If Canton Walls Could Talk
A profile of a local historian who discovered history in his own home.
If walls could only talk, oh, the stories they would tell.
Hidden well inside the walls in the Canton home of Jim Roache, there was quite a bit of history.
It was that discovery which would also stir a quest for knowledge in Roache, leading him to uncover an even more interesting history about the town he called home.
Roache, a curator at the Canton Historical Society, was born in 1952.
"I was born in Canton," said Roache. "My father was born in Canton. His father was born in Canton. He had a big family in town."
Roache said he never really traced his family roots but believed his ancestors originally emigrated from Ireland and settled in town.
"I always liked history in school," said Roache. "But a lot of my interest has to do with the house I bought. That really got me going.
Roache said he bought an older home in Canton, stripped it all down and in the course of doing the renovation, found some postcards.
The name on those postcards?
"Catherine Roache and David Roache," he said. "I asked, 'Who are these people?' I never heard of them before."
"It was just ironic because these particular postcards were in the wall of my house," Roache said. "That got me started on finding out who these people were and from there it kind of blossomed."
While the coincidence was quite spooky, Roache said an older relative schooled in his family history assured him Catherine and David were not relatives.
Roache said that he did find out that while the couple passed away on separate dates, each was waked inside the living room of his home. "My wife hates the story," Roache said. "It freaks her out."
As Roache delved even further into the history of his home, it got even more fascinating to him, he said. The land on which his home stands had once been part of the town's "poor farm," he said.
"People who were infirm or of no means would stay at the poor farm—whole families," he said.
By the 1880s, Roache said, the poor farm had come into disrepair and it was time for the town to build anew. So the town sold off the farm and sub-divided the property, selling plots of land to people willing to buy.
"My house was built as a speculation house by Elijah Moore, owner of the store polish factory in town."
Roache said learning about the history of his own home helped him discover his love of local history.
"All of these things kind of conspired to me becoming more involved [in learning about Canton history]," he said. Now, said Roache, "I probably have 15 different fingers in things."
"I like doing the research because I always find something else out," he said.
His latest project was working with a woman from Maine who wanted to become a member of Daughters of the American Revolution. "In order to do that she had to research her family."
Come to find out, he said, "Her family owned a cabin here in town up where the poor farm was. Imagine how these things go around in circles."
In researching that woman's family history, Roache said he came to learn that Canton manufactured guns for the American Revolution. "That's not mentioned in Huntoon's History of Canton," he said.
Roache's biggest talk-away lesson for those interested in their own history?
"There's an old cliché about history: 'If you don't know your history you just tend to relive it,'" said Roache. "And I find that is so true, every time."