Gold Rush Carpenters?

A daguerreotype of four carpenters is in the possession of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) Photography Department.  The individuals are identified as Edwin Green (holding an adz), Crosby (holding a hammer and saw), Peter Elebash (seated holding a square and weight for the plumb line) and L. Arnold (seated sharpening the blade and with a plane on his lap). 

In December of 2014, the Wayne County Historian, Peter Evans, received an email from Andrea Hackman, Curatorial Assistant of the Photography Department at SFMOMA at that time inquiring about major building projects in 1854 in Wayne County.  The date on the back is June 10, 1854 and the names of the carpenters are inscribed in the case.  When Mr. Evans responded he included the Town of Macedon Historian in the email.  

Ms. Hackman writes “I’m guessing here, but for these men to have taken a group portrait with their tools, it makes me think they were constructing something important in Wayne County in June 1854 together.  They all lived in Wayne County ca 1845-1875.  In the last 20 years or so, before coming to SFMOMA, this dag (daguerreotype) was called “California gold rush carpenters” and even included in an exhibition and book as such.”  

“Digging In”

In the research at the Museum it was found that these men were not Gold Rush carpenters and that they all lived in the Macedon area in 1854.  In late June 2015 the Town of Macedon Historian found the information we were looking for in the minutes of the Macedon Academy Board of Trustees.  Peter Elebash was indeed awarded the contract to construct the Macedon Academy on March 11, 1853 and on April 26, 1853 the Building Committee of the Academy was authorized to carry out that contract with Mr. Elebash.  

According to the “History of the Macedon Academy 1841-1891” (p.12) “The present building was erected in 1853, and the first session held was that beginning November 7th, 1853, although the building was not yet completed, and there being for a few days with no window-sash in the second story.”  

In January of 1854 the Board of Trustees of the Academy moved to pay Mr. Elebash another $70 for additional work done.  So were these the men who built the Academy?  From all the evidence one could say that there is an extreme likelihood that they are the builders.  The new Academy building opening date was 1853 and the portrait was done in 1854.  Perhaps an official dedication took place that following spring in 1854.  Perhaps the men wanted a portrait to remind them of their accomplishment.  Whatever the reason, we are privileged to have faces to put with names over 150 years later.

A little about the men:

Peter Elebash was born in 1825 and was awarded the contract for the amount of $2,130.  It is also recorded that he donated $50 to the project along with many other local people.  He served as a Trustee of the Macedon Academy from 1867-1870.

Warren Crosby lived in Perinton in the 1855 census and worked as a carpenter.  In the 1869 census he had moved to Macedon.  He was received into membership at the Methodist Church in Macedon Center in April 1871 and according to the Directory of the Macedon Perinton M.E. Churches he served as a class leader that year.  He resided in Macedon Center at that time.

Edwin A. Green was born in 1826 and was living in Sodus by the 1860 census. His occupation was a produce dealer according to that census.

L. Arnold could be Levi Arnold.  He was accepted into the Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse and was married there in 1819.

Macedon Academy

Youth from Wayne, Monroe, and Ontario Counties went to the Academy to receive an education beyond the district school level in preparation for further education.  There were also students from Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, Canada, and more.

On March 6, 1861 Frederick Douglass spoke at this building built by Mr. Elebash’s crew.  When you visit the Academy and walk on the stage in the auditorium in the second floor you are walking where Mr. Douglass walked.  These men built a part of the community of Macedon’s heritage.

History Mysteries

History presents a lot of mysteries and along with those mysteries are clues to be united for conclusions.  If you are intrigued by mysteries, check in with your local historical society.  They are sure to have lots of clues that need to be fit together to resolve a historical puzzle.  The Macedon Historical Society has Open Houses at the Academy the last Sunday of the month June through September from 2-4 p.m.  Drop by and pick up a few clues or become a Heritage Builder with your support physically or financially.  

There are so many unanswered questions this daguerreotype presents.  How did it get to California?  Is this the only copy?  Are the building plans still around?  What drew these men to this project?  We feel like we need more information on the men themselves.  Were these tools their chosen implements?  Did their children attend the Academy?  (There were Elebashes, Greens, and Arnolds that did attend.)  So many questions and so little time to research them.  If you would like to help find the answers, please email or call 315-986-5932 x105 and leave a message.  We welcome your visits to the Academy and your inquiries to the Historian’s Office.