Burdett celebrates bicentennial anniversary
BURDETT--On June 1, starting at noon, the village of Burdett will celebrate its 200th birthday with pride. Main street will temporarily be closed to vehicular traffic between Church Street and Lake Avenue so pedestrians can enjoy arts and crafts vendors, children's activities offered by My Place Play & Learning Center, refreshments offered by several commercial establishments, and more. That "and more" includes an ice cream social sponsored by the Burdett Presbyterian Church, corn-hole boards for free play at the Old H&E Grill and a pie eating contest at 2 p.m. Oh, and there's live music provided by Jamie Potter, Erich Asperschlager, Scott Adams and Brett Beardsley and Due South.
And there's still more. Best of all, everyone's invited.
In commemorating Burdett's bicentennial, while the village enjoys the present, it's also a chance to look both back and ahead. So...how did Burdett get started? "You gotta know the federal government," explains village historian Marty Evans, retired art teacher, professor and lifelong village resident.
"Two hundred years ago they would leave mail anywhere there was enough of a settlement to warrant a stop. They had made Seeley's Mills (now known as Hector Point/Hector Falls) a post office the year before. There were little pockets of settlements up here called 'Todd's Pole' after a liberty pole raised here every Fourth of July. There was Homberg, lower on Middle Road, and Pike's Pocket, closer to Satterly Hill. They all came together as a post office in 1819." The post office at Seeley's Mills was closed the following year. A young resident, Richard Woodard, suggested the name Burdett after he'd read about Sir Francis Burdett, an English politician who advocated numerous reforms, including changes to the prison system, Parliament and expanded freedom of the press.
The post office duly named the village Burdette--a mis-spelling corrected only many years later, after numerous petitions. The village got incorporated as a village almost 90 years after it received the post office, but Evans says residents thought of themselves as belonging to a village long before the state gifted them with that official status. Evans, who also serves on the village board as a fire commissioner and head of parks, says she didn't realize until recently Burdett was a bustling factory and mill town through most of the 19th century.
"At one time we were the area's commercial center. We had a woolen mill, saw mill, shingle factory, grist mill and basket factory. We had huge fruit-growing operations and we were heavily into sheep farming." Burdett also had the advantage of lakeshore shipping docks and later, the railroad to move the results of its enterprises to wider markets.
The rich history of the village is now available in two books based on a great deal of research, group effort and oral history. The first is a reprint of the 1984 "Burdett from the Beginning," a publication of the Burdett Ladies' Wednesday Afternoon Club, a historic women's group founded in 1895 by visionary village women including locally-famous Miss Mary Pratt. The just-published "Historic Burdett Celebrates 200 Years," today's club--now known simply as the Ladies' Wednesday Afternoon Club--produced after several years' work, coordinated by Evans, to build on the research of the earlier members and continue documenting notable village people and places. The books will be on sale in the community room from noon to 6 p.m.
"What makes Burdett special, is we've been able to hold on to past traditions and also able to adapt and enjoy new technologies. We have the best of the past blended with the best of present and future," says Dale Walter, village mayor, a post he's held for 22 years. He describes the community as one with historically deep roots. "We're the kind of environment people want to call home," he notes. "Many families have been here for many generations. A lot of people work out of the village, commuting to work in Ithaca or Watkins Glen or Elmira, but that's OK--they come home to Burdett."
To showcase some of the community's history, the Ladies' Wednesday Afternoon Club is sponsoring two narrated bus tours of Burdett. The first, leaving the new firehall at 12:15, features a sometimes surprising historical tour of Burdett and concludes with an old-fashioned ice cream sundae for each participant. Then at 2 p.m., a second tour highlights the agricultural and wine history of the area, with tasting stops at Catharine Valley Winery and Barry Family Cellars. Advance tickets for these tours ($10 for the history/sundae tour, $20 for the agricultural/winery tour) are available from Marty Evans email@example.com; any left available will be sold the day of the event.
With the advent of the new fire hall and large-capacity community center, there will be more opportunities for the village to come together for community activities. Walter sees this as part of the village's general upswing. At the same time, as they contemplate selling the former fire hall one of the important criteria before settling on a purchaser will be the intended goals for the property. "We want to know what the building will be used for and what it will do for the community," he says.
The old firehouse ends its service to the community at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, when a parade of fire trucks ceremonially travels the short distance east to their new home. Meanwhile, through the afternoon, the new venue will be the site of several displays of local creativity, history, including that of the fire company; while in the kitchen, preparations will be moving forward for the community dinner, offered to all from 5:30 to 8 p.m., with a menu including hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage with peppers and onions, chips, cold drinks and dessert. Fireworks follow at dusk.
In a village where people help each other, where there are century farms and people who move in and remain as one generation follows the next, a celebration like this is a moment of reflection on values and neighbors. And the history of Burdett continues.