Superintendent of Water & Streets Chris Buckley and the Village of Caledonia

Laurie Mercer

Some of the purest water in upstate New York rises from under the Village of Caledonia in Livingston County.

For hundreds of years, from Native Americans to today’s villagers, residents here have considered the water to be a valuable resource, so it makes perfect sense that Chris Buckley is the village’s superintendent of water and street, responsible for 17 mi. of water line and 10 mi. of highway.

At 28, Buckley is relatively young for the supervisory job. He began working for the department during summers while he was in high school. Then, after graduating with a degree in environmental science from Finger Lakes Community College, he started full-time. In all, Buckley has worked in the water and street department for 10 years.

In Caledonia, the village board appoints the highway supervisor, but it was Jason Hillman, Buckley’s boss and previous superintendent, who actually talked him into taking the supervisory position approximately five months ago.

Hillman left at the end of last year for a job in construction, and Buckley was given three months to decide if he wanted the supervisor position or to continue working in the department for someone else.

Buckley was uncomfortable with the notion of working for someone outside the village’s tightly knit team of four, so he interviewed for the superintendent’s job just after the three-month deadline passed. The board placed its trust in Buckley and appointed him superintendent.

“It has definitely been different being the boss, but I like it a lot. There is never a dull moment here,” Buckley said, adding that he credits his former boss for what has been a relatively smooth transition into his supervisory role. “Jason was very smart, and he had a good understanding of infrastructure.”

Buckley’s crew is a small, DIY group, which consists of Bob Frew, foreman, MEO and water operator; Tom Buckley, MEO and Chris’ father; Rich Kaness, MEO; and Vincent Yaniro, summer employee, who maintains the roads and equipment. A five-bay shop provides the workspace to keep equipment in tip-top shape. The department also has two small storage sheds and an office.

His department also maintains flower boxes, museum parking grounds, and buildings; maintains four parks; tests water at the nation’s first fish hatchery; houses lost bicycles; rents the fire hall to the fire department; puts in new sidewalks; mows several miles of ground; designs and builds planters; hangs holiday decorations; takes apart beaver dams; and routinely tests water valves and flushes hydrants. Buckley and his crew even recently created new recreational facilities, which includes a baseball diamond for Little League.

Buckley’s father has worked for the department for several years. Off the job, both father and son continue a sometimes profitable family tradition — harness racing.

“Our whole family has been into trotters [trotting race horses] all our lives,” said Buckley. “We have a five-year-old gelding we just bought for $5,000 that has made us $40,000 in stakes races so far this year!” Buckley’s horses usually run at nearby Batavia Downs or at Tioga Park when they are fast enough.

Harnessing Abundant Water

Before Europeans arrived, Native Americans of the Iroquois confederacy, and others even earlier, had established a crossroads in Caledonia by the springs where water bubbles up from clear pools to flow into a clear, yet turbulent stream. Enjoyed by trout fishermen from then to the present, Spring Creek also is the heart and soul of the highway superintendent’s geography.

“Spring Creek is the feeder creek for the Seth Green Fish Hatchery — the first fish hatchery in the United States — located here because of this amazing water supply,” said Buckley.

Caledonia’s super clean water plant was built in 1991 and the village’s two wells supply residents with abundant, quality water at very little cost ($2.25 per thousand gal.).

“I take pride in being responsible for the water that 2,300 Caledonia residents drink,” Buckley said, who is chief operator of the plant.

Two wells, one 35-ft. deep and the other 17-ft. deep, were dug in the 1800s and have been in use, 24/7, every day since 1896. A newer water plant was built in 1991. Water there is so clear one can see the bottom of each well from which an average of 240,000 gal. is pumped each day.

The potential for too much water in places where it shouldn’t be, though, presents problems, which is why the department is methodically replacing the village’s older style 4-in. water pipe with 8-in. pipe during a recently completed water line project on Hambo Park, which is actually a very short dead end street. He says, “To do it properly, we replaced old drains with holes poked into them.”

For serious flooding under roads Buckley said his department will sometimes “tie all the drains in one area together in what is called a bird cage.”

“For aesthetics we surround the bird cage with big rocks,” he said. “The bird cage is designed to give water a place to go instead of going underneath roads and causing problems.”

All new pipes in the village use ductile iron material because, with listening devices, a water inspector can hear leaks. Buckley said at one time the town was pumping almost twice as much water as it does today because of serious leaks that were never repaired.

“Today,” he said, “we’re about as tight as we can be.” One big learning experience came when the circa 1920 water tower that Buckley calls “The Tin Man” sprang a serious bowl leak, and it took the highway department more than three hours to close the valve to the tower because valve testing was not part of routine maintenance. It is now.

Jacks of All Trades

When the annual holiday decorations go up around the village, it’s the highway department that puts them on the pole properly. Mowing medians, vacuuming leaves, and even breaking up beaver dams are part of the job description. The season Buckley dislikes most is autumn.

Buckley and crew work relentless eight-hour days until the leaves are gone. “They just keep coming down,” he said.

Fortunately better machinery now exists than when Buckley began as a high school kid on the end of a rake.

“We have a 95-horsepower leaf machine that is a godsend,” he said. “It sucks up everything — even pumpkins. They go ‘whoosh.’ Because of the hydraulic arm this is no longer the back-breaking chore it once was.”

All four parks need to be raked, plus some municipal building property. Fortunately there are sufficiently intense local gardeners who will take all the leaves Buckley can deliver. Long-time leaf customers have piles that eventually turn into rich compost.

Sod of a different kind also was the spark for an interesting highway crew project — the creation of a baseball diamond.

“Last year in Tennent Park, we were asked to put in a baseball field using sod that had been donated to the Little League from the area’s leading sod farm,” Buckley said. “I went on the Internet and got dimensions. It was an all-dirt field with wet areas, so we needed to add drainage in the reconstruction. The final piece of the ballpark puzzle that required thinking outside the box was what mixture to use in creating the running surface of the diamond. Too much clay and you get dust. We sourced local clay and mixed in some fine sand to make it gritty.”

Buckley and some of the crew were on hand at the park May 1, 2006, for the ceremonial first pitch. Both athletes and audience were thrilled with the new facility.

Open land and recreation areas are in abundance in the Village of Caledonia. Buckley’s crew also maintains tennis courts, pedestrian bridges, and culverts, public parking lots, and access to the village’s newest entry on the green scale — the MacKay Nature Center. Named for an early pioneer couple who once farmed the land it is on, the nature trails are lightly illustrated to draw attention to flora and fauna and even an old American automobile that has been left where the MacKays last parked it behind where a barn once stood approximately 75 years ago.

The parks are neat and clean and help support themselves by being rented out to Caledonia residents for family picnics, reunions, weddings, anniversaries and other special events. The park’s pristine condition is more than just good luck. “We have had a bad problem with terrible graffiti written on table tops. I had to plane down several tables repeatedly, and they kept doing it. Families rent the parks, and the stuff was just terrible. We knew we had to do something,” Buckley said.

The department then tried painting the picnic tables black so that the magic marker “art” wouldn’t show up. That worked.

Out on the Highway

In addition to interesting assignments including testing the water for the popular Caledonia Fair founded in 1833, Buckley’s crew snowplows 10 mi. of village highways. Each of two plow routes takes approximately three hours to complete because the job involves many municipal parking lots and sidewalks. Expenses are kept down by sharing a salt shed with the town.

“Mark Schroeder is the town highway supervisor and we’ve got good rapport. That really helps,” Buckley said.

The village’s total annual operating budget is $570,244 for both water and street. Of that total, $27,000 is the CHIPS allocation.

Because village traffic is relatively slow, Buckley said his department simply salts intersections, curves and hills.

“In addition to other environmental concerns, because of Spring Creek and the Seth Green Fish Hatchery, we monitor water constantly for sodium,” he said. “Sometimes we mix ice ban with the salt, but basically we count on the cars driving through the intersections to distribute the salt to the rest of the roads.”

The Good Guys

Many citizens probably take their abundant, safe drinking water and well-maintained highways for granted. But it’s in the eyes of children where the highway crew gains mythic status, especially with all those big machines they use.

In Caledonia there is one four-year-old who has already put a tiny sticker of a dump truck on the highway garage’s brand new red Mercedes truck. He told the crew he plans on coming to work with them when he is old enough. And that wouldn’t be the first time in Caledonia that the highway superintendent pretty much grew up on the job.

About the Village of Caledonia

Once an Indian campsite, the first European settlement was established circa 1797.

Originally named the Town of Southampton and formed in 1802, the first meeting of what became the Town of Caledonia was held in April 1807. The name Caledonia comes from the ancient Roman word for the Scottish Highlands, reflecting the influence of Scottish immigrants in the area.

A few hardy pioneers would arrive and then report back to family members still living in the east about the water and the land. At that time, families often operated as clans, even in this country, so it’s easy to understand how one upstate town would come to reflect one point of emigration, in this case Scotland.

The Town of Caledonia is located in the northwest portion of Livingston County, bordered on the north by Wheatland, on the east by Rush in Monroe County, on the west by LeRoy and Pavilion in Genesee County, and on the south by Avon and York in Livingston County.

Tourists are attracted to Caledonia for both its fine dining and many antique shops. The nearby Mumford-based Genesee Country Village and Museum has become a major attraction for those interested in the bygone era of the 1800s. Museum events include Civil War re-enactments and vintage baseball games played according to authentic rules and costumes of the day.

A collection of both native and pioneer influences in this upstate village can be found at the Big Springs Historical Society and Museum.

Caledonia also is home to the Seth Green Fish Hatchery.

If you know what a pisciculturist is, you’ve probably already heard of Seth Green. Green, known as the father of fish culture in North America, was born in 1817 in Rochester, NY. Taught to hunt and fish by Native Americans along the falls of the Genesee River in the Rochester area, and despite little formal education, Green went on to become famous, meet with presidents, and be honored by several foreign countries.

Before fame struck, his success as a commercial fishermen made him one of the largest fish dealers in the state with approximately 100 people fishing for him, and he continued to be an intrepid fishermen himself.

His first hatchery where he created artificial fish propagation while in his late forties was built in Caledonia and is still in use and open to the public today. With brook trout bringing a dollar a pound in the market, he had plenty of motivation.

Caledonia, approximately 17 mi. from Rochester, was home in 1864 to approximately 100 people, mostly farmers. Springs in abundance run the length of Spring Creek so that its waters remain at a constantly cold temperature, but never freeze.

The temperature of the water, from 45 to 60 degrees, is ideal for raising trout. Further experimentation with other species would require a different model for success both in temperature and equipment. Spring Creek, he discovered, also was ideal for its waterfall, only approximately 3 ft. high.

The creek discharges approximately 200 million gal. of pure water in 24 hours time.

Green’s creative momentum began while fishing for salmon on Keeler’s Creek in Canada. He noticed that the salmon’s movements indicated their preparation for making nests for their spawn. Watching from his perch in a tree for several days, Green observed that male fish and other fish ate as much spawn as they could find. Only eggs hidden by the female under some gravel escaped their destructive appetite. Years later Green’s observation led to his determination to aid in artificial fish culture — first with brook trout, then with rainbow trout, lake trout, landlocked salmon, grayling, herring, whitefish, carp, and goldfish — throughout the eastern United States.

Transporting reproductive fish in those days proved difficult for Green, but he took shad fry west and stocked the Sacramento River, thereby successfully establishing shad in California. His work in Europe brought him medals and recognition both in England and Germany.

Green was a true trailblazer for his generation. Once his accomplishments became well known, trout ponds sprang up “almost overnight” all over the country. In fact it became fashionable to raise trout. Seth Green died in 1888. P

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