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Eyewitness and member memories of the Seward Guards

August 25, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

In a recent BeeLines, the question was asked, "Have you ever heard of the Seward Guards?" And a brief answer was provided as part of the story of finding the location of the Metropolitan Hall in Westfield circa 1850-1880. During the search for information about the Seward Guards and Metropolitan Hall, several famous, or at least very-well-known-in-their-lifetimes names of Westfield citizens "popped up" as members or eyewitnesses of the Seward Guards Harry Castleman, Charles Fosdick, and A.S. Fitch.

Adelbert (A.S.) Fitch was a long-time business man involved with various mills in Westfield in the latter 1800s and early 1900s, in particularly the Westfield Mills that were located just east of Main Street's old iron bridge and later viaduct across Chautauqua Creek. The Fitch family owned and ran a number of sawmills, first on Little Chautauqua Creek, where Fitch's Falls is located, and later, the Morse Basket Factory on Spring Street near Third Street. Dexter Morse had married May Fitch, a daughter of Cleveland Fitch who had run the water and steam saw mills on both the creek and Third Street. After at least two disastrous mill fires at the village mills, another mill was constructed around the corner on Third Street when it was extended to Spring Street about 1916. Later this mill became South Side Lumber Company, which may be recalled by some of my peers. Most of us don't remember the Westfield Mills, although the remains were near one of our favorite swimming holes on Big Chautauqua Creek back in the 1940s and 1950s. The years and weather and creek have all but obliterated most of the old mill and dam remains along both creeks and elsewhere, a century or more later.

In the archive files of the Chautauqua County Historical Society (CCHS) at the McClurg Museum, a couple of files of newspaper clippings were located and photocopied including one (undated) article titled "A.S. Fitch Speaks." The writer introduces Mr. Fitch as "the one person in Westfield who is most rich in memories and whose vista covers the longest period of time in this area" His memories are especially interesting about "the days of hitching posts, unpaved streets, kerosene lights and One of those memories of ancient days which Mr. Fitch likes to recall was the time when Westfield felt the need and organized the Seward Guards and their participation in the Battle of Buffalo Creek." (This is another interesting historical story!)

Article Photos

Submitted photo
Pictured are two photos showing the Spencer Block in 1886. At top, Civil War Veterans, and Charles Fosdick was very likely among them as he was both in Civil War (Navy) and the Seward Guards that disbanded only about 5 years prior to the photo.
Above, another angle shows a statue honoring General Grant.

Organized in 1876, the company was part of the Thirty First Brigade and Eighth Division of the National Guard, State of New York, and "named in honor of William H. Seward, a one-time citizen of Westfield who subsequently became Governor of the State of New York, and Lincoln's Secretary of State." The captain was J.H. Towle, who, not surprisingly, owned the building in which his store and the Metropolitan Hall was located, which became the meeting hall and armory for the Seward Guard Company. Another interesting note is that Captain Towle's wife was none other than the former Virginia Spencer, daughter of Dr. John Spencer who had built the Spencer Block in 1872 at the corner of Main and Portage which housed Virginia Hall (named for Dr. Spencer's daughter) in the upper two floors. This also is another accounting for the demise of Metropolitan Hall and its conversion to the Seward Guard quarters and armory.

Another article in the CCHS files that mentioned the Seward Guards was titled "The Castleman Books" (also undated) that first describes recent (to the article) "wide-spread interest in the author of the famous Castleman books which not so many generations ago gladdened the hearts of millions of young people who now long since have become gray headed. The author, Harry Castleman, of these books was the late Charles Fosdick, son of the beloved first principal of the Westfield Union School (circa 1868), John S. Fosdick." (Another research and BeeLines will be done to provide more information about the Castleman books).

Charles Fosdick was in the Navy in the Civil War, and later a member of the Seward Guards. The military organization was not only famous for their part in the Battle of Buffalo Creek, where they had been called out for strike duty, but they appeared in uniform in all the parades of the time. The Westfield Republican newspapers from 1876 to 1881, when the organization was dissolved, have many announcements and descriptions of the Seward Guard's parades and drills. Apparently an "outstanding record of heroism was the rescue of John Toles by the athletic prowess of Charles Fosdick [at the Buffalo Creek altercation] who was said to have somersaulted himself as to plant both feet in the chest of a striker who was about to wreak havoc on the aforementioned Guardsman Toles."



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