John F. Reynolds
The Almond Story
An excerpt from "The Old Stone House"
September 1999 Newsletter
Donna B. Ryan, Editor
How did this man become so interested in local history? The article (Evening Tribune story dated October 6, 1962) tells about John reading a newspaper article relating how some local towns acquired their names. "I was curious how Almond received its unusual name. It was published, and that prompted further research. I began to delve into other features of local history, particularly information about the original pioneers. I wanted to know who they were, where they were located, and other interesting information about them. Finally, I became curious as to where these early settlers were buried. That is when I started looking around in old cemeteries, "Reynolds related.
The story goes on: "Reynolds' cemetery diary begins on October 29, 1944, when on that Sunday afternoon he and his son, John, visited several old cemeteries in Karr Valley. From the gravestones found amid the tangle of briars and wild rosebushes, a listed was started." But John was a busy man in those days, which necessitated that this hobby be put "on hold" for several years. He and his wife, Blanche, had eight children, and he worked in the Erie Railroad stores division, a job he faithfully executed for forty years. To supplement that income, John and Blanche entered into a couple of entrepreneurial endeavors, including tending a large garden plot with neighbor Don Smith, selling corn, peas, tomatoes and other vegetables from a roadside stand.
John's love for gardening expanded to a six-acre field located adjacent to Woodlawn Cemetery (the former Petric home) which he transformed into Reynolds' famous strawberry patch. "I was brought up on my knees," son Ben jokes..."crawling down the strawberry patch!" Ben called this his dad's labor of love, which enabled folks to come from all over each year to buy their strawberries. Norma's (John's daughter) husband, Merwin Clark, remembers John's purchase of a "brand new 1942 John Deere tractor from Percy McIntosh, which he paid for with his strawberry profits." Merwin also adds that his son, Doug's, restoration of his "treasure" cost twice as much as the tractor cost brand new.
Another business evolved. Many of us remember Reynolds Dairy Bar, where Blanche sold her wonderful pies and the family helped dip huge ice cream cones for customers. Located "below town" beside the family home on the road to Hornell (now the John McHenry home), it was like today's "convenience store" without gas pumps. "I wonder how they ever made any money," Ben muses, considering his parents generous helpings. He remembers college students who roomed in Almond enjoying their evening meal there, and local folks who stopped by for a hamburger or hot dogs, or to buy a quart of milk.
Before moving to that location in the 50's, the Reynolds family owned two other homes in Almond. 86 Main Street (where Paul Gabriel now lives) and the Chapel Street home now owned by Norma and Merwin Clark. John's concern of his neighbors and his community took him into the political arena. He ran for the Village Board and was elected trustee, serving from 1934-1941. After the death of Mayor Floyd Straight, John was appointed acting mayor and was subsequently elected to the office, serving until 1946. A defeat from "Upper Battery" candidate John Johnson removed John from office for four years, but he was once again elected mayor in 1950 and served four more years.
At the same time he was involved in Village government, John also served on the AACS school board for several terms in the 40's and 50's. A proud moment came for him when he presented his son, Keith, his diploma at graduation. One would consider John's plate pretty full, but the list of activities continues. His children also remember his involvement in the Evening Star Lodge #44, and his serving as an elder at the Almond Union of Churches where he even assisted Pastor Arthur Guild write a book.
When the war years came, his daughter, Doris, remembers her father rendering another type of community service. "During World War II, we would have blackouts and drills. The old town whistle would ring and people would draw their drapes to block out any light. My dad would travel up to the fire station without lights on his car, where the village authorities would discuss our safety. We had airplane spotters who would sit and watch for planes and report them to sources. We had rationing of sugar, tires and many other materials. Many of the young sons and daughters of Almond went into the service, including my sister Norma, and my older brothers, John and Richard. It was a difficult time for many families residing in our small town. The stars hung in front windows to remind people to pray for our fighting men and women," Doris writes via e-mail from her Houston home.
Steadfast employee, creative entrepreneur, faithful public servant: one wonders how John had time to be a dad in husband. In those days, the great time stealer, TV, had not invaded the homes of families, and simple family outings are remembered by John's family. His insatiable interest in Almond's history caused him to use these family times to create a similar love in his children. Doris gives us this personal glimpse of her father: "He was a wonderful guy, a good father and loved to talk about history and genealogy. He learned to write by taking creative writing lessons through a mail order course. I remember his hunt and peck system on his old typewriter. He used to let me read his material and when I got older I would help him type his pages. He would go over them with a fine-tooth comb and edit many, many times. As a family, we would get into the family Model T Ford and visit the old stone house in Karr Valley. He always envisioned writing about it, and so he did later in life. Each time he would relate to us about the first settlers of our valley and how brave and courageous they were. We would take Sunday rides up Bully Hill and get lost just to see where it came out. Sometimes the old Model T would not make it up the winding dirt roads (with high grass in the middle) and we would have to turn the car around and back up the hills.
"Our family dog would accompany us and he would leap out and run after birds and rabbits when we didn't go very fast. We used to talk about the pioneers and what they raised as crops, what they wore, and how the women washed clothes in the little streams. He would tell us how the men hunted a variety of deer, wild birds, squirrels and rabbits in the woods to keep a fresh supply of meat for their families. We would visit old farm houses way up in the country where the families had lived. Sometimes only the chimneys remained, but all around the houses were a variety of rose bushes, currants, and berries, which always interested us. Everytime we went for a ride in the country with my dad, we had a history lesson, and I thank God for him and his knowledge and pen," Doris writes.
Numerous phone calls and e-mails from Ben in Florida describe John as a "gentle man who never raised a hand to me (my 'lilac-switching mother' took care of the dirty work)! All dad had to to was to look at us," he recalls. Fishing the local streams and hunting the area woods with his boys always became teaching moments, Ben went on. "I guess some of the great memories I had with dad were on our hunting trips up Karr Valley and Bully Hill, along with Newcomb. It was a learning experience or a trip back in time as dad would explain to me who owned this farm, as we sat looking at on old falling down foundation that had been abandoned during the depression, or to explain where a now overgrown road once went. While we were out hunting, we sometimes came across an old cemetery and dad would want to 'rummage through it'---but we wanted to hunt! I think my dad took great joy in teaching and being with his boys in the woods," Ben said.
After reading about John's long list of activities and responsibilities, one could conclude that the excuse, "I don't have the time," was not a part of his conversation. In spite of a seemingly jam-packed schedule, he still find time to pursue his long-time passion, the preservation of local history.
Describing his dad as a "great story-teller," Ben remembers the "enormous amount of time spent in research for his book, taking notes from old-time residents, reading everything he could find about Almond's history..." Ben tells of his dad's fascination with the late Horace Stillman, an "old-timer" well versed in the history of Almond. "He visited him often and took endless notes," Ben recalls. "I remember as a boy hearing him banging way late into the night on that old manual typewriter. He used the Christopher Columbus typing method: find a key and land on it!"
Norma's daughter, Melanie Clark Austin, wrote about her grandfather's book in 1974 for a college history paper preserved in the Almond Historical Society archives: "My grandfather worked on that book for many years. He wrote many letters, visited many people who could help him or lead him to others who might, and he tramped all over the valley and the town itself."
John was truly a self-made man. Born in 1901 in Chicago, he came back to his father's home town, Jasper, when he was about five years old. "Dad went to school through the eighth grade, and then he tried to go on to high school in Canisteo," according to Norma,"But the only way he could get there as by riding a bike. When the winter came, he could not get there, and he had to give up going to school." However, John's strong leadership abilities, his excellent command of the English language, and his flawless writing skills are a tribute to his God-given gifts and the strict teaching of the ABC's in the old country schools.
Too early in his life, in 1972, John suffered a bad stroke. "After that, he had a hard time talking, and was very frustrated," Ben remembers. He died in 1976, with his wife, Blanche, and six living children surviving him: John, in Boulder, Co.; Keith, in Williamsburg, MI; Ben, in Tallahassee, FL; Norma Clark, Almond; and Doris Cuccia and Jane Augustini, in Houston, TX.
John was a man who used his time and talents faithfully, leaving a permanent mark here in his beloved Almond. His book, The Almond Story, was a huge undertaking and we are all thankful for that historical record of our beginnings in a swampy marsh by persevering pioneers up to the events of the Civil War years. We will continue the story next time about his vision for starting a local historical society, and his cemetery hobby, with a friend, Wayne Kellogg.