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Canton calendar provides peek at the past

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CANTON — A new Canton calendar is for 2014, but those who use it will get a daily glimpse of what life was like 130 years ago for one prominent village resident.

The photographic calendar published by the Canton historian’s office features snippets from the 1884 diary of Herbert M. Barber, who served as Canton village and town clerk for a combined 34 years.

Mr. Barber, known as “H.M.,” also worked for various downtown merchants and handled accounting work for St. Lawrence County.

“He had the pulse of Canton’s everyday happenings,” Canton Historian Linda A. Casserly said. “It’s a unique calendar in that it brings Canton’s past to life.”

The calendar can be purchased for $15 at the town, village and historian’s office weekdays at the municipal building, 60 Main St. It’s also available at The Pear Tree gift shop, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York and the Silas Wright House, all on Main Street.

Writing nearly every day in small leatherbound journals, Mr. Barber kept a diary from 1870 to 1890.

His observations range from the weather and business to local politics and community events. Snippets from Mr. Barber’s 1884 diary entries are featured on the corresponding date in the 2014 calendar. Grammatical and spelling errors were left as written.

The calendar also features historic photographs of Canton’s downtown and other landmarks. Mrs. Casserly’s intern, Rachael A. Towne, assisted her with the project.

On May 17 he makes note of a baseball game between neighboring colleges in Potsdam and Canton: “Game of ball on the colladge grounds between the Normals of Potsdam and the Col of Canton.”

Many of the entries describe the weather and how much business Mr. Barber handled that day while working for M.D. Packard, a Main Street store owner. Several entries mention community members who passed away and when their funerals were held.

Entries about the trial of his acquaintance Dr. George E. Bragdon make it clear that abortion was illegal in 1884.

His March 20 entry states: Bragdon trial finished, verdict of guilty of an attempt to commit an abortion.”

The following day, Mr. Barber wrote, “Dr. Bragdon received his sentence which was one year in the Onondaga penitentiary to hard labor.”

A native of DeKalb, he mentions train trips from Canton to DeKalb to visit family members.

His May 30 entry says: “Very cold all day, big crowd all day, it being Decoration Day. Did not go out in the evening as I was very tired.”

Several years ago, the set of 20 diaries was donated to the Canton historian’s office by Helen Phalen. Mrs. Phalen, now deceased, was a friend and neighbor of John Finnigan, who knew Mr. Barber well and was entrusted with his diaries.

The diaries were word-processed by Ian Burnham, a Canton resident who is distantly related to Mr. Barber through his paternal grandfather, the late John “Jack” Newman.

The contents of the diaries are preserved in a 631-page three-ring binder that can be borrowed from Mrs. Casserly. Mr. Barber died in 1926 at the age of 78 and is buried in Fairview Cemetery, Miner Street Road.

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