October 23, 2021

Society uncovers threads to past

Letter from 1942, other items found under carpet of former Cincy church

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Beth MacRae of the Cincinnatus Heritage Society talks Tuesday about a recently discovered letter describing the society’s home when it was the town’s former Congregational Church. The letter was found among newspapers of the day and a piece of tin under the building’s carpet as it was being removed.

“Dec. 15th, 1942.”

Clicking echoed around the room as John Sheerar sat in front of his typewriter striking each key to compose a message that would be hidden for almost eight decades.

“This carpet is being laid today,” Sheerar typed on that wintry Tuesday.

That year was full of changes. The world was consumed in war. A gasoline ration was implemented. Disney’s “Bambi” – its fifth animated feature – was released, as was “Casablanca.”

While history was happening all around. So too was it in Cincinnatus.

The building that Sheerar wrote about was under construction – it was a church. Eight decades later and it’s home to the Cincinnatus Area Heritage Society.

About three weeks ago on Nov. 6, while the carpet, which Sheerar wrote about, was being removed members of the heritage society uncovered the letter – three pages of details trapped in ink.

The letter was found among newspapers of the day and a piece of tin, said Beth MacRae, co-chairwoman of the heritage society. “Several members of CAHS were pulling back a corner of the present burgundy wool carpet,” she wrote in an email about the efforts to see what the old underlayment of the building consisted of.

Almost 76 years ago, as Sheerar, owner of Sheerar Coal and Feed Store and a deacon of the church, wrote the letter not addressed to anyone specific, the ceiling to the building was being painted a light ivory color. Woodwork was covered in white paint and walls plastered with light mottled heavy paper. “The painting of the ceiling and papering, and the laying of the carpet has been given to professional workmen,” Sheerar wrote.

The building, which is 186-years-old, was different 76 years ago, it was the town’s Congregational Church.

The building was erected in 1832 as a church, when Cincinnatus was near its peak population – 1,308 people. It remained a church until the 1970s as the town population varied between 950 and 1,150 people for the past 80 years.

The letter serves many purposes, MacRae said. It gives details of the building. It details church members, caretakers, benefactors, pastors. It also alludes to structural alterations.

“For instance, it alludes to Russian iron pipes that once ran along the aisles for conduction of heat, to the early pipe organ that was installed by the same mechanic who installed the Carnegie Organ in Bailey Hall at Cornell University,” MacRae wrote.

The letter also helps society members identify structural elements in old photographs of the 1832 building.

“Things that have previously puzzled us,” MacRae wrote. “It also encourages us to think of ways in which local Cincinnatus Central School history students can become involved in the process of uncovering similar local history documents that remain under the carpet.”

The future of the document is unknown, MacRae said. However, MacRae believes it should be displayed as an artifact put in place by a man who decades ago had far-reaching visions of what the future might hold for the building and community, she wrote.

Sheerar was born in Virgil on Nov. 28, 1885. He would have been 57 when writing the letter. He was married to Maere Stillman and had two children – John and Elizabeth.

During his life he was a member of the Cincinnatus Masonic Lodge for 64 years and also a member of most of the higher Masonic bodies up to Knights Templar. Sheerar died April 27, 1973. He was 87.

Unearthing history may also be something that happens again. One other thing in the letter that MacRae found intriguing: “It alludes to further documents to be found when the carpet is fully removed.”