In 1796, George Scriba received a “patent” for a large tract of land east of Lake Ontario stretching from south of Syracuse to north of today’s Oswego/Jefferson county line. He named the region “Mexico” and eventually 84 towns were formed from the tract, earning Oswego County’s “Mexico” the title “mother of towns.”
By 1830, the Town of Mexico had reached its current size and was a self-contained area where people raised their own food and bought other necessities from local merchants. Throughout its history, Mexico has remained a small community.
In a book scheduled to be released this week, Bonnie Shumway, historian for the town and village of Mexico, traces the local history in 200 vintage photographs that document what Mexico was like in the early 1900s.
“Historic Mexico,” published by Arcadia Publishing, features never-before-seen vintage photographs from both public and private collections. Most of the photos are owned by the Mexico Historical Society.
The book also exhibits how landmarks have changed, disappeared, or been replaced and shows how Lake Ontario was a great influence on the local community and promoted the building of two large inns at Mexico Point. It also includes images of businesses that no longer exist.
“The purpose of this book is to share with all those interested in Mexico how the people lived and played from about 1900 to 1939,” Mrs. Shumway wrote in the introduction. “There are a few pictures before and a few after but for the most part, the reader will see how the town and village looked 100 years ago.
“An effort was made not to use pictures that have been seen in other publications but unusual ones like ones of the inside of the Presbyterian Church after the ceiling fell in or the 1932 girls’ basketball team,” she wrote. “The purpose of this book is not to tell the complete history of Mexico but to show life from a different era. It is hoped that readers will enjoy it.”
The book is divided into seven different chapters: Around Town, Worshipping Together, Teacher Said So, When the Inn People Play, Living in Snow Country, Notable People and Notable Homes, and Open for Business.
“A chapter on churches was important,” she wrote. “It was one of the first considerations for the pioneers, especially the women. They brought the love of their church with them wanted a church in their new community for themselves and their children. The men agreed and put up a building after homes were built and land cleared.”
Mexico is just far enough inland from Lake Ontario for the northwest winds to blow over the lake, gathering moisture and dropping snow on the town. “It does not get as much as the foothills, but one chapter is about snow and dealing with it in days gone by,” Mrs. Shumway wrote.
Mrs. Shumway has lived in Mexico most of her life. She was graduated from Mexico schools before spending four years at SUNY Geneseo. She taught in Rochester and Liverpool before returning to Mexico to teach first grade until her retirement in 1992
The following year, Mrs. Shumway became the historian for the town and village. She currently lives in her family home built by her great-grandfather when he came home from the Civil War.
She has two brothers; Bill, a retired pharmacist, lives in North Carolina, and John, a retired veterinarian, lives in Florida. Her sister, Jeanne Brown, is deceased.
Mrs. Shumway is a member of the local Presbyterian Church and the Mexico Historical Society. A portion of the sales from the book will be donated to the historical society.
In the book, Mrs. Shumway acknowledges those who helped her with its publication, including Main Charles Vaughn for scanning the photos and Marcia DeLong for typing the captions. Proofreading was performed by Allie and John Proud, Marilyn and Charles Marks, and Sue Vaughn. Also assisting were Madelyn Schmidt, Edith Marsden, and Sandra Scott.