The Box Factory in the village of Fairport is a popular gathering place to get an ice cream or a cup of Joe.
In the summer months, people like to sit by the side of the Erie Canal, many oblivious to the fact that the building, which now features commercial shops and offices, was once really a box factory.
Fairport Museum Curator and Director Bill Keeler said H.P. Neun Inc., a package product manufacturer, bought the building in the 1980s and used it to store boxes for shipping products.
“The box factory has gone through quite a bit of evolution,” he said. “It was originally the Deland Chemical Works. They started in the 1850s. The factory burned down Feb. 4, 1893. It’s probably one of the most important pieces of real estate in all of Fairport. It started out as one of our first manufacturers. It has never been abandoned. Because of its importance on the Erie Canal, it’s the heart of the village, really.”
Comparisons of the site may be seen on Page 41 of a new book, “Then and Now: Fairport and Perinton,” a pictorial history of the area, written by Keeler and Keith Boas for the Perinton Historical Society, where Keeler is a member of the board of directors. It features archival photos and “now” shots by Boas, a professional photographer retired from Kodak, with text by Keeler.
Both men are long-time Perinton residents.
Keeler, who has written two other books for the historical society, said the new book celebrates historic preservation and is a fitting tribute to preservation efforts in the village of Fairport, which last year adopted a preservation ordinance. The book is a culmination of experience and knowledge about historic preservation Keeler acquired from working as a librarian for nine years at the Landmark Society of Western New York.
All three books are published by Arcadia Publishing of Mount Pleasant, S.C., which specializes in regional history books. The new book is divided into sections: Homes and Haunts, Business and Industry, Churches, Public Buildings and Schools; Rebuilding the Erie Canal, and Urban Renewal.
“If you look at the photos, they’re incredible,” Keeler said.
Boas used archival photographs as a basis to stage contemporary shots, lining up the scene as close to the original as possible. In some cases, it was impossible because the original buildings were gone — or the streets were no longer there or configured differently. In others, the growth of trees changed the landscape.
“I had a profound interest because I have always enjoyed taking pictures of historic buildings,” Boas said. “I talked to Bill and devised the magnitude of the project. At first blush, it sounded fairly simple.”
He found it was actually quite challenging, but very satisfying. Some shots – at the canal, for instance – were downright risky, with Boas walking gingerly on the frozen waterway in winter to capture the same angle of the liftbridge or other construction taken when the canal was dry during previous work projects.
“I used the corner of the liftbridge for several reference points,” he said. “One of the things Bill and I wanted to show was change. This is what the block used to look like, and look at how it’s different now. The big reason I got involved is I saw the book as a great way to preserve the history of a very interesting community and show how modern photos can make people aware of the need for preservation.”
Keeler said seven buildings on Main Street no longer exist, including Bramer’s Corner Drug Store, where the Fairport Public Library now sits. Boas remembers going there as a kid and taking Bramer’s daughter Nina, who died recently, to the 1958 senior ball at Fairport High School.
Communications Director Joan Alliger said for her, the project was a rude awakening of the need for preservation and a wake-up call saying “When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Keeler’s daughter Anna, an artist, produced a tour guide of the actual sites with numbers to match images in the book. Copies of it will be included in editions sold at the Perinton Historical Society, which supplied most of the pictures in the book. Perinton Historian Jean Keplinger also helped proofread copy and granted access to the town’s extensive archives and photograph collection, lending about a dozen for inclusion.
Boas thinks the book will make an excellent gift for anyone who lives or lived here, or has an interest in the Erie Canal (which is prominently featured) or the area’s railroad heritage, depicted on the cover and inside.
“I have a boy in Texas,” Boas said. “He’s going to love to have a copy of this.”