Guest John Rembold gave Cattaraugus Civic League members a nostalgic look back in time during the league's March meeting, as he discussed his family's nearly seventy-year history on Sweeney Hill. The area he so fondly described is situated between New Albion and Little Valley, and at one time was known locally as Carroll Hill.
Rembold has managed to trace the property's history back to 1869, when records of its purchase were filed by a man named John Carroll. "Between that time and the 1940s," recounted Rembold, "there were a number of interesting transfers, including one requiring that the purchaser not only provide firewood to the seller, but also set aside a parlor and bedroom for the use of an adult child. That seemed a little unusual."
Mr. Rembold said he grew up as part of a large family in Buffalo. Before his birth, the various uncles, aunts and cousins enjoyed annual vacations at Allegany State Park. Then, in 1942, some family members out on a "Sunday drive," happened to chug up Sweeney Hill. They were immediately taken by its lofty location and sweeping views, and after some discussion and figuring, Rembold's father and five of his six siblings chipped in $200 each to come up with the $1,200 asking price.
Cattaraugus Civic League members, Tillie Moody left, and Lindy Rogan, center, had a few questions about the collection of family photos displayed by speaker John Rembold. The pictures provided glimpses of family gatherings held at the Rembold’s Sweeney Hill compound over a span of nearly seven decades.
At that time, the 85-acre farm included not only a fairly large old farmhouse, but also a cow-barn, a horse-barn and four other outbuildings, including of all things, a carriage house. The family set to work, turning the place into a vacation spot to surpass even their former haunts at Allegany Sate Park. In the beginning, amazingly enough, all six families, complete with children, managed to fit into the house, although usually just for a weekend at a time. Soon though, said Rembold, his dad built a cabin for his own growing family, and his mother took to staying there all summer with John and his siblings. Tied to a job in Buffalo, his father still came down each weekend.
Some years later, the family's matriarch, Aunt Loret, ordered the carriage shed and chicken coop torn down and had her own "rustic" retirement home built on their sites. Other dwellings appeared one by one, including a caboose that John himself had always craved. (After considering the expense of buying an original and having it hauled up the hill, he built it himself.) Eventually he fulfilled another long-held dream and built a home atop the hill for his wife Gayle, their children and himself. They moved from Salamanca, where they'd spent much of their married life, to live full-time in the "dream-house" on the hill.
By organizing his presentation roughly into decades, Mr. Rembold transported his audience through, not only the history of Sweeney Hill, but also that of nearby Cattaraugus, which he said, "presented a spectacular view of Setter Brothers, the Carnation milk plant, and later Rycola Pool, Setterstix and Campbell's store (now Brook's Market)."
"We used to look down and watch the streetlights come on in the village," Rembold reminisced. "And since we 'knew' that the bank president, Mr. J. J. McCarthy was surely the most important man in town, we kids were sure he was the one standing down there with his hand on the switch."
Rembold dredged up memories of many former Sweeney Hill farm families, including the Shermans, the Waites, and the Saalfields, and later the MaGaughys, Millers and Krotzes, among others. Gradually, drawn by the hill's remote beauty, some non-farm families started moving in-- like the Blooms and Hoxies.
Through it all, the Rembold family grew and prospered. "We have a fourth generation coming up here now," said John, adding that he and Gayle are the only family members who live there year-round. "In 2005, our son Christopher and his bride Mary were wed under the branches of the old apple tree at the little house," he said, adding it was the only family wedding ever held on the hill.
Rembold spoke of the changes that have come over the years. "My dad's generation is gone now," he said softly," but the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren regularly return. Some have built summer cottages here."
And members of the clan still gather for horseshoe games, badminton tournaments, berry picking, campfires and singing--warm traditions that the family brought with them from those far-off days at Allegany State Park.
"But some things never change," finished Rembold with a smile. "It's still a longer walk up the hill than it is down. The well water is still clear and tasty, the elderberries are still bountiful, and the trees keep getting taller. The sun still rises over Kahler Hill and sets over Tug Hill. And every day here, is a day of someone's dream."
League president Patricia Murphy thanked Rembold warmly for his talk, and the women rose to enjoy a display of family photos he had furnished.
The business meeting that followed dealt primarily with this year's celebration of the Civic League's 100th Anniversary. Mrs. Joan Cullen presented several ideas to the group and volunteers offered to help her put a program together for a planned May presentation. Also discussed, were some possible changes for this year's annual planting of the business district flower barrels. The group enjoyed refreshments before President Murphy adjourned the meeting.