March 29, 2021

Episode #50: Town Historian Robert Goller

Episode #50: Town Historian Robert Goller

In this, the 50th episode, Stacy is on location visiting Robert Goller, historian for the town of Aurora and village of East Aurora, New York. Stacy and Robert discuss methods for researching the history of an old house and how local lore often...

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In this, the 50th episode, Stacy is on location visiting Robert Goller, historian for the town of Aurora and village of East Aurora, New York. Stacy and Robert discuss methods for researching the history of an old house and how local lore often becomes the last word even when the stories are incorrect. Additionally, Robert talks about the importance of documenting and sharing uncomfortable history with accuracy and sensitivity.

At the beginning of this episode, Stacy and Bill from Enon Hall discuss managing anxiety and old house ownership.

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Mentioned in This Episode

  • Follow Aurora Town Historian Robert Goller onFacebook&Instagram
  • Nora's Pennant brand peanut can duct:

  • The Stodart piano and Confederate money Laura and the crew found while doing volunteer salvage work in Vance County, North Carolina.

Show Notes

(0:00) Stacy celebrates a milestone. Today's episode is #50. She remembers when she made a big mistake while interviewing Joe Hayes from Hayes Window Restoration in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Many thanks to the audience who listened even when the edits were choppy, and the sound was bad.

(2:19) Stacy welcomes back Bill Chapman from Enon Hall to answer the listener question, "How do you fight old house anxiety?" And the example the listener used was, "for instance, you hear a random noise and stay up at night thinking about the house collapsing."

Bill talks about the anxiety he felt when he and Gay bought their first house. Stacy discusses two strategies for dealing with anxiety that she learned via years of therapy for her family member who struggles with a severe anxiety disorder. 

(8:39) Bill admits that water stresses him out. They had a flood due to a faulty toilet, and the experience stuck with him. He continues to worry about the conditions that could cause water damage. 

(9:33) Stacy reminds listeners that they are invited to answer the question, "What is the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house?" This week there were four answers to the question. Listeners found a Pennant brand peanut can converted to ductwork and Confederate money too! 

(12:30) Stacy introduces Robert Goller, historian for the town of Aurora and the village of East Aurora, New York. They begin the conversation by talking about how the pandemic affected how the historian's office settled into its new location in East Aurora. Robert also answered the question on everyone's mind: What does a historian do all day? Every town in New York is required by law to appoint a historian.

(22:32) Stacy and Robert begin to discuss how to research an old house's history, starting with the Search and Title document. Robert explains how that document can help homeowners understand the property changes and serve as a starting point to find out more about the previous owners. He cautions that many old properties contain stories of both life and death. If a homeowner is sensitive about the topic of death, they should be upfront with the historian before digging too deep into parts of the history of an old house.

(36:30) Stacy switches the topic to local history. She asks Robert what he considers the strangest event in the town's history. Too polite to label it as such, Robert talks about an article he wrote for the local paper. It was about a common story that circulated for years. Some East Aurora residents were convinced that a diagonal tunnel under Main Street connected with the Underground Railroad. Based on research and common sense, Robert determined that the story was false. However, he does support the idea that local lore can be just as important as true history as long as it is documented as such. 

(43:43) When citizens begin to see history through a different lens, Stacy asks Robert how he handles documentation and education during that time. Robert is clear that while Aurora and East Aurora have a history of supporting the abolition movement, there were also citizens and business owners involved in local demonstrations with the Ku Klux Klan. He believes that knowing the past will help us change the future, and his approach is to inform people with sensitivity. He does not think that anyone should find out that their relative was a Ku Klux Klan member in the middle of a public library presentation. During his presentations, Robert offers enough information to find where to uncover the truth for themselves. 

 (48:02) Stacy and Robert wind down the interview by talking about the skill Robert draws upon the most as a historian and his favorite part of the job. Robert expresses that his job requires patience, and he asks for patience in return. Research takes time, and it is supposed to be fun. Enjoy it! His favorite part of the job is people. Robert enjoys working with people and researching the prominent figures and the day-to-day townspeople who built Aurora and East Aurora. 

(53:15) Stacy asks Robert how listeners can find him on social media. (linked above)

(54:20) The show ends with goodbyes and the outro. 

Thank you for listening to True Tales From Old Houses.

Until next time,



Stacy Grinsfelder  0:02  
I'm Stacy Grinsfelder from Blake Hill House, and I am the host of True Tales From Old Houses.

Hello, everyone, guess what? True Tales From Old Houses has hit a milestone. Right now you are listening to the 50th episode of the show, and I can hardly believe it. Thank you for all the downloads, donations, ratings, reviews and shares and I love getting your messages of support and your suggestions too. I'll be honest, many self produced podcasts start with someone who knows about their subject, and who has a whole lot of heart, but the tech side Well, that's a bit of a dumpster fire. And I would say that is certainly true of True Tales From Old Houses. So thank you for listening, even when the editing was choppy and the sound quality needed some serious help. If you were one of our early guests, a special thank you goes out to you. I remember during the first season I was chatting with Joe Hayes from Hayes Window Restoration in Minneapolis. We talked for an hour, and then I discovered that my recording device didn't save any of it. Fun fact that is a podcaster's worst nightmare, as you can imagine. Well, Joe was so gracious about the whole thing. At a later time, we re-recorded, and his interview became episode number six titled Lead Safety and Regional Differences in Old Windows. Anyway, I think you're going to enjoy today's 50th episode, I went on location again and met small town historian Robert Goller, which we'll get to. But first announcements. I don't have any new announcements this week. It seems like a lot of organizations are still between a rock and a hard place when it comes to scheduling in person events. It's difficult to predict if those gatherings will be allowed, and if so how large. So I'm noticing that virtual events are still pretty popular. If you are part of an organization that's hosting an event that is relevant to our listeners, then do please reach out to me through the true Tales from old houses website because I would be happy to announce your event on an upcoming episode.

We have an interesting question for Q&A. Today. I welcome back Bill Chapman from Enon Hall. Hi, Bill.

Bill  2:19  
Hey, Stacy, how are you?

Stacy Grinsfelder  2:21  
Great. Great. Are you ready to answer today's question with me, Bill? 

Bill  2:25  
I am. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  2:26  
Alright. The question from our listener is, "How do you fight old house anxiety?" And the example this person used was, "for instance, you hear a random noise and stay up at night thinking about the house collapsing."

Bill  2:43  
Oh, boy, I tell you my first instance of old house anxiety and I can say I've had very few anxiety attacks in my life, maybe two or three. The first one was the first night in our 1922 brick Victorian the first house that we bought as a married couple. And it was you know, moving day, it was the first time we'd seen it without the previous owners furniture in there. So you saw all the cracks in the plaster, I saw a place where I could actually push the drywall in and out. And in the middle of the night was just a massive panic attack. And now we call that the 1922. house we refer to that as a new house compared to our 18th 19th century house. I think the number one way of combating that kind of anxiety is just knowledge and experience. And understanding that a lot about a house is pretty simple and straightforward. And my anxiety that night came from I had no experience. I had no idea whether these were massive problems, or cosmetic problems. How about you? any anxiety at Blake Hill House? 

Stacy Grinsfelder  3:57  
Oh, we have lots of anxiety at Blake Hill House. No, actually, I'm sorry. I'm kind of chuckling to myself, because we do. And I want to start my answer by saying that I am not a therapist. I have no training as a therapist. But because I have somebody very near and dear to me in my immediate family who has a very severe anxiety disorder. I have been involved in a lot of therapy, group therapy, family therapy, individual therapy to help my person in my family deal with and understand this anxiety. So with that, I mean there's sort of general anxiety in which we all kind of worry, but this to me sounds like-- it's not debilitating. I mean, this person is getting out of their house on a daily basis, but it's a lot you know, you're starting to worry, worry worry to the point where it's disrupting your sleep here. And so I would like to say some of the the methods that I learned would be number one to-- you're going to feel that anxiety and you just have to kind of sit with it and feel it and know that it's unpleasant. But not to necessarily push it away. So you're let's say, you're in the middle of the night and you hear this random noise and you stay up your mind immediately is just starts. the what ifs, the what ifs, the what ifs, and probably the best solution that we came up with that we learned was to go ahead and follow all those what ifs, as far as you can take them, which seems counterintuitive, because you think, oh, I don't want to think about that. I don't want to think about all the terrible things that will happen. But let's say you hear a random noise, and you stay up thinking about the house collapsing. So you're like, why do I hear that noise? It's because the house is settling? Well, what if there's a crack in my foundation? And then the answer is, well, I will call a foundation expert. And they'll come over and they'll tell me whether there's a crack in my basement? Well, what if that crack is going to cost $10,000? And I don't have it? Well, I will go to the bank, and I will get a construction loan. And that will give me the money that I need to pay to get this foundation fixed? Well, what if they won't give me a loan, then I'll go to another bank and look for another loan, because there are lots of banks in the country. And surely someone will offer me money, you know, will loan money to me to fix this crack. And you follow it all the way through until eventually you might even get to the point of What if my house falls down? Well, I'll move. I'll go somewhere else. You know what, if I'll go to an apartment, I'll go live with my mother, I'll-- there's always, always something that you can do. I mean, there are very few instances in which there's absolutely, the end result is well, I'll die. You know?

Bill  6:54  
Yeah, I like that. So you're gaming out all the option, or you're gaming out all the scenarios to show that you have options?

Stacy Grinsfelder  7:03  
Yes. And I think that comes a lot, maybe with the planning, you know, you said you liked to play and if I get stuck, I find out a solution to my problem and plan to fix it. And then it's kind of a lot like that, you know, make the plan. Here's what I'm going to do if, if something like this happens. Now, as far as nighttime goes, maybe this person would be benefited, would benefit rather-- from trying this exercise in the daytime, maybe it would be good to just set aside some time and just write out these what ifs. And if that scenario is taken care of during the day, then maybe hopefully, it won't come knocking at nighttime. That's my suggestion.

Bill  7:41  
I like that. That's smart. Yeah, and all those creaks and groans and noises. They're all louder at night, too.

Stacy Grinsfelder  7:47  
Oh, they are they are. And sometimes it's a result of stress too. So you might have stress unrelated to the house. But then all of a sudden it comes you know, tapping out your shoulder at night, you realize, Oh, I'm waking up a lot at night, or this is happening a lot at night. And it's based on something completely external, but your brain your brain likes to sort that stuff out at inopportune times.

Bill  8:12  
Oh, actually, I feel like I should be paying for this. This is valuable. Yeah,

Stacy Grinsfelder  8:19  
I was gonna say, I guess I should repeat at the end here that I'm not a therapist. I'm not paid for this. But But yes, by all means, you know, pay me the five cents like Lucy from the Peanuts comic right?

Bill  8:29  
Yep. Absolutely. That's right. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  8:32  
All right. Yeah. What do you think? I mean, is there anything that's been stressful or anxiety producing in the house that you're living in right now?

Bill  8:39  
Water stresses me out. You know, we had a toilet that the seal broke on it. And we which led to a roof dropping in the parlor, you know, but it would that was a room that was that all the original plaster was gone. And we were going to re--we were going to take down the drywall anyway. So it wound up kicking off a great project. But anytime we have nor'easters or hurricanes and that horizontal wind, yeah, that stresses me out, because water is just so hard to chase down. It is.

Stacy Grinsfelder  9:14  
Yeah, definitely.

Bill  9:16  
But I like your process. I will follow that through next time.

Stacy Grinsfelder  9:20  
Well, good luck. Good luck to the person who asked this question too. And hopefully, it might help other listeners too. So thank you very much for coming back and talking about anxiety.

Bill  9:32  
Thanks, Stacy.

Stacy Grinsfelder  9:33  
I'll talk to you soon. Bye. 

Bill  9:35  

Stacy Grinsfelder  9:36  
Now it is your turn this season. I have a question for you as a listener and it is, "What is the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house?" People seem to really be warming up to this question and I'm getting more answers. I have four to share with you today. The first is from Nora she sent a message from Westmont, New Jersey. She and her husband found an old Pennant brand metal peanut can incorporated into the ductwork of their home. It looks like a previous owner had just cut off both ends and use it to connect an air return to the primary ductwork. I thought that was pretty resourceful. Now Betsy from Washington DC has a huge locked wooden chest in her basement left by the previous owner. And here's the kicker. She hasn't opened it yet. Betsy. If I don't hear about the contents of the trunk soon, I'm going to load up some crowbars into my car. I'm going to drive to your house and I am going to open it for you. I am so curious about what's inside. My friend John Rodgers from Phoenix Preservation in St. Joseph, Missouri said that a 1920 plumber's union card fell out of the wall in the basement. Now the way I understood this was that 1920 was the year the house had his only remodel. So first one remodel in 100 years. That is impressive. And second, that poor plumber. I wonder if he looked for that card for weeks wondering how it disappeared. Of course it is possible that he saw it fall into the void and thought, well, that's gone forever. At this point, I guess we have no idea what the real story is. And finally, Laura volunteers for a nonprofit architectural salvage and I'm going to read her answer word for word. She wrote, we found burned Confederate money stuffed inside a Stoddard square piano in an antebellum house in Vance County, North Carolina. When I read that I thought, whoa, there is definitely a story there for sure. And it is too bad that we'll never know it. Both Nora and Laura have sent photos and I've put them over on the show notes. If you would like to take a look. I want to hear your answers all season. So please visit the True Tales From Old Houses website. And on the bottom right-hand side you'll see there is a little microphone icon. It's blue. Click on that little microphone and you can leave your answer as a voicemail, please answer in a complete sentence. Now you can leave the voicemail using your phone or even a computer just as long as it has a mic. That's really all you need. I have noticed that most of you are pretty shy about leaving voicemails, so please feel free to submit your answer via the contact form instead. I get it. Your privacy is important and I will not share your messages without your permission. Thank you, Nora, Betsy, John, and Laura for taking the time to answer the question about the weirdest or most surprising thing you ever found in your old house.

Earlier I mentioned that I went on location to interview this week's guest town historian Robert Goller. What a delightful person. Robert communicates and documents the complexities of small town history with such sensitivity and grace. I learned a lot during our conversation, and I hope you will too.

Robert  12:56  
I'm Robert Goller. I'm town town historian, village historian as well here in the town of Aurora and village of East Aurora.

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:03  
Excellent. Thank you so much for sitting down with me and talking about your job and East Aurora and Aurora.

Robert  13:09  
Well, thank you for inviting me, it's the best job in the world. For me it is at least

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:14  
Good. I'm glad to hear that. Well, we tried to get together I guess last fall. And when Devyn was still my co host, we had some plans to meet and it just Well, as you know, as everybody knows, most things fell apart in 2020. And so it's really kind of the highlight of my season this year to get to come and visit with you in person. I love to go on location, and I have some connections to you. So it's really fun. Thank you very much. Oh,

Robert  13:38  
You're welcome. And yeah, yeah, we're excited to have you here. Finally, because we actually in the middle of all of the COVID. We closed. We couldn't be open to the public. And we also moved the entire museum and archives during that period of time as well. So you're back at a good time.

Stacy Grinsfelder  13:52  
Good. Well, it's exciting for me to see the new building. And that's a good point. Because how long had you been in that old building?

Robert  13:57  
We were actually there since 2012. So about five years, that would be right. And we had actually moved there from the old roycroft chapel here in East Aurora, which was a great building, but not conducive for an archive, a lot of stairs and a lot of small spaces. But this building fully handicap accessible. We have a great display area for our exhibits. So we built it to suit so to speak. And the town has been very supportive of our historical efforts here.

Stacy Grinsfelder  14:27  
That's great. So you're at the point where you're like, "We're never moving again.

Robert  14:29  
At least as long as I'm historian. I'm never moving again. Because this is the second time. I will say the second time was much easier than the first because I had a lot of help. And I understood what it entailed. The first time I was totally green, and box-- things were still sitting in boxes for a very long time. And this time we had everything numbered and catalogued and a lot of volunteers who stepped up to help so anybody who's moving in archive or anything, ask for help because you can't do it by yourself. I learned that the first time around.

Stacy Grinsfelder  14:59  
That makes a lot of sense. All right, well, let's talk about your job as the town historian because honestly, it kind of sounds like one of those panel memes. Have you ever seen those? 

Robert  15:07  

Stacy Grinsfelder  15:07  
like, what my mother thinks I do what my neighbors think I do what I really do. So, yeah, you really do.

Robert  15:14  
What do I do? Well, first off, the New York State's actually unique and each-- back in 1919, as we were coming out of World War One, the state historian at the time, we had a state historian, but we didn't have local historians. And the state historian at that point was concerned as we were coming out of World War One, Spanish flu, women's suffrage, all these things were happening around that time, it was a very active time. But particularly World War One and the servicemembers coming back from overseas, as well as the homefront folks, the Red Cross volunteers, and they were concerned that the stories the history of each of these communities would be lost. So they figured out system it took them a while to they wanted to record New York State histories in New York state's role in World War One. And at the beginning, it was going to be that the state historian was going to appoint somebody in each community to do that. And then that was cumbersome, obviously. And the state historian certainly can't do that for every community. So they developed a system of each mayor and town supervisor would appoint a historian in each community, with the purpose of recording the history of World War One in their own communities. And then they would send that report into Albany into New York, New York, New York's officials, and they would have this great report for New York state's role in World War One. Well, the law stayed on the books. And so now we have, by law, each community is to appoint a historian, village historian, town historian, county historian, every municipal division has a historian. And some people, I get this a lot, what do you do all day you sit, you know, sit in your office reading books. First off, I'm part time and in many communities, you're going to find the historian is maybe doesn't even have an office in the municipal center or the town hall. But each community has that person who is recording the heritage of the community promoting the heritage of the community, maintaining the official archive, which is what we do here, and also in many communities, including East Aurora, the historian has a statutory legislative role in like, we have a historic preservation commission, and any proposals that come before them, they send here for review, I don't necessarily have an opinion, but I give, I do the research and give them the background about a particular property. So there is a there is an actual role beyond the genealogy and they and the books and the fun stuff. There's an actual role in it, for instance, they want to put up a gas station somewhere, or modify a building, they will ask for a historical report. And with the archives we have here, I put that report out to them. And that's happened a lot. So there is an actual role. So the story with that is, and the lesson to be learned is that any community you are in in New York State, if you have a question about history, if you're visiting, or if you even live there, go to the town hall and ask for the historian. And we always joke, but it's true. If they say we don't have one, you give me a call, or you give another historian a call. And we'll make sure they get one. And we're government officials. So we take an oath of office and just like your town justices, your town board, your town supervisor. We take an oath of office so that

Stacy Grinsfelder  18:36  
Yeah, let me interrupt you. Sure. So you're appointed though, but not elected?

Robert  18:41  
Correct. So actually, that's an interesting point. I'm appointed by the supervisor and the mayor. It's one of very few positions that are not appointed by the board. So I'm appointed. And the reason I've been told for that is we want to we are our code of ethics, strongly suggests, and I certainly do it, is to stay out of local politics. So I'm not allowed to go to a political fundraisers or things like that, because I think they want to keep the position non partisan for a variety of reasons. But also, even though the position is political, appointed by political folks, we try to stay out of that. And I've been in positions where I've had to give information that might not have been popular. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  19:26  
We'll get to that. 

Robert  19:27  
Yes. And so that's, I think, another reason why you you, they encourage us to stay out of the politics, which is, I'll be honest, politics is very, very important to the local system, but I'm glad I don't have to be a part of it.

Stacy Grinsfelder  19:39  
I don't blame you one single bit. Yeah. When I was preparing for this interview, and I was thinking about what I was going to ask you and what the town historian does, it made me think of things like my father was a park ranger, and people would say, Oh, I wish I was a park ranger and then I could just hike around in the woods all day. And my mother was a librarian. Same thing. I wish I was a library and then I could just sit around and read books all day, so

Robert  20:00  
Well, and that's one of the efforts that I appreciate interviews like this, because there's actually we have an organization of historians on the statewide basis in the regional basis in western New York. And one of our our missions is to educate the public as to what the historian is and who the historian is, and what the office is there for. Tax dollars are paying for this office, and you should use it as a resource. So that's one of the big things is to tell people just like I did now tell you what I do. And and the that's there's a purpose, tourism is helped immensely. You're building stock--your housing stock in your community. And the property values are enhanced by history. And a lot of times, we're in the debates about local developments or local politics. It's interesting, because people will sometimes say, Well, we've never done this before. And you're like, Oh, no, no, no, no. You go back into the newspaper, and you realize, Oh, no, we've been here before. That debate about traffic at a certain road, oh, go back to 1967, they were having the exact same debate. So there's a, it's great to have that person in each community that someone that everybody can call on, to help them find that information about a property about a person to help live in the present and plan for the future.

Stacy Grinsfelder  21:22  
So on a day-to-day level, you know, what does your job look like?

Unknown Speaker  21:26  
Sure. So I'm, I'm a part time. So this is not a full-time job. And I don't know of any community where there's a fullttime historian, even on the county level in some places. But in Aurora, we're very lucky because the community is very historic. And one of the things that we have done is expanded the role of the historian and in East Aurora. But what I do is I'm, it's hard to encapsulate. So some of it is, I do interviews such as this, I go speak to school groups--wherever I'm invited to go speak, I try to do that. Even the summer day camps at the parks for the kids, we do a program about the history of their park, show pictures. But people will email and request information either about their homes, or about somebody or any topic, local here in East Aurora. A lot of times I'm referring people to other agencies. So for instance, East Aurora is the hub of sort of our region here, and sometimes someone will be asking about a house or an event in a nearby town. And I'll refer them to their town historian because their town has one, as all do. And then I I've expanded a lot on social media. One of my thoughts was, at the beginning, people, I think, going along the lines of what do you do, and sometimes people think you just sit here all day, having fun. And one of the things about Facebook and Instagram, I think some people think it's just a lot of fun. And it's sometimes a waste of time. I've heard that a couple times. And for me, and I think the community, Facebook and Instagram, none of these photographs and documents and anything we have here in the archives, does any good sitting in a drawer. And so one of my goals has been to get that out there to the community to see the resources that we have-- the pictures of the photographs of people in places and houses and put them--so every day, I have a post that goes out on our social media. And I scheduled that out ahead of time. So I'm not physically behind the computer each day. But that's been a huge thing that I don't know how we really lived without, you know. And I also manage the archives, which is a big part of the job. And just making sure everything's catalogued where it should be easily found. Grant writing is part of it to get grants for digital digitization of our files, we digitize the newspapers, and then working as a liaison with local historical organizations to keep everybody sort of on the same page. And if anybody needs any help with anything, your town historian essentially helps coordinate some of that. And lastly, we have a museum exhibit here at the town hall. And it's it's owned by the Historical Society, which is a separate organization. But here in East Aurora, because I'm here, I'm the curator of that, so, so I get to do a whole lot of different things.

Stacy Grinsfelder  24:25  
Sure. I'm looking forward to seeing the museum after our conversation today, if you have time to walk around.

Robert  24:31  

Stacy Grinsfelder  24:32  
Great. Well, one of my first connections to you, which you are unaware of or don't remember, because it's been a long time as I moved here seven years ago, and we ended up buying a house. And when we walked into tour the house there was a little packet of information there. And it had, you know, the who built the house and it had the history of the house and how it was connected to other parts of the community. And I--we had decided to buy our house probably within, I don't know, five minutes, you know, we looked at houses, like this is the one. And so I got very spoiled because I thought, Wow, look here, you know, I have a whole packet of information. So I didn't have to do any history research at all. You had done that, and I suppose you'd done that for a realtor. So is that something that comes up with realtors on occasion, when you have a particular kind of house?

Robert  25:20  
Occasionally, what happens more often is someone will move into a new house, and they'll because hopefully, we're doing a good job getting the word out that we're available for that. And there's documents here that can help folks with the history of their home, they'll call and say, can you tell me anything about my house? The problem with that is it doesn't end, you are going to constantly be investigating, like genealogy, you're doing the genealogy of your home, essentially. And genealogy never ends, you can go back, you know, as far as you want, in your family history, that as long as the documents are there, but also you can delve into details about all the folks in your family, as as deep as you want. I mean, there's always something new to find. Same with your house. So when folks say they want, they come in, and they think within a half an hour, we're gonna be able to have the entire history of their home, it unfortunately doesn't happen that way. And so my, my advice to folks is to make sure you're very patient. And this is supposed to be fun, right? You're supposed to enjoy the process. So don't come in with the idea that, well, we're just going to grab whatever we can and go and have the history of my house. It's it's an ongoing process. But one of the things and what you had was extremely rare. And I know, you know, that is that people don't put together the history of their house. But it's fairly easy to do, if you have what they call the Search and Title for your property. And it belongs to the property, not the house, that's one thing to remember. But when you close on a property in New York State, perhaps in other places, they want to guarantee that you the property you're buying, with legitimately sold all the way back. So going back to the late 1700s, early 1800s. Your your title search, which they do lists every owner and every transaction dating back over 200 years, in many cases. Now legally, that's important, because you want to guarantee that the property you're buying isn't going to have someone from 1850, showing up claiming, claiming the property. But a secondary advantage of this document, the search and title is that it lists all the previous owners and the exact dates of transaction, which is a great starting point. That's a goldmine of information, because we can use the maps, we can go into the files and try to figure out who the owners were and maybe why they, you know, when they built the houses, all that sort of do a history genealogy of your house. But with the search and title, if I know that Mr. Smith bought your property on May 4 1862, I can go back into the newspaper on May 4 1862. And see if they mentioned anything, or we have family files that have if we know who owns your property, we can cross reference with the family files and figure out you know it, maybe there's a picture of the house in the family file that wouldn't have necessarily been in a property file. So that search and title helps us cross reference. It also gives you a clue as to the division of property. So like you know, your--most of the time your property was part of a much bigger parcel, and in there will tell you what was going on. So a lot of times people will call wanting us to help them with the with the history of their house, when in fact they already have most of the information in their hands, or their attorney's hands.

Well, nobody can see my face right now. But as you were saying this, I don't know if you could see my eyebrows were like going up, but I have practically lightbulbs over my head because at closing, we were given this giant document and it was given to us and they said basically never lose this and 

Copy it right away. People bring me their originals, and I think go put it back in your safe deposit. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  29:09  
That's where mine is right now. Yeah, I don't even I didn't make a copy, but I did get a safe deposit box right after because that was the only thing that-- I didn't even bother to look at it. You know, what I heard was, don't ever lose this. Don't ever lose it. 

Robert  29:21  
Yes. Well, when we received ours for our home, actually, the attorney sent me the last page because they just wanted to prove that that last person had the right to sell the house to us. So I immediately called up and I said, Oh, I need the whole thing because I wanted to do this whole thing, and from that document I found out first of all, who-- I was able to figure out who owned the house, and some legal challenges and things along the way, but I was able to cross reference and find out that the woman who lived in my home was the principal at the high school. One of the things you do have to be careful about-- some people don't want to know who died in their house or if there was like for instance, there were at least two wakes--funerals in my parlor, that I found out through the, through the search and title and then cross referencing to the obituaries we have here in the archives. Some people don't want to know that. I'm okay with that. But, but just be forewarned that and if you are going to historian, if you want, if you have boundaries, put those out there right away. Because folks like me like to just, we give it out no matter what. And sometimes we forget to be sensitive to some people who may not may not want that information.

Stacy Grinsfelder  30:30  
I pretty much assume people died in my house, as old as it is. I mean, I didn't go so far as to find out but I'm okay with that. And it's funny because I came from a different area of the United States. And that was a real kind of a hush hush thing. Like if somebody died in the house, it was really Hush Hush. And here, we didn't even really delve into it, but I also just assumed that it was probably, I mean, my house is over 130 years old.

Robert  30:53  
Yeah. And you definitely. So for instance, the, the woman that I was referencing, she passed away in the house, and her obituary said, you know, Mrs. So and So died at her home-- gave the exact address, so there's no question. So then I start thinking, and I, you know, you get these thoughts of okay. But, you know, then she had her wake and her father also waked in the parlor, which is now our, what we call the living room. And we just, you know, we know that and thought, well there, and then we thought, well, where would they have had the room to have all these people in here, but then, of course, they didn't have television in the way, you know, all the big furniture,

Stacy Grinsfelder  31:28  

Robert  31:29  
But, but I connected to the person who lived in my house, which was really interesting, because, you know, it's a, it's an interesting connection, because they, you know, I know how much I love my house. And I imagine that they loved it just as much. And it's just this person I never met. I'm connecting to by researching and remembering them, you know, and so one of the things that I've started to do is to do up a scrapbook of the house, you know, so that, and my, you know, whenever we have house guests over, people over for dinner or something, it's a real hit, frankly. People like to know that, and, and for my neighbors, too, I gave them because a lot of the same is the same information, because the lot used to be bigger. And it's a great gift, you know, the neighbors loved having an old map of their, their property, you know, so it just connects you to the folks who love the house just as much as you do today. And then sometimes you think, Well, why did they make this decision about the house? And so you're kind of-- it's a weird, it's a weird connection. But it's really neat to, to put things in perspective that, you know,--I sometimes get a little overwhelmed with house projects, but then I thought well I never had to build it, 

Stacy Grinsfelder  31:45  

Robert  32:26  
Yeah, we're all those-- things like that.

Stacy Grinsfelder  32:46  
Right. Absolutely. And I mean, all of us most, like, probably all of my listeners are obsessed with this kind of stuff. So like, we can listen to this all the time. But I found it so useful. I am aware of the original person who built my home, and then how quickly it transferred to the next person. And I can see where changes were made in the house, because I do spend a lot of time restoring and preserving the house that we live in. And I do most of that work myself. So I love that because I can kind of I can guess when some of the things happened. And any changes that my house has had over time happened so long ago that it wouldn't, you know, they didn't mess anything up, which is kind of amazing.

Robert  33:27  

Stacy Grinsfelder  33:28  
Well I--mess it up. I guess that was pretty--that was pretty judgmental. But I guess there was nothing that truly stuck out as this is not appropriate and does not belong in this house, you know, except for maybe one or two things. For the most part, everything had been done so long ago, even though it wasn't original. It fit; It worked

Robert  33:47  
Well, and you answer questions too. For instance, our lot-- it because we live in the village, and so the;re village lots. They're not very big, but our lot is much wider than our neighbors. And there's so it's always been a joke, you know. We have a lot more breathing room, either side of our house. But the reason is, is our lot--we were the original house, and then Mrs. Rosencrantz was her name, actually, 

Stacy Grinsfelder  34:08  
Tthat's a great name.

Robert  34:09  
It's a great name, she sold it off for lots. So we were part of a housing development, we were that one of the first lots in that housing development. And she sold off the lots. Well, now it makes sense because she saved as much of the land as she wanted for herself. So knowing that,you know why certain things happen. And of course, there's other questions too like, why, you know, they built garages over the property lines and stuff like that, that sometimes your search and title answer when they talk about the division of the property. So take a peek at it because it's really a great document. And then sometimes you find out that people who owned your house or own the land on it, were pretty prominent in your community. And there's quite a bit information about them that you can find out

Well I'm on the way to copying my


Stacy Grinsfelder  34:57  
All of that paperwork then yes, I'll pull it out of my--the safe deposit box.

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Yeah, so let me ask you just a little bit of particular history about this town because it's kind of neat. And I wanted to get into it just a little bit now that we know what you do daily and as a part of your job. So I actually asked some of my Instagram followers, I said, Do you have any questions? You know, what would you want to know from a town historian? And so one of the question was, what's the strangest--what would you consider the strangest event in town's history? And before you answer that, let me say, to your point before about not getting in the middle of everything. If I asked you a question, and you're like ehhhh, I can't answer that. 

Robert  37:01  

Stacy Grinsfelder  37:01  
You know, we can... 

Robert  37:02  
That rarely happens. I just won't tell you. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  37:05  

Robert  37:05  
For instance, before I answer your question, like sometimes people will wonder, should a building be demolished? And I won't answer that question. I am not an architectural expert. What I will do is give the information to the folks who have to make that decision, because the history of that property is only a part of the decision making. There's, you know, the condition of the current, the safety of the property currently. So that's what I mean, I'm never going to come out or rarely, I mean-- I may, if there is a case that I really feel is important. We'll say, well, that building needs to stay, because I don't know, all the other factors that go into that decision making. For instance, most recently, there was a, I wrote an article for the local paper, I do a monthly column, another part of my job--about for years, and this might be part of the strange history to answer your question.--For years, or at least as long as I can remember, there's been the story going around that as part of East Aurora's role on the Underground Railroad, there was a tunnel under East Main Street that went from one, the basement of one house to the basement of the other across the street. And it was sort of like a diagonal. If you actually draw out the path from one house to the other. It's a pretty long diagonal route. 

Stacy Grinsfelder  38:25  

It's not straight across the road. And I thought every time I heard the story, people were saying it as if it were definitely true. But when you actually ask, what's your evidence, nobody seemed to be able to come up with any. But it's so intriguing because the Underground Railroad, number one is intriguing because it was secret, you know, folks didn't talk about it. So evidence of it, it's not, is not always out there, in the forefront. But as I delved further into it, found I found the only evidence of this secret tunnel under Main Street was weirdly shaped formations in the foundations of the two houses. And then I thought, Okay, well, that might be true. But then I was reading experts, true experts on the Underground Railroad national experts, who said, Oh, this claim is being made all over the country, not just here in East Aurora. So as I delved more into it, there was no evidence. They actually ripped up Main Street at one point to reconstruct the street about 15 years ago. And my predecessor--the day they were ripping it up. He ran down here to see if there was ever any evidence of a tunnel, which I thought was a little overkill. But hey, that's our job. No evidence and no structural evidence there would have probably had to have been some sort of structural--I've talked to a couple engineers and they're saying, Yeah, a tunnel at basement level would have needed some sort of structure or support. You don't just dig a hole underground. So one--Two, it didn't make sense the way that as I studied more about the underground railroad that it didn't make sense. The Underground Railroad was more sophisticated than we give it credit. The the conductors as they called them on the Underground Railroad knew exactly what they were doing. They knew their destination, they--people weren't just running through fields to freedom, these individuals who were seeking freedom, were not running. So. So these claims of hiding places and houses and tunnels, most of them, unfortunately, as intriguing as they are, are not true. And that comes from national experts as well. But the thing that really stuck out to me was that they would have brought these individuals seeking freedom, probably hidden in a wagon, up what is today, Route 16, here in East Aurora, and to believe that they would have dropped these folks off on the south side of Main Street, and had them crawl under the street to get to the other house, when they could have just taken the wagon to that second house to begin with. And that's what clinched it for me. And so I call it common sense history. And every time I give a presentation, I ask folks--folks, you don't leave your common sense at the door. And so if something doesn't make sense, common sense, you got to use your gut sometimes. And to me, that didn't make any sense that you would, you know, have these folks crawling under Main Street. And structurally, it didn't make any sense. And, you know, you add that all up. So that's one of those weird stories that has just been allowed to, you know, expand. And what I find interesting also is that we have a lot of history of abolition in East Aurorak We also have a lot of history on the other side as well, of racism, and the Ku Klux Klan was active in this area as well. But the the abolition movement is documented. We had churches in our community that were putting out resolutions against slavery. So we don't really you know, we, we have that. You don't have to hang your hat on stories that can't be documented. So most times when people come and they ask about, they claim their houses on the Underground Railroad, I'm a huge skeptic, I want to see evidence. And one person in particular came in swearing up and down that their houses was on the Underground Railroad and wouldn't hear otherwise, and I had to break the news that it was impossible because their house was built in 1895. Your house was not an underground railroad, you know. So, but it's people get passionate about history and the stories. So but the stories in themselves are part of the history like that underground tunnel, it's part of our history, whether that tunnel existed or not, though.

Interesting. I had not thought of it that way. That's a really interesting perspective on that, because I think it's really easy for people to dismiss that kind of thing, you know, as ridiculous, and, and, yes, it, it ended up being false. However, like you said, so many people have said that, it's just like, you know, talking about your favorite place to get ice cream in this town, which there are so many places to get ice cream in this town, by the way.

Robert  43:00  
There is! And local lore is important. You know, there's actually, you know, a lot of organizations, national organizations that are not discounting the local lore, as long as you document it as such, you know. We have a lot of stories like that, and we still tell the stories, with the caveat that we don't have any proof, or the proof is lacking. But the story is still, you know, how did it become the story? How did, you know, how did how did that story evolve, and become part of the local history? That's important too. And it just, you know, the importance of documentation, it teaches us that as well, which goes back to your point about documenting your house history and leaving it for the next next person that's very important.

Stacy Grinsfelder  43:43  
Well, you kind of segued before into something that I'd wanted to ask you anyway. And I was just gonna say that, you know, most of us recognize that we can't change history. However, over time, we often start to see events and public figures through a different lens. And I wondered from a professional standpoint, how you handle that because we and this community is a really good example of that of different types of history, all located in one. I mean, you've talked about it Ku Klux Klan, you know, good things, bad things. So

Robert  44:12  
I think it's the approach. So I, that's been a debate debate, for instance, you find a list of Ku Klux Klan members from your community. Do you release that list, even though it was 1920s, or earlier or even later? There could be family members still around. So what I do-- I do a presentation on the Underground Railroad and I and sort of end toward the end of the presentation where, you know, as much as East Aurora, we're, you know, likes to talk about our role in the abolition movement, which was pretty--given our geography was pretty important. And plus, it's well documented, but we can't forget that there were local businessmen, owners of shops on Main Street, who were going up to Williamsville for Ku Klux Klan meetings, and it was in the newspaper-- these meetings were, you know, the organization was not underground. They were having demonstrations at the corner of Transit and Main Street in Williamsville, which today we drive through, we don't even think about it, but that's where and people from all these communities around there would go. And there was a list published by--the anti Ku Klux Klan organization got ahold of a list of people who signed into these meetings. Well, I don't think these people were ashamed of going to these meetings, frankly. And there were a couple of meetings here in East Aurora. But that list we have, and it lists every person by town and their occupation. So what do you do with a list like that? So what I did, and it's available on the internet, someone scanned it and put it online. So during a presentation, I put it up on the screen, but blurred out the names. And I said-- I told people where they could go see it. So my thought was, I don't want, you know, someone's great grandchild finding out that their ancestor was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the middle of the Public Library during a presentation, but they have a right, and an obligation, frankly, to look back and see that. So I think that's an approach where we can-- just a little thing you can do today to not forget that history, but but also in a sensitive way talk about it. Remembering that--but history is history, and, and the good and the bad. Sometimes we like to put people on pedestals, and especially with people and we forget, they were human. And so we have to remember that. And I love--you know, some people love houses, I want to know who lived inside. You know, I love both. But I like to delve in, I want to know everything about somebody, I'll see a picture of somebody, and it'll have their name on the back. And I just go back in the files and try to find out everything I can about that person. If it's a picture of them in high school, I want to know where, you know, what did they do for a job later.--How many kids did they have, you know, and the mistakes they made? I mean, that's part of history, that's part of it makes us feel better, too, because sometimes I think when we idolize the folks from the past and the events of the past, we sort of bring ourselves down because we feel we're not living up to that, but when we realize that, you know, they weren't perfect either. And not just on a national level, we'd like to talk about presidents and things like that. Even our own relatives on the local level, it's very important to see what they were dealing with, and their reaction to it, and answer why, you know, why did someone do what they did? Or why did they think the way they did? You know, not just say, Oh, they were racists and they were members of the Ku Klux Klan. No, why did someone--why did a group of people from East Aurora feel this way? What led them to feel this way? Because then maybe if we know that, we can correct it.

Stacy Grinsfelder  44:21  

Robert  44:22  
you know? 

Stacy Grinsfelder  47:55  
Sure. Absolutely. Well, if you strike me as just the right person for this kind of job. 

Robert  48:01  
Thank you.

Stacy Grinsfelder  48:02  
You're welcome. Hearing you describe that, and the sensitive way that you approach that not wanting someone to find out in the middle of a presentation that just kind of hit me right in the heart.  But I wanted to ask you, and maybe this is related to that,  what skill or personality trait Do you think has become the most useful in your job? Not necessarily education-related, but you know, what do you draw upon regularly?

Robert  48:26  
Patience. Patience is  big, and one of my helpers here, she's, she's wonderful. She comes in every week to volunteer. She's 96 years old, and she comes in every week, like, it's her job, and I really appreciate that. But she gave me the biggest compliment. One day she'd said, You are so patient with the people come in. And I never even thought of it that way. I never thought of that that as a skill until she told me because people come in,and a lot of times, they just have, you know, I take for granted, I know how to find out this information, and some people just don't know the first thing, where to start. And a lot of times, it'll be information that you can find on the internet, and I'm just helping you get there. And having patience to to work people through. And I don't want to judge people, because there are older people who are whizzes on the internet, but frankly, if you've, if the internet is new to you, you have not grown up with the internet, or the computers or digitizing documents and how to search those digitized documents. It takes patience to work, walk people through that. But also in return, I need patience. Because a lot of times folks will will email with a question and then kind of-- I sense that they want the answer pretty fast, and I said, "No, research takes time," and even our local officials. Sometimes they'll be like, well, we need the history of this property. Can we have it by next week? No. Not everything's on the internet, not everything's digitized and sometimes it takes old fashioned digging through the files and investigative work, and that takes time. So patience all around I think, is a big asset for anybody, not just my job, but anybody who's doing research projects. You just really need to keep that in mind as you go into it.

Stacy Grinsfelder  50:13  
All right. Well, as we start to wrap up here, I have one more question. And then I'll--well a couple more things. But the last question I would just ask you, and I could maybe guess, after talking to you for this long, is, What do you enjoy the most about your job?

Robert  50:27  
People. I enjoy the people who--It's so funny, because some days I'll feel like I have a plan, and then someone will email or call with a question, and it takes me on a whole different discovery of something in our past. And, and I'll delve into that. But also, and it sounds strange, but--so I deal with a lot of dead people in this job, and it sounds weird, but sometimes I feel like I've connected with these people. And occasionally I'll put like a quote down from somebody who said something. You know, years ago. For instance, there was a woman, Mrs. Persons who, in 1941, was interviewed for the paper, and she was in her 90s at the time, I believe. And she was just going, she was criticizing the young people. The skirts were too short, ankles were showing, kids were spoiled. The radio, the RADIO was going to cause all sorts of problems for the youth of the day. They were disrespectful. And, you know, she just didn't know what she was going to do with these kids today. 1941, She was talking about the greatest generation. If you think about it, this is the group that went to war and, and World War Two. So that put it in perspective for me that, you know, sometimes when we we hear about young people being lazy, or not wanting to work--I hear this all the time, the kids are spoiled today. They just sit down watching TV or on their their phones all day, and they don't appreciate work. And I think--I throw that right out the window. Every generation complains about the next. Part of that generation--And every generation has, it has a group of people that may not, you know, it's the same. Yeah, we have different technology. And I always laugh at adults who criticize kids who are not motivated, while they're sitting on their cell phone saying it, you know. We're all and we can all learn from that. But Mrs. Persons for instance, I connected with her, because she was saying this and it really put today in perspective for me. I never met her in the flesh, but I feel like I've gotten to know her and the same with anybody. You look around town, your street names, you know, or, and go into the obituaries of the old papers because the people who-- your mayors, your town supervisors, your big business owners, they're only a part of it. It's the it's the folks who actually

Stacy Grinsfelder  52:55  
the day-to-day 

Robert  52:56  
made everything work in your community. So and that takes a little digging, you know, but that's the best part is to learn more about people. Because this town any town didn't just drop out of the sky. People along the way built it, made decisions, argued, debated to create what your community is today.

Stacy Grinsfelder  53:15  
Alright, so let's tell my listeners where they can find your social media accounts because maybe they'll want to find a daily picture.

Robert  53:22  
We're both on Facebook and Instagram as Aurora Town Historian

Stacy Grinsfelder  53:26  
Aurora Town Historian 

Robert  53:27  
Aurora Town Historian, and our website, we're on the it's, and you have to go through the departments a little bit. So with the resources are available. And I also have a couple of other resources outside of our office here. I don't pretend that we can help you with everything. And as a matter of fact, there's a lot of resources nationall, statewide. in the community that we can help direct you to.

Stacy Grinsfelder  53:51  
Okay, great. And I'll link all of that in the show notes so people can find it later, too. So anyway, thank you. This was such a pleasure. 

Robert  53:58  
Thank you,

Stacy Grinsfelder  53:59  
I loved every second of it. It's fun to get to know you better, and I think I said all that in the beginning. And I usually, again, I mean, it just it thrills me to get to sit down with someone and talk, especially when they're passionate about the subject, and I think it's really going to translate well to listeners. They're gonna love it, too.

Robert  54:15  
Well, thank you for inviting me to chat about this. This is great. I don't get to talk about my job too much.

Stacy Grinsfelder  54:20  
You just quietly are doing your job right? All right. Well, thank you for listening to today's episode on location in one of the most adorable little towns I've ever seen East Aurora, New York. Be sure to follow True Tales From Old Houses and Blake Hill House on Facebook and Instagram. And for more information about this episode, including show notes, transcripts, merchandise, and to sign up for the monthly newsletter visit Until next time,