Chapter 1


My father, Roy Benson, was born in 1879 in Centerfield, New

York, and my mother, Frances Lorraine Gulvin, was born in

1880 in Sittingbourne, England which is about fifty miles

southeast of London. Sittingbourne is approximately thirty

miles from Rochester, England. She came to the United States

with her parents when she was three years old and settled on

a farm in Seneca Castle (which is thirty miles from

Rochester, New York).


When my father was courting my mother he would walk to

Canandaigua from Centerfield and rent a horse and buggy from

a livery stable on the corner of Chapin and Main Streets. He

would then drive to Seneca Castle, a distance of some ten

miles, to see her. on the way home, late at night, he would

sleep in the buggy and the horse would find its own way back

to the livery. He would awaken when the buggy rolled to a

stop, then walk back to Centerfield.


They were married in 1901 and went to one of the beaches in

Rochester for a honeymoon (perhaps Charlotte). At that time

such a trip was an all day affair. They traveled from

Canandaigua on the trolley that ran all the way to the beach

and carried their picnic lunch, I was told. After their

marriage, my parents made their first home in a house on the

corner of Bristol and Mason Streets. In 1903 their first

child, Clarence was born. A few years later they moved to a

farm on Route 5 and 20 about one and a half miles from

Canandaigua. My father worked for a painting contractor in

Canandaigua at the time and Clarence has told me that Dad

used to ride a bicycle to work, wearing a derby hat and

carrying his paint buckets on the handle bars. there was a

big oak tree on the road, about half way from home to town

and the children would walk as far as the tree and wait there

each day for my father to come home from work. They would all

then walk on home together.


My brothers and sisters were: Clarence, Gordon (born 1904),

Leon (born 1905), Adelaide (1908), Mildred (1910), Dorothy

(1914), and Helen (1916).


The family moved to the first big house on the West Lake Road

and I was born there July 23, 1917. I remember only a few

incidents during the time we lived there. One time I rolled a

Croquet ball off a high front porch and across a lawn to

where it went over a bank and hit my sister Dorothy on the

head. I recall sleeping in a downstairs bedroom with the

window open (there were no screens at this time). We kept a

cow for milk and early in the morning it stuck its' head in

the window and gave a loud moo next to my head while I was

still sleeping. We also had large barns and did some farming.

We grew potatoes for home use and my brothers raised

cucumbers to sell. My older brothers used to catch rides to

school on passing farmers wagons whenever they could. They

went to the Palace Theater on the corner of Saltenstall and

Main Streets for five cents. We had a horse that would refuse

to pull the hay wagon up the hill to the barn and I remember

standing on the wheel spokes to push the horse and wagon

towards the barn.


In 1922, when I was five years old, we moved to the house on

Chapin Street where my father lived until his death. I

attended the Adelaide Avenue School for grades 1 to 3 then

went to the Union School, which stood where the YMCA is now.

My father bought the house, almost new at the time, for

$1400. During these years there were nine of us children (my

brother Robert having been born in 1919) and our house was

always the center of activity for the neighborhood. All of

our friends would come to our house to play and we had

childhoods filled with love and good times. My father had

horseshoe beds in the backyard with lights above them so the

men could play at night. All my uncles and the neighbors

would come often to play.


It was about this time that my father opened a wallpaper and

paint store on South Main Street. He intended to run the

store with Clarence, Gordon, and Leon and also do the

painting and wallpapering for his customers. I don't know how

many years he had the store, but it was not a success. He

then built a large addition to the two car garage at home and

moved the paint and wallpaper there for storage. There was

plenty of wallpaper he was unable to sell and we kids used to

have pieces to cut flowers and patterns with. We would glue

the small pieces to bottles and shellac them to make vases.

Raymond Smith was my buddy then and was at our house most of

the time. They lived a couple of houses down the street and

our mothers attended church on Sundays and Wednesday night

prayer meetings together. I recall that our Sunday night

suppers were always cornmeal with milk and brown sugar. We

had a large dining room table, a cherry drop leaf, that would

seat ten. I always sat next to my mother at the table. She

would make large sugar cookies with a seeded raisin on top

and put them on newspapers on the dining room table. We would

eat them there while they were still warm. You can imagine

what it must have been like cooking three meals a day for ten

or more people on the old coal stove. I believe we had gas on

one side and coal on the other. We kept the coal fire going

to heat the back part of the house. My mother would wash my

hair by having me lay on the ironing board with my head

hanging over the sink. We took our Saturday night bath in a

large washtub by the kitchen stove. We had no bathtub until I

was about eight years old.


We always had baseball equipment to play with due to my

brother's interest. We would play ball in the street and in a

lot at the corner of Chapin and Thad Chapin Streets. The

trees, High banks and uneven ground helped me to become a

good center-fielder when I played on a flat baseball field.

That was easy after running up and down those hills and I

could catch anything. The only toys that Ray and I had were

very simple. We took the wheels off an old baby buggy and

nailed them on the end of a stick. We would run around the

house pushing it by the hour.


At Christmas time we were allowed to open one toy when we got

up in the morning. My favorite, which I asked for every year,

was a wind up tractor with rubber treads which we would try

to make climb over stacks of books on the floor. We would

also roll marbles down the groove in the bottom of skis to

knock down houses made of cards. My older brothers and

sisters who were married would arrive around noon for

Christmas dinner and there were usually about twenty there.

After dinner we would open the presents in the parlor. There

were so many of us that we would draw names for the person to

whom we gave gifts.


My brothers and I slept in an upstairs bedroom with the

window open a couple of inches in the winter time. When we

woke up in the morning there would be snow in a pile on the

floor under the window. We had one floor register about four

feet square in the living room and we would sit around it for

warmth. I remember the babies would sometimes crawl on the

register and wet their diapers. My mother would sprinkle

sugar down the flue to the hot furnace dome to get rid of the

smell. Above the register, on the wall, was a shelf which

held my mother's chime clock.


There was a small room upstairs where we had a library. My

brothers had about three hundred books there and there was an

army cot there on which I slept for several years. The

library contained the Zane Grey westerns. These were all lost

later when my father moved out and rented the house for

several years during the war. All my possessions, except for

clothes, were lost at that time. After my father remarried,

he and my stepmother moved back into the house.


My brothers built a wooden platform in the backyard and we

had a tent on it for several summers. We would sleep out

there when the house was too hot in the summer time. There

were three army cots in it. Dr. Behan lived on Thad Chapin

Street just around the corner. He had several large farm

horses which would get loose and come running down the street

in front of our house. If we were playing out in front and

heard the horses coming we would run for the front porch.

Sometimes the horses would run across the front yard and

barely miss us. We were so small that the horses seemed

twenty feet tall. That is probably the reason I never cared

much for horses. During this time my father got his first

car, a second hand 1917 Ford. I can just remember that the

tail lights were small kerosene lamps that you fill up and

light for night driving. On one car that Clarence had, the

windshield would tip out from the bottom for ventilation and

the windshield wipers were worked by hand. I can remember

pushing it back and forth while Clarence drove.


In 1926 my grandfather, Peter Orson Benson, would come up to

pitch horseshoes with me. He lived with my uncle Jim across

the street and down the hill a little. I would see

grandfather coming and would have plenty of time to get ready

for him because he was 96 years old and it would take him

about twenty minutes to walk up. He would toss the horseshoes

and I would bring them back to him. He was an active man and

had a good size garden until he was about 95 years old. I

remember that he had a long white beard that came down to his



My mother did not get to take very many vacations in her

lifetime. One time we went up along the St. Lawrence River

and another time we went to Buffalo and took the boat trip

across Lake Erie to Long Point Park. Another time we went, in

two cars, to Pennsylvania. She spent all of life cooking,

washing, sewing and caning. Saturday night was the big night

of the week for everyone. to make certain we got a parking

place downtown, my father would take the car down in the late

afternoon and after supper we would walk down to shop and

watch the people in town. I can remember sitting on the front

fenders of the car and watching the shoppers. There was a

popcorn wagon by a building on South Main Street and I

suppose, if we had the money, we would get some popcorn or

candy. I can remember walking down Chapin Street with my

mother to see a movie in the evening.


The Playhouse Theater on Chapin Street had what they called

Bank Night on Wednesdays. They would announce a person's name

in the theater and by loudspeaker, outside. You did not need

a ticket to be eligible and I guess they picked names at

random from the phone book or a list of city residents. There

would be crowds outside and you had several minutes to

answer, so if you were not there someone could come to find

you if they hurried. The prize would build up if there was no

one to claim it. I remember the time Ray Smith and I were

inside and they called our number. We won two bags of

groceries. There was also a dish night when they gave away



One Fourth of July we had a bushel basket of fireworks and

were to set them off after dark. I was sitting on the steps

with the other kids when someone threw a lighted punk (used

to light firecrackers, etc.) into the basket. The whole

bushel went off at once! You never saw such a sight; kids

running in all directions with Roman candles and pinwheels

swirling around them. The house did not catch fire, but the

event charred the siding and the porch floor. Nobody was

blamed for it because no one was quite certain how it

happened. It was probably the fastest celebration of the

Fourth that I ever had.....and the most exciting!


Ray and I went to the movies every Saturday afternoon to see

the old western movies. We would run all the way to the

theater and the first one there got the corner seat in the

first row of the balcony. After the movies we would go up to

my house and my mother would make each of us a slice of bread

and butter with sugar on it. Next we would run up to Arsenal

hill and play cowboys. We had a cave dug out of a mound of

dirt and we would defend it with spears made from long

goldenrod stalks sharpened on the thick end. In the winter we

nailed a wooden box on two barrel staves and would sit on the

box sliding down hill trying to dodge the trees. In those

days they did not plow or sand the streets and when we

finally got sleds we slid down Chapin Street. One friend had

a bobsled which held about ten kids and we rode that from

Brigham Hall, down Thad Chapin, down Chapin Street to the

Sucker Brook bridge. The only dangerous intersection was at

Chapin and Pearl Streets and we would take turns watching for

cars. There were very few cars in those days so it didn't

bother us very much.


My brother Robert was two years younger than I and he was

sick for a long time before he died at age eight. He was in a

wheelchair for quite a while. He had what was called

rheumatic fever and the doctor had to drain fluid from his

back. The wheelchair was one of those old large ones with a

wicker seat and back. I would go to the corner store where

VanBrookers is now (Pearl and West Avenue) for groceries for

my mother. Robert would sit in his wheelchair by the window

and time my running to the store and back. I ran as fast as I

could and it must have been good practice because, by the

time I reached high school, I was the fastest runner there.

The only boy who could keep up with me was "Horse Face"

Johnson from Cheshire.


One of our favorite times of the year was when we had the

family reunion. In those years we would have from 50 to 100

people. Some of the games we played then were fun and would

be even now. There was a pile of sand and they would bury

hundreds of pennies in it then let the kids loose to find as

many as they could. There would be a ten (or more) gallon

container of ice cream from Johncox Ice Cream Plant. After

dinner we were allowed as many ice cream cones as we wanted.

I remember we could only eat two or three before we were

full, then we'd feel bad that we couldn't eat more. Our

favorite reunion was the one held at my Aunt Alice's down on

Seneca Lake. She was such a nice person, everyone loved to go

there. Her husband John was a huge man and just as nice. They

lived on a farm and raised food for Lakemont Academy, a

school for boys. Their farm was next door and owned by the



Sometimes we would go to the farm the night before and stay

over, sleeping in the house, on the porches, even in the hay

in the big barns. The older boys used to drink beer and play

cards all night out in the barn. The house was on a hill

about one quarter mile from the lake with a lane running down

to a boathouse on the shore. In later years I can remember

going down with Clarence and Gordon to sleep in the boathouse

which was out over the water. It was a wild spot in those

days with no cottages nearby. The hill from the house to the

lake was all grape vineyards and there was a railroad track

right through the vineyard. When we heard a train coming, we

would run down and toss big bunches of grapes to the train

crew as the train went very slowly due to the up hill grade.


In 1925 Clarence and Gordon went to Florida for a couple of

months in the winter. In those days the roads were not very

good and the cars undependable. While in Florida, living in a

tent, they worked on the road repair gang and also picked

fruit. I remember they picked apples all that fall on a farm

near Geneva in order to earn enough money for their trip. I

recall their return from Florida late one night during a

bitterly cold snowstorm. They came in the back door with bags

of oranges.


In 1926 there was an older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Rundel, from

Omaha, Nebraska, who were traveling through Canandaigua when

they had a serious accident. They were hospitalized and their

car was in a garage being fixed. Due to their injuries they

did not feel up to driving to Nebraska so they advertised in

the paper for someone to drive them home. Gordon answered the

ad and drove them back. They all got along so well, they

asked him to stay with them and he did ... for three years.

He bought himself a pickup truck and started a painting

business there. He sent us pictures taken of the tornado

damage in that area. I remember one picture he took of a

wheat straw that was driven into a telephone pole.


In 1927 Clarence and John Timms started for California on

motorcycles and they got as far as Kansas when they could no

longer ride the motorcycles due to the bad roads. The roads

were all red clay and when wet they were worse than ice.

After falling off them too many times, they pushed the

motorcycles into Kansas City and sold them. They took the

money and went by train, to Omaha where Gordon was living.

They talked Gordon into going on to California with them in

his truck. The roads were very poor, dirt mostly, and it took

them a long time. In California they picked grapes, then they

came back to Omaha, where they left Gordon, and returned home

by train. When Gordon finally came home in 1929 he drove all

the way without stopping and it was several years before he

got over it. He developed car sickness and could not ride in

a car for some time.


I was in the Boy Scouts for several years and really enjoyed

it. I got all the merit badges up to the one for swimming and

that was when I quit the Scouts. I found that the friends you

make in Scouting are sometimes your friends all your life . .

. ones like Ray Smith and Skip Dewey. We had a lot of good

times at Camp Woodcraft near Cheshire, New York. One of our

favorite games there was "Capture the Flag". The lane through

Camp Woodcraft was the line between sides and the flag was on

a pole way back in the woods. Some would guard the flag while

others would circle around, try to get the other side's flag,

and return across the center line with it. If you were

touched by anyone on the other side, you were out of the

game. It is similar to the game they play now with those dye

guns. I was in the Beaver Patrol and can remember the meals

that we used to cook. Some patrols did fancy things, but we

always ended up with Campbells soup. We were known as the

"Soup Patrol".


Every year we used to plant pine trees at Camp Woodcraft. It

would take all day and we carried the seedlings around in a

pail. When noon came, we would wash the pail out in the creek

and heat our soup in it. There was a small cabin with a dirt

floor, loft and an old cook stove. One time Ray Smith and I

went up to stay overnight and it was cold. We were quite

young at the time and got scared as it grew dark so we tried

to sleep in the loft. We had a wood fire going in the old

stove to keep warm and it made so much smoke that we coughed

all night and didn't sleep much. We were still too scared to

come down from the loft. L. Ray Stokie was our Scoutmaster

and he ran a chocolate shop on Main Street. We would go down

to the store and he would let us go down in the basement to

watch him make chocolates and pull taffy.


Most of my possessions during these years were bought for me

by my brother Clarence. My most prized possession was a pair

of leather high top boots with a pouch on the side for a

jack knife. He also bought me a hatchet, which I still have

today. It is the only one I've ever owned and it must be

sixty years old. It is getting dull, but it's never been

sharpened. He also bought me my first bicycle and it took me

forever to learn to ride it. I don't know how many years I

had it, but it was my only bike. My mother and father had

little money in those days, especially during the Depression

in 1929 and 1930, so if I had anything at all it was bought

for me by my older brothers.


It was some time during these years when I was in the little

corner store on West Avenue and I stole a five cent candy

bar. I was scared for months that I would be found out. It

affected me so much that the feelings have remained with me

throughout my life. It was a great lesson because I never did

anything like that again. Jack VanBrooker ran the store and

when he had bananas that were too ripe to sell, he would tell

Ray and I that if we could eat them all we could have them

for free. We would sit on the lawn by the store and watch the

cars go by while eating bananas until they came out of our

ears. We never did have to pay for any.


We had many other enjoyable pastimes outdoors. We would cut

the cover off a golf ball and unwind some of the miles of

rubber bands inside. By putting half on each side of the

street we could stretch it across and when a car came down it

would stretch the rubber about a quarter mile. We would also

go to the top of Arsenal Hill and hit golf balls with

baseball bats. They really go a long ways. We found our golf

balls in the bottom of the creek down by the golf course.


On the west bank of thad Chapin Street there was a row of

black oxhart cherry trees belonging to Doctor Behan's widow.

When they were ripe we could not resist trying to get some.

As soon as we got in the trees, "Old Lady Behan" as we called

her, would come running down the street yelling and waving

her arms. Guess she watched those trees all day long. One

night Ray and I went over and filled our pockets with

cherries and ran through the tall weeds back to the tent in

our backyard. To our utter dismay, we had run through the

weeds where a skunk had just sprayed and we had to throw away

all the cherries and change our clothes.


During the harvest season the wagon loads of pea vines passed

up Thad Chapin and, when we saw them coming, we hid along the

road until we could run up behind the wagon and pull off a

big armful of pea vines. Sometimes we would get enough to

take home to our mothers. You understand this was not like

stealing candy from a store to our way of thinking, so we

were certainly not doing anything wrong. There is a big

difference between stealing and mere survival. Besides, we

had to have something to do to keep us out of trouble.


There were many sheep pastured in the open fields around Camp

Woodcraft in the summer time. They were taken to the farm

barns north and east of town during the winter. The herders

drove the flocks down the road by our house every spring and

fall. They were driven down West Avenue and up Main Street.

There were so few cars at that time that traffic was not a



The ice truck came around in the summer with ice for

everyone's ice box. Mother would put a sign in the window for

25, 50 or 100 pounds and they would chip off a piece and

weigh it. While the driver took the ice into the house, all

the kids would run up to the back of the truck and get loose

pieces of ice. The ice man would yell and chase us away when

he came out.


During the Civil War there was an arsenal built at the top of

what was thereafter called Arsenal Hill. Weapons were stored

there in the event that the city had to be defended. Of

course the buildings were gone by the time we played there as

kids, but we found the old foundations by digging down a

ways. There were a lot of old red bricks. The gully down the

other side of the hill had a creek running down it. Ray and I

would dig in the mud looking for cannon balls and one time we

found one, four to five inches in diameter. It was very

heavy. We eventually took it to the Historical Museum as a

donation and I believe it is still on display there.


Arsenal Hill (West Avenue) was a steep and dangerous hill.

There were many accidents at the bottom and near the corner

of Pearl Street. We could hear the crash of accidents from

our house on Chapin Street and the kids would all run down to

see them. One time a truck load of prunes tipped over and

there were prunes everywhere. Another time a load of butter

in wooden crocks tipped over and the crocks rolled down

people's lawns. People were coming out and carrying them into

their houses, but we didn't know enough to get any. Once a

car hit a tree and the driver was thrown through the roof and

landed on the sidewalk. When we got there, he was sitting up

and asked us for a cigarette. Probably he wasn't hurt

because (he looked like) he was drunk.


My grandfather, Peter O. Benson, was born September 12, 1831

and died in 1931. Sometime in the 1920's there was a full

page article and his picture in the daily paper. It told of

his attending the Ontario County Fair for 90 consecutive

years. The Fair was held in September then so all the farm

products were on display. The fairgrounds were off Fort Hill

Avenue where the present High School stands. There was a

grandstand, barns and a race track for harness racing. It was

a big day for us, as kids, as a picnic lunch was packed and

we would park the car in the center of the race track and

stay at the Fair all day.


I remember one day when we were playing in the front yard a

big black car, with a Philippine chauffeur, stopped. Inside

was Ada Kent, from California, a cousin of my father. Her

husband had helped finance George Eastman when he founded

Eastman Kodak. She came to set up an annuity for my father

and all my uncles. They cost $45,000 each and my father

received $100 a month for the rest of his life. I remember

that he was able to get a better car and buy my mother a new

coat (which I recall was blue). When I was in the service,

Ada Kent died in Carmel by the Sea, California and left two

million dollars to the old woman who cared for her.


We had a big garden and in the fall I would build a little

house of sod, sticks, boards and anything else I could find.

It was just large enough for me to squeeze into. In one side

of it I made a little fireplace out of clumps of dirt and I

would break up the sticks to have a little fire for heat. We

had a large prune tree next to the garage and my mother would

can a lot of them every year. My father loved them. We would

take the pits out of some and put them on the flat garage

roof to dry in the sun. We covered them with wire screen to

keep the birds away. When dried, they were stored in large

bags in the bottom of a big kitchen cupboard. In the winter I

would get into the cupboard and sit there eating prunes. We

had a large sweet cherry tree in the side yard and mother

canned nearly 100 quarts every year. I helped her with all

the canning--cherries, prunes, peaches, and pears. when she

did the cherries she always left one cherry with the pit in

it per quart. The person who got the pit when the cherries

were served was given a dime. This was a big treat for us.


Our house was always the gathering place for kids and we were

likely to play games like "Red Light", "Hide and Seek", and

Holly Golly". We used to make guns out of old tire tubes,

sticks and a half clothes pin. We would cut loops of inner

tube to shoot as bullets then play cowboys and Indians.

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