Many of us know the famous inventor Cyrus McCormick built a stately summer home, in 1882, on Sunset Hill, situated on Route 167 just outside the village limits. McCormick died in 1884, but his family continued to spend summers at the home.
In September 1889, one of the largest social events in Richfield history was the marriage of the late McCormick’s daughter, Anita. Three thousand invitations were sent out for the gala event. Most of the hotels, along with many businesses and private homes, had special lighting, flags, flowers and other decorations in honor of the bride and groom. The wedding was well covered by the society pages of Chicago and New York City newspapers.
What many probably do not know is the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, Caroline Charlotte Bonaparte Benton, lived in Richfield from 1885 until her death on Christmas day in 1890. For three years, she lived at 30 James St. and taught French classes.
Probably the most well known native was Ellen Clapsaddle. She was an artist who did illustrations, landscapes and portraits that were used for international booklets, calendars, postcards, trading cards and valentines.
Clapsaddle went to work in Germany but when World War I broke out, she was lost during the many battles and bombings. A publisher found her walking the streets hungry and sick. She lived in New York City for two years where she died in poverty, one day short of her 69th birthday on Jan. 7, 1936. Today, collectors pay top dollar for her work.
Local native Allen J. Bloomfield (1883-1932) served six years as a New York State assemblyman and went on to serve as a state senator for two years.
Another native, Louis Bruce Jr., served in President Richard Nixon’s cabinet as the head of The Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1968-1973. His father was a Methodist minister and a Major League Baseball player with the Philadelphia Athletics.
Bruce’s grandfather was a Mohawk Indian chief and his mother was the daughter of a Sioux chieftain. His children, Donald Bruce and Kate Huxtable, still live in the area.
From time to time, famous people pay a visit to our town. In 1907, Spanish-American War hero Admiral Dewey vacationed in Richfield, staying at The Berkley-Waiontha.
Other hotels had guest such as Oscar Wilde, Thomas Edison, Baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, along with other well known artists, admirals, generals and diplomats.
During the Resort Era, no doubt, many other famous people were guests at some of our grand hotels. Most of the big bands from the 1930s and ‘40s played at Canadarago Park, including Frank Sinatra.
Probably the most famous person to visit was Theodore Roosevelt. On Sept. 22, 1889, Roosevelt, who was the governor of New York at the time, gave a speech from the porch of the Earlington Hotel (present location of The Tally-Ho Restaurant). “Teddy” of course went on to be president of the United States.
Sometime in the early 1950s, the Rotary Club had the popular war hero, actor, humorist and lecturer Will Rogers Jr. entertain a full house in the school gymnasium.
A few years ago, former President Bill Clinton’s limo, coming from a visit to Cooperstown, stopped at our McDonald’s so Bill could get some fries to go!
Not all the well known visitors are people you would want to run up to for an autograph. In the 1920s and ‘30s, legendary gangster “Legs Diamond” was said to use The Lake House as a regular get-a-way.
Around 1980, there was a famous Australian race car driver who was also a serial killer that used Route 20 to run from the authorities. In 1993, child killer Louis Lent was caught on a bank security camera while he was traveling through town with his captive, 12-year-old Sara Anne Wood. Lent was a suspect on at least four other child murders.
So keep your eyes open and camera handy. You never know when Brad Pitt, Paris Hilton or even Bigfoot might come through town.
Don Urtz is a member of the Richfield Springs Historical Association.