WESTFIELD, N.Y. – The Chautauqua County Historical Society would like to invite the public to its next upcoming speaker program. Niagara Falls researcher and regional historian John Slater will present “Pioneer Winemakers of Chautauqua County” on Wednesday, June 17 at 6 p.m. at Westfield’s Grape Discover Center (8305 Main Rd.). In addition to the speakers, the society’s annual summer picnic will also take place.
Chautauqua County’s Grape Belt boasts a colorful history that dates back to 1818 when Elijah Fay started the county’s first vineyard in the Town of Portland. During his presentation, Slater’s will focus on Fay and the other pioneer winemakers of the Chautauqua Region, who helped to transform the local process of grape growing and winemaking from a humble beginning to a thriving industry.
“My presentation will be based on an article that I recently wrote for Western New York Heritage Press,” Slater explains. “But due to space constraints, the article didn’t include all of my research and findings. So the June 17 presentation will include a lot more information than what was in the article. It will be done via Powerpoint, so there will also be illustrations and images to accompany the presentation.”
Slater was raised in Tonawanda, N.Y., and attended the University at Buffalo and Roosevelt University. His interest in grape growing can be directly attributed to his grandfather – the late D.W. “Dan” Thomson – who was a lifelong grape grower in nearby North East Township, Pa. and was directly involved in the formation of the National Grape Cooperative Association, which would ultimately become the owner of Welch’s Grape Juice Company. For more than a decade, Slater has devoted countless hours researching the history of the Grape Belt and has conferred with local historians, museums, and libraries.
Besides writing articles and doing presentations about grapes, Slater has also written articles and contributed to several books on railroad history, having served as a director of the Nickel Plate Road Historical & Technical Society Inc. for many years. He is also currently a trustee for the Historical Society of the Tonawandas.
In addition to the presentation, a pot-luck dinner will also be provided to all who attend. The entire event is expected to last two hours.
There is no cost, but everyone who attends is encouraged to provide a dish to pass. Beverages and a complimentary serving of Swedish meatballs will also be provided. As a result, attendees are asked to RSVP by 5 p.m. Thursday, June 11.
To make a reservation or for more information, call the Historical Society at (716) 326-2977 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Society
The Chautauqua County Historical Society was established in 1883 and is the oldest historical society in Chautauqua County. Since 1951, the organization has been based out of the historic McClurg Mansion (built in 1818) in Westfield, N.Y. Annual Membership rates start at just $20. All members are given free access to the museum year-round and a subscription to the quarterly “Time Lines” newsletter. For more information, call 716-326-2977 or visit McClurgmuseum.org.
About the Grape Discover Center
The Grape Discovery Center, located at 8305 Main Rd., Westfield, NY, is the official Visitor’s Center for the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, designated a New York State Heritage Area in 2006. Developed by the Concord Grape Belt Heritage Association, it seeks to be an experiential destination that supports and promotes the grape industry through sharing stories and engaging, educating and informing the public about all things grape. For more information, call 716.326.2003 or visit www.grapediscoverycenter.com.