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The Town of Homer in the Great Depression

Signs of the Great Depression of the 1930s can be clearly detected in certain money-saving adaptations deemed necessary by the Homer Town Board.

  • The salaries of Board members and election inspectors were reduced.
  • The seven voting districts were reduced to five.
  • The post of town attorney was cut, with the understanding that the county attorney could provide legal advice.
  • The inadequate “Village Lockup” was closed down, and persons arrested were henceforth to be detained at the County Jail in Cortland.
  • The “Gospel Fund” that had existed since 1808 “for the support of the Gospel & Schools,” was appropriated in 1931, and the entire amount of principal and interest, $2060.96, was distributed among the thirteen school districts of the town.
  • Road work was to be done under “work relief projects.”
  • A new, more efficient heating system was to be installed at the Hall, and insurance on the Hall was cut by $8,000.
  • Redecorating and repairing the building would be done by “unemployed labor and to be paid for by the Federal C. W. A.” The Civil Works Administration was a New Deal program providing the unemployed with five months of work constructing and improving buildings and bridges.
  • The “poor account” was renamed “welfare” (until 1947).
  • The fees for renting out the Hall were cut in half, which was probably a good thing, considering all the folks who found enjoyment dancing on the stage or attending “amateur shows” during the ‘30s.
  • In 1933, the basement of the Hall was rented out for $50 a month for use by the Homer Post to print its newspaper. Three years later, during the persistent hard times, the Post was evicted for inability to pay the rent.
Unemployed Man

Of all the names recorded in the history of the Town of Homer, there are five from this depression era that are worthy of singular attention for their longevity of service. They are Harold L. “Cap” Creal, J. Henry Knobel, Earl Gutches, Elma Mineah, and George Vernum.

Harold “Cap” Creal, born and raised in western New York State, graduated from Cornell in 1921 and came to the Homer area to take up farming, at which he was extremely successful for 65 years. In 1931, friends asked him to run for town supervisor, but he declined. The next evening, four friends came by to say they were not asking but telling him to run. They were certain his many contacts in the farming community would help. So, “Cap” was elected town supervisor and served for seven years during the Depression. As town supervisor, he set up a Cortland County work program. This paid 30 cents an hour for a 44-hour week. Later, the federal government set up a similar program. Creal’s energetic leadership later came into play when he served as a New York State Assemblyman from Cortland County for twelve years and Director of the State Fair for over a decade. Known as “Mr. New York State Agriculture,” he lived into his nineties. When asked how one could attain such longevity, he wryly replied, “Pick your ancestors.”

J. Henry Knobel became Town Clerk in 1934, when Creal was Supervisor. Knobel, son of an earlier Town Clerk, Thomas Knobel, would have the distinction of the longest tenure of office of all the Clerks. He would serve for 31 years, until he died in office, in the Town Hall, on February 2, 1965. Fittingly, the current Town Clerk, Mrs. Anita Jebbett, is a descendent of the Knobels. J. Henry was her grandfather, and Thomas was her great- grandfather. Civil service must be in the Knobel Family’s blood.

Earl Gutches of East Homer was another who rendered long and faithful service to the town. He was a town justice for 54 years. Upon his death in 1959, he was the oldest justice in the state in point of continuous service. Gerald Young took his place, serving many years as a justice and later as the supervisor and a councilman.

Mrs. Elma Mineah was the first female deputy clerk, serving from 1934 until she became the first female town clerk on February 4, 1965. She gave up the job in the fall of 1969 because of mandatory retirement.

On June 13, 1932, George Vernum, a former mounted New York State trooper with a down-state accent, was appointed town constable, thus beginning a long career in the environs of Homer as “George the Cop.” At the next Board meeting, Harry and Ethel Davis were granted a license to operate a dance hall in the Buckingham Place north of the village, with the stipulation that it close at midnight on Saturdays. Enforcement, no doubt, fell to Constable Vernum. In 1937, additional tasks of “Dog Warden” fell to Vernum (remember the post of “pound keeper” in the early 1800s?). In 1939, he became school attendance officer, too. Thus, Vernum was charged with bringing in pets that strayed from home and students who strayed from school. In this era, the Town handed law enforcement over to the County Sheriff’s Department, and Vernum was hired by the Village of Homer to be Chief of Police, a post he held until retirement in 1956. Today, a village park bears his name. Do you know where it is located?