Fulton's Medal of Honor Hero

I like the phrase, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” and I think it applies to the preservation of our history, too. Here in Fulton we’re lucky to have mainstays like the Friends of Fulton History and The Fulton Public Library that work to preserve our proud past. Along with those organizations we also have individuals who are keeping our history alive. One of them is teacher Bill Cahill.

I got to know Bill when he invited me into his Volney sixth grade classroom to discuss the history of Fulton’s Nestlé plant. While he and I were planning how best to inform his students about our former chocolate factory, Bill told me about a history project that he’s been involved with for years: the story of  World War II hero Carlton Barrett.

I’d never heard of Barrett, but after learning his story I understand Bill’s interest in keeping alive this Fultonian’s contributions to our country. Bill explained how he first learned about Mr. Barrett: “My fellow teacher at Fairgrieve, Rick Bush, had heard about Barrett’s actions during WWII battles and that he had earned the Medal of Honor.”

I had to be reminded of the rare circumstances in which someone receives a Medal of Honor. Established in 1861, this highest of tributes is reserved for those who served in our military “in action against an enemy force” and includes a presentation by the President. Among the millions of men and women who served our country in war, only 3,500 have received the Medal of Honor. One of them is Fultonian Carlton Barrett and here is his story:

In 1940, before graduating high school, Barrett enlisted in the Army. Following four years of training and just shy of his twenty-first birthday, Private Barrett found himself in what many consider the longest day of an American war, June 6, 1944. D-Day.

Stationed in France, in the middle of the Normandy Invasion, Barrett was working as a field guide, a soldier who helps coordinate troops and communications. Though his assigned duties sound somewhat removed from the throes of battle, what Barrett experienced on that day was anything but routine. The citation given when Barrett received his Medal of Honor explained:

“On the morning of D-Day, Pvt. Barrett, landing in the face of extremely heavy enemy fire, was forced to wade ashore through neck-deep water. Disregarding the personal danger, he returned to the surf again and again to assist his floundering comrades and save them from drowning. Refusing to remain pinned down by the intense barrage of small-arms and mortar fire poured at the landing points, Pvt. Barrett, working with fierce determination, saved many lives by carrying casualties to an evacuation boat lying offshore.

“In addition to his assigned mission as guide, he carried dispatches the length of the fire-swept beach; he assisted the wounded; he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion. His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.”

Certainly Barrett’s achievements on that day are worthy of honor, but what the citation did not mention was that he accomplished all this while he was wounded. Though shot or hit with shrapnel in both hips and a left leg, it wasn’t until a fourth bullet hit his foot and shattered bones that he finally agreed to be evacuated off the beach.

Out of over 150,000 soldiers who were involved in the D-Day efforts, Barrett was one of four Medal of Honor recipients. Of the four, he was the lone survivor, though his recovery was delayed by two bouts of malaria and a five-month hospital stay. Anyone would have understood had Barrett then retired from military service, but he continued to serve our country for another 19 years, retiring in 1963.

Like many soldiers who endured the horrors of wartime, Barrett never wanted to talk about his D-Day experiences. He also never thought of himself as any more of a hero than the soldiers he fought alongside. “It was after [D-Day] that I knew what a hero really is,” Barrett once stated. “They are all heroes just for being there—especially those that never came back.”

Barrett’s dedication and Medal of Honor worthiness may have all been forgotten when he died in 1986, but that’s where teachers like Bill Cahill can make a difference. Once he heard Barrett’s story, Cahill pledged to make sure his students would know of their fellow Fultonian’s heroic behavior.

Each spring, since 2016, Bill and Lanigan sixth grade teacher and US Air Force Veteran Holly Rhoads utilize a DVD series from the Medal of Honor Society that includes lesson plans about Medal recipients. Students learn that a Fultonian is among those who earned the medal by reading an essay about Barrett written by Cahill and based on research by Volney school parent Carolyn Zimmerman. They are then asked to write their own essay using this first sentence starter: “As a fellow Fultonian, I am proud of Carlton W. Barrett’s actions on June 6th, 1944, because…”

The students’ essays are collected and reviewed by their teachers, with several selected to represent the opinions of these youngsters. They then ride on a float in our city’s Memorial Day parade to Recreation Park and read their essays to an audience.

When asked why he puts the effort into this project, Bill said, “It’s important for our students to realize their city has a proud history and, as active citizens, they will be agents of change that brings back that pride.”

Yes, it takes a village to raise a child, and here in our village we have teachers like Bill Cahill, Holly Rhoads and Rick Bush to accomplish that. We are fortunate.

The memory of Medal of Honor recipient Carlton Barrett is being kept alive by some Fulton teachers.

The memory of Medal of Honor recipient Carlton Barrett is being kept alive by some Fulton teachers.

Springing Back to Life

If you love spending time outdoors you may have visited the Great Bear Springs Recreation Area, just a few miles south of Fulton on old Route 57. I’ve walked Great Bear’s trails many times and always enjoy the company of towering trees, the meandering Oswego River and a variety of birds in song. On my walks I’ve often noticed a small abandoned building alongside one of the trails and wondered about its origins. Recently I learned some of the building’s history from Dick Drosse, one of the Friends of Great Bear.

Dick explained that the weather-worn structure was Great Bear’s Spring House, which played an important role in the water bottling company once located at the site. At the height of its popularity the company drew 100,000 gallons a day from the area’s natural springs and shipped it across the United States. That all started in 1894, but the Spring House didn’t become part of the company’s bottling methods until 1912, when its pipeline across the Oswego River had to be discontinued so the New York State Barge Canal could include the river in its waterways system.

To maintain Great Bear’s successful business, the company’s founder and owner, Frederick Emerick, had to devise another method of collecting water from the springs. Part of Frederick’s plan included the construction of a spring house, which would be designed to act as a pumping station. Frederick’s son, Stanley Emerick, a graduate of Yale’s engineering school, sketched out his father’s plan, creating a small “house” with a water reservoir capable of holding 2,000 gallons. Tankers transported water to local railcars and then shipped it to bottling sites throughout the northeast.

While Great Bear’s Spring House worked as intended, Frederick Emerick and his son weren’t looking for just an ordinary pump house. Stanley modeled theirs using Italian architecture he’d admired, elevating their water collection system to a work of art. Included in its construction were a Mediterranean-style clay tile roof, decorative corbel ends to the rafters and an interior finished with mosaic tile. In the center of the building, a tiled well circulated spring water.

For decades, water collected at the Spring House and bottled as Great Bear Spring Pure Water was a popular product. Then, in 1976, the city of Fulton was looking for a reliable supply of water for its 14,000 residents. A deal was struck between the city and Great Bear and the water bottling company discontinued its business, selling its name and polar bear logo. (Today it’s owned by the Nestlé Company.) Methods to collect and distribute water to the city of Fulton modernized and the Spring House was discontinued. Forty years later, the once beautiful structure was in disrepair.

Enter the Friends of Great Bear, a not-for-profit volunteer group who currently maintains the site. Since 2006, the Friends have been working to make a hiker’s experience safe and pleasurable. Their projects have focused on keeping trails clear of fallen trees, posting trail signs and building walkways over water and marshy areas. Last year, however, the group turned its attention to its first restoration project, The Great Bear Spring House.

In January of 2018, Fernando Araya, Great Bear Friend and arborist, began cutting and clearing encroaching trees around the House. By April, Friends volunteers, including Exelon employees, cut and cleared brush in the Spring House area. Funding necessary to begin the costly renovations was secured from Frederick Emerick’s granddaughter, Helen Emerick Stacy, and great-granddaughter, Pat Stacy Healey, as well as the Sunoco Ethanol Facility and several Friends of Great Bear. With materials and labor provided by Arrow Fence, Universal Metals and Friends of Great Bear, the Spring House’s restoration could begin.

Jake Mulcahey, co-owner of Pinnacle Builder, and his children enjoy hiking Great Bear, and he offered to repair the Spring House, beginning with its deteriorated roof. The original roof tiles proved too expensive to replace, but green metal roofing nicely complimented the white building. New rafters and sub-roof sheathing were installed where needed, and exposed rafter ends and soffits were painted.

With the roof now weather tight, Jake and his crew removed the Spring House’s inner broken ceiling and replaced it with moisture resistant sheetrock. By reviewing old photographs Jake was able to reconstruct the collapsed portico entranceway, corbel ends to the rafters and the compound curvature of the gable. Window openings were framed and fitted with clear Plexiglas. As autumn approached, the Friends of Great Bear gave the Spring House’s exterior a fresh coat of paint. An entranceway gate and metal sculpture were provided by Arrow Fence and Universal Metals.

One more step in the revitalization of the Spring House remains. This May, the Leadership Oswego County class of 2019 will add finishing touches to the house’s site. Leadership Oswego County is administered by SUNY Oswego’s Office of Business and Community Relations and its goal is to help county residents become community stewards. During the yearlong program class members study county businesses, educational institutions and government agencies, and a culminating project helps the class put their knowledge to work. This year’s class chose Great Bear’s Spring House.

Leadership Oswego County’s project includes the planting of native flowers and a tree donated by PlantCNY in the Spring House area, which, as Rebecca Trevett, of the 2019 class, explained, will fulfill the following: “Our class plans to breathe new life to a small portion of this community’s wonderful backyard oasis, Great Bear, [which will] forever bring a wellspring of joy to everyone who visits this local, invaluable recreation area.”

The next time I take a walk on Great Bear trails and come to the Spring House, I’ll pause to remember the history of the grounds I’m standing on. I’ll thank the forward-thinking individuals like Frederick and Stanley Emerick, the kindness of their descendants Helen Emerick Stacy and Pat Stacy Healey, and the many Friends of Great Bear, who have devoted their time and effort to making our walks there memorable.

The Great Bear Recreation Area’s Spring House has recently been restored.

The Great Bear Recreation Area’s Spring House has recently been restored.

The Fulton Elks’ Rich History

One of my favorite childhood memories is Fulton’s May Day celebration. Often the first outdoor event of the year, May Day is a weekend of amusement rides, contests, yummy food and entertainment. But for decades the most exciting part for kids has been May Day’s bicycle giveaway. When I was in grade school, each spring students got a ticket and if you were a lucky winner, you got a new set of wheels to carry you through the last weeks of school and straight into the long summer.

May Day was the brainchild of our local Elks Lodge, which planned those fun events and raised money to pay for the shiny new bikes. Fifty plus years later, I still remember the excitement as April turned to May. A book recently loaned to me explained how May Day and the Elks got their start.

The book, “History of the Order of the Elks” begins in 1868, in New York City, where a group of actors regularly got together at a tavern. Often out of work, the men found ways to support each other during lean times. When money was more plentiful the group helped others in need, and soon they formalized their gathering into an official organization. When it came time to name their group, the men narrowed their choices down to two: the bison and the elk. In a slim margin of victory—bison, seven votes, and elk, eight—the group became the Elks.

The lodge’s original charter rules still ring true today. In part they state that the Elks are “an organization of American citizens who love their country and desire to preserve its cherished institutions; who love their fellow man and seek to promote his well-being; and who love the joyousness of life and endeavor to contribute to it, as well as to share it.”

That first New York City group became known as Lodge No. 1 and as the Elk’s popularity spread throughout the country, those Lodge numbers grew. In 1903, a group of Fultonians started Lodge # 830, pledging to abide by the Elks rules.

There was, however, one Elks rule which is no longer true today. For decades, all Elks Lodges were exclusively male organizations. That changed on a national level in the 1990s. Current Fulton Lodge Secretary, 35-year member Dean Salisbury, showed me records from the Lodge’s history. Dean explained: “In our city, Patricia Kitts was its first woman member, back in 1997. A few old-timers dropped out because of the change, but including women has really been a benefit to the Lodge. Women who’ve joined here do so for the same reason the founders started the Elks: to help our community.”

Dean shared more about how the Fulton Elks serve our area, including their support for veterans, helping local cemeteries maintain their grounds, a youth hoops contest, a soccer contest and a college scholarship program. “For many years,” Dean noted, “our youth programs won awards on a national level.”

Along with talking with Dean, old newspapers helped me learn more about the Elks, including its May Day program.  Beginning in Fulton in 1951, May Day originally invited high school and grammar school students throughout Oswego County. The weekend began with a “parade featuring local school bands, color guards, firemen and auxiliaries, veterans’ organizations, fraternal organizations and industry taking part.” The second day of the event offered its first All-American Soap Box Derby, with winners of the local contest heading to Akron, Ohio, for the national derby.

By the time I was old enough to hope I’d win one of those bikes, the mid-‘60s, May Day was a must-attend event for kids. A 1964 newspaper article noted that invitations had been sent out to the city’s CYO, YMCA, Scouts and schools. Children were invited to take part in the Youth Day Poster and Essay contests, with cash awards for the winners.

By 1972, Elks programs for Fulton youth were expanded to a full week. Included was a City Government program, where students visited a Common Council meeting to participate in municipal business. By the end of the week, Saturday, there was the usual ceremonies and contest and, of course, the 12 bicycles to be given away, two for each elementary grade level.

While talking about the Elks’ history in Fulton, Dean Salisbury gave me a tour of the lodge, located on Pierce Drive. “We’ve been here since 2002,” he said. “Before that, actually since the early 1900s, the lodge was on South First Street.” On our tour, Dean pointed out the fireplace and chandelier that were brought over from the Elks’ original location.

Also on display were brass memorial plaques, which listed over 100 names of original Fulton members, their date of induction and date of passing. Another artifact on display was a series of signatures from famous visitors to our local lodge over the years, including President Theodore Roosevelt, Governor Thomas Dewey and composer John Phillips Sousa. “They would be boating down the Oswego River and stop at our Fulton locks,” Dean said. “If they were an Elk in their hometown, they’d sign in at our lodge.”

On the day I visited the Elks, lodge treasurer Silvan Johnson was at her desk paying bills. I asked Silvan why she and her husband Paul joined 10 years ago. Her answer echoed the lodge’s founding ethics: “We joined to be able to give something back to the community, to be part of something bigger than just us—to help people.”

Dean agreed, “I wanted to use my time on something worthy, something to help my community of Fulton.”

As the Fulton Elks begin their 68th year of May Day, which will take place May 3 and 4 at the Lodge on Pierce Drive, I take a moment to remember the lodge members who’ve been providing support for Fultonians of all ages.

This 1982 photo show lucky Fulton children who won bicycles at the Elks’ annual May Day celebration.

This 1982 photo show lucky Fulton children who won bicycles at the Elks’ annual May Day celebration.