additions had been made. A community institution had been established and by the turn of the century, many people had forgotten, or probably never knew, the history of Cherry Road School. That's why we are proceeding with the book project to tell the story of the history of a little school that grew and has come to mean more to its alumni than just a place where they went to school. For many who graduated many years ago from Cherry Road School, and still meet regularly to share those fond memories, Cherry Road represents a model of what it means to be part of a community.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Olden Days

When I was a kid, I would go to my grandmother (Grace Parsons Cole) or my Aunt Marion (Marion Parsons) and ask them to tell me a story "out of their think." That was code for tell me a story about the olden days.

My grandmother and Aunt Marion are pictured here as they were in the olden days. The elder girl is my grandmother, the younger, Marion Parsons. Marion became known to most of the followers of this blog as Miss Parsons. But long before that, she attended a one-room schoolhouse, long before she would go on to found Cherry Road School.

As a matter of fact, records show there were 2 one-room school houses in the area, the Onondaga Hill School (1846) and the Terry Road School (1847). The Parsons girls and their cousins and neighbors attended the Terry Road School, donated by Guy Parsons who also served as a "Trustee" of the school.

When Aunt Marion told stories about the olden days, there were often events at the school--the day the farm burned and they saw the flames from the school window; rides in the buggy; playing with cousins in nearby orchards.

If anyone has any information about the history of either school, the Onondaga Hill School or the Terry Road School, we would love to hear what you may have to share. The Parsons girls, their Parsons and Jerome cousins, and other neighbors and friends attended the Terry Road School (also known at some point as the Geddes District One School) in the late 1800s.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Old Milk Door

The Milk Door

Many long-time Westvale residents remember the old milk doors. Van Jerome or one of the other Jerome Dairy folks would come whistling up the walk in the morning with fresh milk in glass bottles. You could hear the bottles rattling in the metal racks. In the early days it may have been ladled right from the milk can in the truck into the bottle, fresh from the dairy.

The pictures here are not from Westvale, but depict images that will remind those who can remember or who may have been wondering what that little door from the outside into the kitchen might be for. Well, though they were used for many years to deliver milk to homes in Westvale and in other parts of the country too, they had other, less obvious functions. For example, many Cherry Road School alumni from the days when Miss Parsons was principal will remember that she was hard of hearing, that she wore a hearing aid. Oftentimes when my dad and I would stop by for a visit, and if her door was locked, she wouldn't hear us knocking. Dad would boost me up and I'd climb through the milk door and run get Aunt Marion.

As I talk to people in Westvale about their memories of this unique and enduring community, many have stories about the Jerome Dairy milk doors. Some of the doors are still in place, some have been sealed up, some are gone. If you have pictures or stories about your milk door, please contact the Solvay-Geddes Historical Society. (The link to their website is on this page.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


A Year Away from Westvale

In August of 1924, my Great Aunt Marion traveled by train and the Great Lakes Transit to a small frontier town on the Canadian border in northern Washington state.

I'm lucky to have the diary she kept of her year-long journey from Syracuse, across the northern Great Lakes; then a car tour through Yellowstone Park, to Omak, Washington, where she lived with a family and taught school until June of 1925. From there, she continued on her journey, visiting Seattle, then on to San Francisco, then to Los Angeles, where she rode the glass bottom boat to Catalina Island. The diary is filled with visits with Parsons cousins, luncheons held in her honor, and her perceptions of the countryside, the places, and the people.

She returned to Syracuse and in 1926 opened the doors for the first year of classes at Cherry Road School. That first year children attended school in a refurbished chicken coop at the edge of her father's cherry orchard while the school we know today as Cherry Road School was being built.

As part of the book, now in progress, I'll share excerpts of Miss Parsons journey away from and back home, in her own words.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Miss Parsons' Molasses Cookies

Those of you who follow this blog, and thank you if you do, might remember last week my cousin Barbara and I put out a call for a recipe for our Aunt Marion's molasses cookies. We both have fond memories of standing on the step stool in Marion's kitchen, helping her stir the batter, flattening out each cookie with the end of a tumbler dipped in butter and sugar. Thanks to Barb, her husband, Bob, and her mom, Aunt Wilma, we now have the recipe:

1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening*
1 egg
1/2 cup coffee or buttermilk
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
3.5-4 cups flour

Roll into balls and then flatten cookies with bottom of buttered glass dipped in sugar.
Bake 8-10 minutes, 325 F.

*For calorie conscious readers, and who is not, I learned on Rachel Ray the other day that if you substitute canned pumpkin for part of the shortening (or butter) in your recipes, you can save a lot of calories and you still get the moisture.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cherry Road School Alumni

Thanks to the Cherry Road School Alumni, 1947-1950!

Without this dedicated group, the story of Cherry Road School would be flat and limited to my own memories and those I've been able to eek from my dad and my uncle. My last two visits to New York have been highlighted with a luncheon hosted by this group of CRS Alum. Most of them have not only graduated from Cherry Road School, they have now retired from their careers, many as educators, or are close to retirement. But nevertheless, though the chasm of time takes them further and further from the little brick school on Cherry Road, they have kept room in their lives to get together and remember their days at CRS. They have been gracious and kind to share those memories with me.

These pictures are of our last gathering at a golf course out by the apple orchards on Route 20. Pictured in the photo on the top are: Martha and Dick Lacy. Martha has spent hours and hours and years and years collecting information, documents, and memories of Cherry Road School and has created a professional quality scrapbook. She also organizes the group and has been supportive of this project.

Middle Picture, from left to right:Nancy Sherman March, Joan Guth Close, Jim McLennen, Robin Lutzy McLennen, and Doris Jean Taylor.

Pictured in the bottom photo: Dick Lacy, Joan Donnelly Marcoccia, Marilyn Lewis Marcy, and Doris Jean Taylor.

Though I've only met these fine people two times, some only once, somehow they feel like family. They have shared their report cards from grade school, vivid memories of walks home from school in the snow, and a legacy that only a sort of family might be able to sustain over time. They, and the hundreds like them, are part of the reason I dedicate myself to the history project and to the book

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Many of us who had relationships with Miss Parsons, as students, teachers, staff, nieces and nephews, neighbors, friends, had some occasion throughout the years to visit this house on Cherry Road. This is the house Miss Parsons built on her father's farm, on the other side of the property donated for the purpose of the school.

When visiting the house, there were many fond memories, plates of cookies, tea--sometimes demitasse coffee. I remember BLT sandwiches cut in triangular shapes on the side porch. In the wintertime, there would be fires in the fireplace. And after she retired, a slideshow of her travels and popcorn in the livingroom. Her parlor retained a certain pleasure of a brief visit to another time, the old clock ticking time on the mantle, hand-carved chairs, a pump organ.

My cousin Barbara, also one of Marion's nieces, reminded me last week about Aunt Marion's molasses cookies. Oh they were good, and though I helped her make them in the kitchen over-looking the garden many times, I can't remember exactly the recipe.

So I add this request to the previous request for Cherry Road recipes. Not only were many tasty casseroles shared when mothers brought lunch to school for fundraising purposes, there are the many recipes of local families, the Parsons included. Please, if anyone has Marion's molasses cookie recipe, or any recipes from local families, a famous apple pie, or perhaps an oatmeal cookie that can't be beat, passed down from generation to generation of Westvale families, please share and we'll have a section of local recipes as an addendum for the book.

I thank everyone for their generous contributions.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The picture you see here is the home of Jim and Susan Jerome, once the home of Edwin and Julia Parsons, our great great grandparents and the grandparents of Miss Marion Parsons. This picture was taken many years ago and they have done lots of work to restore the home and to make it the lovely place it is today and a nature-friendly greenspot. Wouldn't Edwin and Julia be proud and amazed?

When Marion and her sisters, Grace and Martha, and her many cousins (too many to list here) attended school, it was at the Geddes District One School on Terry Road. They called it the Terry Road School. Education was a top priority to these and other farm families in the area and when the day came, in the early 1900s, that the little building could no longer serve the education needs of the children of the Westvale community, some families opened their living rooms for classes. There was a group of younger children that met in the parlor of Willis Parsons, Marion's father, and they were called the Tiny Tots. The Willis Parsons home was just up the road from the house pictured here, on the other side of Genesee Street. (See earlier posts.)

It's likely that classes where also held at the home pictured above. Jim Jerome, the current owner and my cousin, has told me about a group of older kids who would meet to study what we would now call "industrial arts," though it was called something else then.

I'm wondering if any of you know anything about these classes and would be willing to share? I can be reached at 503.344.4434, and am keen to find out more about how community members supported school for kids in the community until the new school was built circa 1926.

You input for the book, The Brass Bell, is much appreciated.

Warm regards,
Nancy "Camille" Cole

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Work on "the book" has Begun

Dear Friends and Followers:

Work on the book has begun! The working title is "The Brass Bell." The book will chronicle the history of a 19th century farming settlement that came to be known as Westvale, a one-room schoolhouse and the children who grew up there; a chicken coop, a cherry orchard, the new schoolhouse, a brass bell, and the woman who rang the bell every day and influenced many lives. Her name was Marion Parsons. Her family came by oxcarts from Massachusetts to New York in the early 1800s. They planted fruit trees, grew a dairy farm, and eventually established a community of cousins and neighbors that, if you look closely are still residents of of the Westvale community today. If they've moved away, they stay in touch. People in their 60s, 70s, and 80s meet regularly to reminisce about their days at Cherry Road School.

If you are one of those people, and would like to share information or stories or pictures for the book, please contact me by phone or email:


Your contribution will be greatly appreciated.

Now that the book is in production, I will resume posting regularly on this blog.

Wishing you all the best of New Years,
Nancy "Camille" Cole