The Lilacs

John A. & Chestina M. Case

John Case was born in the town of Lima, NY (Livingston County) in 1820, the son of Henry and Fanny (Burchard) Case. His mother Fanny died in the year of John’s birth, and his father died in 1831, when John was only 11 years old. John grew up on a relative’s farm. Upon completing his education at the Palmyra, NY academy (Wayne County), John decided to take up farming. He subsequently married Chestina M. Peck, daughter of Captain Thomas Peck of Lima, in 1840. In 1855 John and Chestina moved to Holland, NY (Erie County) to continue his career in farming (Holland is a short distance south of East Aurora).

John’s paternal ancestors were from England, however, his grandfather served two years in the American army during the American Revolution and, in fact, had quite an eventful career as a soldier. Taken prisoner by the British, the grandfather was shipped to England and remained a prisoner until the war was over, a period of two years. He was then taken to France and released. He worked his passage back to the U.S. and settled in Lima, NY – where he was one of the first white settlers in that area.

John became very active in business and community affairs. He served as a member of the New York State Assembly for the 4th District in Erie County for the 85th session of the legislature in 1862, during which he was a member of both the “Petitions of Aliens” and the “Expenditures of the House” committees. John also served on the Board of Commissioners of the Erie County Penitentiary in the early 1860s.

John had a very active military career. Colonel Aaron Riley (East Aurora) had been commissioned to organize the 67th Regiment of New York State uniformed militia in Erie County outside the City of Buffalo in the mid-1850s. Within a few years, John became Captain of a cavalry company in the regiment. By 1858 the Regiment consisted of 6 companies of infantry, one of cavalry and one of artillery. John became Major of that Regiment in 1862 (it was at this time that the Militia was reorganized and renamed the National Guard). John Case became a key part of the command of that Regiment, as leadership of the unit devolved on Colonel Abbott (Orchard Park), Lieutenant Colonel Clough (Hamburg), and Major Case (Holland). History records that the 67th Regiment was noted for a high degree of efficiency for a number of years.

In June 1863 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton requested state militia troops from New York Governor Horatio Major to repel the foreseen Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania and Maryland. The 67th Regiment was ordered to prepare for the Gettysburg Campaign. The Civil War Registration Records for Erie County show John A. Case, aged 44 years and occupation listed as farmer.

The Buffalo Evening Times of June 30, 1913 (in the ‘Fifty Years Ago Today’ column) reported –
“The 67th Regiment, N. Y. Volunteers, numbering about 350 men, left for Harrisburg over the New York & Erie road (railroad) on June 27, 1863. The body presented a very fine appearance, the men looking stalwart and strong, as if they must be able to stand the fatigues incident to campaigning as well as the best. . . Brig. Gen. Riley and Maj. Gen Randall were at the depot and gave their personal attention to the comforts of the men composing the 67th Regiment, which took three days rations. . . . their friends may be assured that this body of brave country lads are equipped for any ordinary emergency.”

In addition to the 3 man command, the paper listed 10 Captains and 340 men including infantry, artillery and cavalry. The 67th Regiment proceeded to Elmira, where they joined the 68th Regiment which had left Dunkirk on June 28. Both regiments then proceeded on to Harrisburg together.
Both the 67th and 68th Regiments were garrisoned at Camp Curtin to protect Harrisburg from an expected attack, and do not appear to have actively participated in the July 1-3 Gettysburg battle proper.
The 67th was mustered out of service of the U.S. Aug 3, 1863 and subsequently merged into the 98th Regiment. For 100 days in 1864, this combined unit was in charge of guarding the great camp of rebel prisoners at Elmira, NY. We have not been able to determine if Major Case participated in the Elmira Great Camp duty.
Major Case is listed in Volume I of the Civil War set “New York in The War of Rebellion 1861-1865”.

John, Chestina and their daughter (Sarah) moved to East Aurora around 1865. He purchased a lot on Big Tree Road (now known as 762 East Main Street) and built a house on the lot. He subsequently purchased The Lilacs in 1867. He started a retail store business and became a very highly respected member of the East Aurora business community. In particular, he was very active in the Masonic Lodge.

The grocery and general merchandise business that John started in 1867 was called J. A. Case & Co. It was located on the north side of Main Street between Pine and Church streets. The company’s advertisements were a regular feature on the first page of the East Aurora Advertiser during the 1870s – advertising groceries and provisions, flour, feed, seed and grain, as well as coal. John also owned a coal yard, and the advertisements always noted that coal would be sold for cash only. John subsequently brought his son-in-law (Francis Spooner) into the business, and they operated the store together. The store did a thriving business – selling some 800 tons of coal per year, with annual sales amounting to over $15,000 for 1879.
Following John’s death, his son-in-law continued to run the business, along with a Charles Dunlop. The business ultimately became known as Spooner & Grundlach, and continued to run the same advertisements in the East Aurora paper.

The 1870 Census finds John and Chestina living at The Lilacs with their daughter, Sarah, then 20 years of age. Sarah married Francis Spooner (the Spooners were a prominent East Aurora family, having settled in this area around 1807). Francis and Sarah lived in the East Main Street house which John had built in 1865. Their son, R. John Spooner (John & Chestina’s grandson), was born in 1881 and went on to become the legendary Publisher of the East Aurora Advertiser for 20 years until his death in 1935. In announcing his death, the Advertiser noted that the history of the Case and Spooner families were closely identified with the history of East Aurora for more than a hundred years and that, at the time of his death, R. J. Spooner was living in that same house on East Main Street in the village that John Case had built many years earlier. Incidentally, one of the Pall Bearers for R. J. Spooner’s funeral was George Van Keuren, who lived at The Lilacs for many years in the late 1800s during his parents’ ownership of the property.

While in Buffalo for a day of business in June 1879, John suffered an apoplectic fit while leaving the Erie County Savings Bank. He was taken to the General Hospital and Chestina rushed to attend him. However, this was the third such stroke that John had suffered, and recovery was not to be this time. He died a few days later at the age of 59 years. John’s passing was grieved by the entire community, and a very large and impressive memorial service was organized in East Aurora by the Masonic Order.

Chestina enjoyed another decade plus of life, and died in 1891, at the age of 72 years.