A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, featuring Bill Rexford (Conewango), Elnora Monroe Babcock (Dunkirk), Charles E. Goodell (Jamestown), George Carter (Silver Creek), and William Hart (Fredonia). Originally airing on local radio stations March 14 to March 18, 2011.
No. 46 – Bill Rexford
Bill Rexford was born March 14, 1927 in Conewango Valley, N.Y., located in the Town of Ellington. As a young man, he made a name for himself driving stock cars in various races throughout the region, including the Penny Royal Speedway in Leon. After competing there for several years following a two year stint in the Navy, Rexford’s talents were recognized and he made the move to NASCAR in 1949, participating in three late season Grand National races.
In 1950, Rexford became the first of two Northern drivers to regularly race in the Grand National division. The other driver was his teammate, Lloyd Moore. That year, he won his first career NASCAR race at Canfield, Ohio. By the end of the same season, Rexford was involved in the race for the championship and ended up benefiting from the misfortunes of three other contenders, including the legendary Lee Petty, who had been stripped of over 800 points by NASCAR for racing in non-NASCAR sanctioned races. In the final race of the year, Rexford placed high enough to win the Winston Cup Championship. At the age of 23, he remains the youngest driver to win a championship in what has become the Nextel Cup series.
Rexford returned to racing in the Northeast in 1951, making a handful of appearances at some of NASCAR’s bigger races in the southeast and a few northeastern Grand National events. Following that season, he entered only four more Grand National events and his final NASCAR race was July 1953 in Rochester, N.Y. where he finished fifth.
After retiring from racing, Rexford and his wife, Peggy, moved to Parker, Arizona, and started a trucking business. The later relocated to Hemet, California. Rexford passed away on March 18, 1994. He is a member of the New York State Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the Friends of Auto Racing Hall of Fame, and the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
No. 47 – Elnora Monroe Babcock
Elnora Monroe was a woman suffragist born in Columbus township, Warren Co., Pa. on Jan. 11, 1852. From early childhood, Elnora felt the injustice of denying to woman a voice in government, but found few outlets as a result of growing up in rural area in northwestern Pennsylvania. She was married at the early age of eighteen to Prof. John W. Babcock, of Jamestown. The couple eventually moved to Dunkirk, where John served as superintendent of Dunkirk public schools.
It was in 1889 and at the age of 37, Elnora finally took an active role in the suffragist movement and created the Political Equality Club of Dunkirk, of which she was made president. This club flourished remarkably under her management, and before the close of her first year as president of the local club, she was elected president of the Chautauqua County Political Equality Club – which was then considered the most thoroughly organized county in the United States, having twenty-five local clubs within its borders and a membership of 1400.
On July 25, 1891, she had the honor of presiding over the first woman suffrage meeting ever held at the Chautauqua Assembly. Among the speakers was Susan B. Anthony. And as a member of the national American Woman Suffrage Association, Babcock was also effective in spearheading a letter writing campaign to various newspapers throughout the country. In 1900, when she was Chairperson of the Press Committee, more than 50,000 suffrage articles were distributed. Several of the articles were penned by Babcock herself.
No. 48 – Charles Goodell
Charles Ellsworth Goodell was born on March 16, 1926 in Jamestown. He attended Jamestown Public Schools and then attended Williams College, graduating in 1948. He then served in the Navy until 1946. In 1951, he graduated from Yale Law School and received a graduate degree from Yale University Graduate School of Government in 1952. He also served in the Air Force in 1952 to 1953 during the Korean War.
Goodell was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1951 and the New York bar in 1954. That same year he returned to Jamestown to begin his law practice and also became a congressional liaison assistant for the Department of Justice, serving through 1955.
In 1959 Goodell ran for Congress for the republicans in a special election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Daniel Reed. He won on May 26, 1959. He was reelected four times afterward, only to resign on September 9, 1968 in order to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to fill the vacancy caused by the assassination of Robert Kennedy. While in the Senate, Goodell authored and sponsored a large number of bills, including several to provide conservation and development aid to small towns and rural areas. He also was an advocate of a withdrawal from Vietnam. He was unable to win the 1970 election for the Senate seat, eventually losing to Conservative Party candidate James Buckley.
After leaving Congress, Goodell resumed the practice of law. In the mid-1970s, he served as vice-chairman on President Gerald Ford’s committee to draft rules for granting amnesty to Vietnam era draft evaders and deserters. He remained a resident of Washington, D.C. until his death on January 21, 1987. Goodell’s son, Roger Goodell, is the current Commissioner of the National Football League.
No. 49 – George Carter
The month of March has become synonymous with College Basketball, and there was perhaps no better college basketball player to come out of Chautauqua County than George Carter of St. Bonaventure University.
Carter was born January 10, 1944 in Buffalo, but spent much of his formative years in Silver Creek, making a name for himself as a member of the Black Knights basketball team. After graduating from high school, Carter went to St. Bonaventure and played for the Bonnies from 1964-1967).
In each of his three seasons at St. Bonaventure, Carter scored over 400 points. He also totaled 849 rebounds in 68 games, averaging of 12.4 per game – good enough for fourth among all-time St. Bonaventure rebounders. He was team leader in 1966 with 285 and in 1967 with 305. Carter served as the captain of the team his senior year.
Following college in 1967, Carter was drafted by the Detroit Pistons of the NBA, but was also drafted by the United States Army and served a two-year hitch. After his service career, Carter began his pro basketball career with the Washington Capitals of the ABA for the 1969-70 season and was named to the league’s all-star team. In 1970-71 he played with Julius Erving on the Virginia Squires. He continued playing until 1976, retiring with 8,863 combined ABA/NBA career points.
In 1974 Carter was inducted into the St. Bonaventure University Athletics Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.
No. 50 – William Hart
William Hart was born in Litchfield County, Conn. in 1797, and moved to Fredonia, in 1819, bringing with him only a rifle and a pack of clothing. A skilled tinsmith and gunsmith, Hart was awarded a U.S. patent for the percussion lock in 1826.
It wasn’t soon after Hart arrived in Fredonia that he became interested in the natural gas that occurred in the area. He soon developed a plan to drill for the gas and use it for commercial purposes. In 1825, he drilled the first commercial well on the northeast side of the Main Street Bridge in downtown Fredonia. There are some claims that the drilling occurred as early as 1821, but the first documentation of a well being drilled was found in the Fredonia Censor dated August 31, 1825. The hole was drilled 27 feet into shale. He then built a simple gas meter and piped the natural gas to a local innkeeper. He called his operation the Fredonia Gas Light Company, making it the nation’s first natural gas company.
By November 1825, 36 village street lights were fueled by natural gas and this “modern marvel” of the time frequently attracted travelers, often causing them to make a significant detours to see this new “wonder.” The original Hart well produced gas until 1858.
Due to poor Health, Hart changed professions and became a nursery operator, where he was known for his beautiful flower garden that expanded from the back of his home, down to the creek. He also ran a small amusement park and spa baths with hot water located along the creek. In 1838, Hart and his family moved to Buffalo, where he became a successful businessman. William Hart passed away in Buffalo, August 9th, 1865.
Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.
– J. Sample