Richard Taft of Little Valley knows a lot about the Botsfords, McDuffys, Holbrooks and the Tafts - four families with long histories in the Otto area.
He should - since he's part of the families' imprint on the area.
Taft recently discussed his family history with the Cattaraugus Historical Society, telling the group the inter-twinings of the four families that made up his immediate ancestry. Not surprisingly, during the course of the evening many in the audience learned of hitherto unsuspected ancestral links to Mr. Taft.
Richard Taft of Little Valley displays one of his prized possessions, a photograph of his grandfather, Raymond Botsford Taft, who, from his Main Street office, served the village of Cattaraugus as “the village dentist” for 50 years. The photo was taken in Taft’s upstairs office at 9 Main St.
The four families who formed the nucleus of Taft's recital, arrived in Western New York during the early and mid-1800s, and settled in the Otto area. They were the Botsfords, the McDuffys, the Holbrooks, who arrived a little later, and the Tafts. The various interactions, courtships and marriages among these principals eventually combined to produce Taft's own grandparents, Raymond Botsford Taft and Madge Holbrook Taft, and his father James Walter Taft, who later married a young lady, Margaret Campbell Ross, whom he met while both were affiliated with the University of Buffalo medical school.
Taft recalled his forebears with fondness and clarity. His grandfather Raymond, like many in the family, was something of a scholar, with leanings toward the field of medicine. He selected dentistry as his calling, and the choice must have been a good one, as he practiced his profession in the village of Cattaraugus for 50 years from 1904 until 1954. During all that time, his office remained on the second floor of 9 Main St., Cattaraugus, upstairs from the present-day American Museum of Cutlery. A few of those in attendance could recall their own hesitant voyages up the long flight of stairs for a filling - or possibly even an extraction - performed by the respected dentist.
Raymond's wife, Madge, lived a long, productive life, becoming as well-known a personality in the village as her husband. She spent many years working in the Cattaraugus Post Office. Taft told of a day, when the regular mail carrier, Bill Merow, was sick, and Postmistress Bernice Murphy, sent Madge out to deliver the mail.
"She did that - right up until she got to Bill's house," Taft said.
Merow took one look at her with the mailbag on her shoulder, got up out of bed, took the bag away from her and finished the route himself. Merow also featured in another episode of her life. While delivering mail to her South Street home many years later, he heard her calling for help. Investigating, he found she'd fallen, broken both wrists and was unable to open her door or even get up off the floor. Merow promptly called for help and sat with her until it arrived.
Following his main presentation, Taft displayed a bounty of old photographs, which helped bring to life the various family members he'd described, along with many of their friends and acquaintances. Pictures of bygone baseball teams, brass bands and other memorable fixtures from the past, invited closer inspection and many nostalgic recollections of "the good old days."
After the presentation and dinner, Robert Waite, society president, held a brief business meeting, during which he reported that the Otto Historical Museum's new curator, Lauren Bird, had called to report that the sign recently fell victim to high March winds. Bird also said that he was worried about the condition of the front platform in the old building. He felt it was growing dangerously weak and should be inspected.
Carol Bonner thanked the various society members and others who have volunteered to host the Cattaraugus museum's round of "Second Sundays." These are days when the museum is opened to the public for two or three hours, and during which the hosts offer historical and/or genealogical facts to visitors. Ms Bonner, herself, merited the group's thanks for taking it upon herself to search out volunteers and schedule the Second Sundays for the past year.