Say Hello to Town Line, New York: The Last Holdout of the Confederate States of America
If you're driving east out of Buffalo and decide to forego the Thruway for the scenic route of US Highway 20, you'll eventually pass through a blink-and-you'll-miss it hamlet located between Alden and Lancaster. A town of 2,367, it boasts a quaint and serene atmosphere dotted by simple ranch homes and plenty of open space. You might decide to stop off at McGavin's Restaurant for some of their famous baked salmon with home-made seafood bisque. You might head down to Hennessey's Bar to relax with a drink. You might check some of the historic buildings in the center of the downtown area, some of which date back to the early 1800s. During all this time, it will likely not occur to you that you are standing in the middle of a town that was at war with the United States for over 80 years.
As the town is a census-designated place and not an official municipality, it is difficult to trace the history of Town Line further back than 1850, when the Census Bureau began keeping track of such places. However, around the time of the American Civil War, its neighboring communities of Lancaster and Alden both had strong presences of "Copperheads" -- Northern Democrats who were opposed to the Union's war with the Confederacy and desired an immediate end to the fighting. According to official vote tallies, Abraham Lincoln won the Election of 1860 by the slimmest of margins in both towns. It is not unreasonable that Town Line, being in the same geographical vicinity, would have a population that harbored similar sentiments.
What actually happened in Town Line during the Fall of 1861 is difficult to ascertain, as no one can seem to find any primary documentation of it. Oral tradition passed down from generation to generation, however, states that shortly after news of the breakout of the Civil War reached the town, the population of 125 eligible voters gathered in the town's schoolhouse for a public meeting and called for a vote to secede from the Union themselves. The strong anti-war sentiment of the community apparently prevailed, as the vote succeeded by a tally of 80-45.
Town Line being an unincorporated census-designated place in 1861, the vote held no legal ramification whatsoever. Neither Erie County nor New York entertained any mention of succession, and after the war was over, Town Line's actions were simply forgotten by all except for the local residents who passed on the story to their descendants. Nonetheless, following the vote, five men from the town apparently did leave their homes and traveled to Virginia to enlist in the Confederate Army.
The Story is Uncovered
In the early 20th Century, after the scars of the Civil War and Reconstruction had more or less healed, attention began to be paid to local communities in the South that had held similar votes to secede from the Union independent of the states in which they were located. Some of these communities were very serious about their holdout status; Vicksburg, Mississippi, for example, did not officially celebrate the Fourth of July for over 80 years following the end of the war. Symbolic ceremonies were held in places like Dale County, Georgia to officially welcome them back into the Union. In the wake of these developments, a local newspaper discovered the story of Town Line's secession, and its unique status as the last community in the United States to not have officially rejoined the Union. When the story got out, Town Line was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight.
Telegrams from around the nation began to flood into the town, and President Harry Truman himself wrote an open letter to the town's residents to offer his thoughts on the matter, urging residents to hold a vote deciding "whether or not to have themselves readmitted," and suggesting "the possibility of roast veal as a vehicle of peace." In the face of overwhelming public scrutiny, the town scheduled a re-entry vote to take place on January 24, 1946. In a ceremony presided over by Cesar Romero, Town Line voted 90-23 to rejoin the United States of America. And so it was that, 80 years, 9 months, and 16 days after the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox Courthouse, that the last holdout of the Confederacy formally ended hostilities with the Union.
Town Line Today
In more recent years, Town Line has embraced its historical status as the last official Confederate holdout. In September of 2011, the town celebrated the 150th anniversary of its succession in grand fashion, Residents packed the hall of Town Line's Lutheran church for a party, many decked out in full Civil War military regalia and period dress. Authentic cannons sat in the parking lot as a panel discussion was held to explain the town's unique place in history, and an exhibition was on display including period maps, artifacts and photos.
Town Line is a historical oddity in the history of the United States, but it is not the only local community to formally secede from the Union during the period of the Civil War. Nor, for that matter, is it the only municipality north of the Mason-Dixon Line to have seceded from the United States. And while its actions ultimately held no legal weight, it remains an important episode in the history of the Civil War Era, sitting alongside the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 as a demonstration of the influence of Copperhead Democrats in the Northern United States.