By HOWARD BALABAN howard.balaban@journal-register
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — A historian at heart, Al Capurso decided to share his passion with the people of Orleans County. In July, Capurso will be on hand at the Orleans County Court House Square to dedicate a new historical marker to commemorate the first settlers in the village and town of Albion, Mr. and Mrs. William McCallister.
“I’ve always been interested in history,” Capurso said. “When you delve into history it can be fascinating the things you come up with.”
The Gaines resident said he bought his house in 1978 with his wife Chris (Rodden) and researched its history. He also had a place in the Adirondack Mountains with a rich history. His passion for the past was stoked by his mother-in-law, Donna Rodden, who served as Albion’s mayor for 12 years.
“She had a goal of putting a number of historic markers up throughout the village, including one on the McCallisters,” Capurso said.
Now retired, Capurso read a number of county history books when he first stopped working and read up on the McCallisters. He discovered how William McCallister built the first log cabin in the first clearing in both the village and town. That cabin sat where the county clerk’s office is now.
McCallister brought his wife with him, and they lived together for about a year, from 1811 to 1812. In 1812 she passed away, and he decided to leave the area. Before he did, McCallister sold his 368 acres to others. The land that changed hands stretched from near the future site of the Erie Canal south along Main Street to Chamberlain Street and east to Sandy Creek where Community Action of Orleans now sits at State Street.
Acquiring such a large swath of land was pretty easy for early settlers, Capurso said.
“Terms were easy,” he explained, noting how settlers who bought acquired land parcels could do so with no down payments, no interest, or other major incentives.
Capurso said having the McCallisters recognized is worth it simply because they were first.
“He was the first male settler in the town and village, she was the first female settler, she was the first female to pass away, and theirs was the first cabin,” he explained. He added, “They lived off the land; whatever you didn’t hunt you grew.”
Having markers to link today’s people with their past is a way to honor those who helped settle the land, Capurso said.
“They deserve our respect,” he said. “You were your own carpenter, your own undertaker. They were a hearty bunch and we owe them a debt of gratitude.
“The fact that someone was first bumps it to another level,” he continued. “There were no neighbors to turn to for help.”
Capurso and Orleans County Historian Bill Lattin spoke to the Orleans County Legislature Wednesday afternoon. The pair informed the legislature of Capurso’s family’s intent to donate the marker to the county.
“This is certainly a heckuva gift,” Lattin said of the roughly $1,000 piece. Historically speaking, Lattin said few, if any of Albion’s current markers deal with “early pioneer history” and the McCallister one is “very important.”
The legislature unanimously approved a measure authorizing the marker’s placement at Court House Square. The marker will be made of cast aluminum with the traditional blue background and yellow border and lettering. However, unlike many other markers across the state, the McCallister one will not feature the New York State logo, but will display a cabin.
“I don’t believe that logo is used anywhere else, so it will truly be incredibly unique,” Capurso said.
The marker will be a gift by the Capurso family, including Al and Chris and their children, Dan, Marcia, Carli, and Ken. It will be dedicated at a cotillion ceremony at 1 p.m. on July 6.