The Alden Historical Society is located in Alden, NY, a small town about 25 miles east of Buffalo. Founded in 1965, the Alden Historical Society aims to preserve the history of the town and its people. Included below is an interview with the archivist of the Alden Historical Society, Karen Muchow.
Karen Muchow has studied the Town Line secession for years, contributing to numerous research projects and articles. Most recently she consulted with Christopher Klein, who published this piece on the secession on October 18th, 2018.
Interview with Karen Muchow of the Alden Historical Society
Transcript edited for clarity from November 10th, 2018.
Julia: Could you tell us about yourself and your job?
Karen: I’m the archivist for the Alden Historical Society. I’m also the town and village of Alden historian.
Julia: What relation do you have to this history and to Town Line?
Karen: I’ve lived in Alden my whole life, so I’ve heard this story. And I’m amazed at the people who don’t know the story.
Shannon: There are people that live here that don’t know about it?
Shannon: Interesting. Do you have an opinion or a guess on what the reason for secession was, after you’ve done all of this archival work?
Karen: Well, there’s no documentation, which as a historian you can’t say for certain that something happened. Based on the 1946 newspaper articles, I believe there was a secession but not for the purpose of joining the Confederacy. It was to make their own little country – their little nation – and over the years, because of the timing (1861) it was assumed that they seceded to join the Confederacy. But I agree that there probably was a vote of some kind to secede.
Shannon: So there are two different plaques about the secession – how did that come about? Why are there two different ones?
Karen: Well, at the anniversary of the secession, the [Alden] Historical Society decided to put up a plaque as close to the location of the blacksmith shop (the schoolhouse) as we could, so it’s really on the property of the Town Line Lutheran Church. The other one is from the Sons of Confederacy, who I did talk to. I talked to… I can’t remember his first name but his last name is Early, and he’s related to Jeb Early. And they put up one to stress the Confederate side of the story. He tried… he wrote a book on the people in this area that joined the Confederacy – it’s hogwash.
Julia: So sort of along with that, we know that the fire department used to have the Confederate flag on its logo, and in 2011 it was removed. What do you know about that whole occurrence?
Karen: Well, they wore it on their badge, too – on their shirts. It used to be on the top of the chief’s car. I think as people became more aware and the racism attached to the Confederate flag, it was removed.
Shannon: Did the town have a reaction?
Karen: No. They just did it. It wasn’t publicized or anything – not that I know of.
Julia: So we know about the article that you aided in publishing last month. What was your involvement in that? The history.com article.
Karen: It was a phone conversation with the author, and I just gave him my views. And then he sent those delightful articles that he had gotten from the newspapers, and we’ve emailed back and forth about different things. I corrected him on a few things. He did say he was going to send it to me first, but he didn’t, so I think he was under a deadline. But he had the two articles from the same paper and they weren’t. They were from two different papers. And there was a little mix-up about the railroad station too. One talks about one house and two sheds and that’s not the railroad station that he was thinking of… Something about a house and two sheds and that wasn’t it.
Shannon: So just little things, that you would have to be there to know.
Karen: Just little things, and I had looked up all of those people that are mentioned in that one article, and they did all live in Town Line. That’s the other problem – you don’t know what Town Line is. It’s not official. It’s not incorporated. So what are the boundaries? I have no idea. So I don’t know what… from his description in that one newspaper article… I could plot that one out, but, I mean, who decided who could vote? And, of course, it would’ve been all men at that time too. So it was just you know a lot of emails and the one phone conversation with him.
Shannon: So I think this will probably be the last question: has there been interest in the secession, mostly people from in the area or outside the area? Or do you find that a lot of people are interested in it or know about it?
Karen: I get at least one request a month for information. A lot of college students, so you’re not the first ones. Shannon: Yeah, anyone in a Civil War history class or an American history kind of course.
Karen: They’ll stumble across something and contact us for more information, and both Lancaster and Alden are at a disadvantage because we didn’t have a newspaper. Our first one was in 1876, and I think theirs is about the same time – Lancaster’s. So we have no newspapers from that time either, except for the ones in Buffalo. We just have to take what we get. And then the problem there, too, is that you only have what people give you. If that lady hadn’t kept that scrapbook, we wouldn’t have much.
Shannon: We were so surprised when we were at Blair’s and we found all of those letters from congressmen just in a hardware store. We felt like they should be in an archive. Thank you very much for doing this.
Karen: You’re welcome.
We would like to thank Karen Muchow and the Alden Historical Society for graciously giving their time and sharing their archival materials with us during our visit and our correspondence.
All photos taken by Julia McGaugh on Nov. 10, 2018.