Political Grant Clubs
In the early days of Niagara County, people took a more active interest in campaigning for their political candidate of choice. In the 1800s, one might expect to find an ardent political devotee taking part in staged political parades, often with torch lit processions.
First organized in 1868 during the successful campaign of U .S. Grant for president, these “Grant Clubs” became commonplace and local contingents were organized with units in nearly all Niagara County cities, towns and villages. The purpose of the Grant Clubs was to channel the members political zeal into a marching unit that exhibited military marching techniques, rifle and cannon volleys and very elaborate uniforms. After President Grant’s campaign, the Niagara County Grant Club waned and wasn’t revived in similar fashion until 1888, working for the election of Benjamin Harrison to the presidency. Dr. A. J. Allen was the first “drillmaster” for this Lockport Grant Club and the uniform selected consisted of a white waterproof coat, white duck trousers, white rubber leggings, a nickel-plated spike helmet with a brass eagle on the front above the visor. Kerosene torches were affixed to the units rifles which were carried during the evening parades. Eventually, the Lockport Grant Club added a small brass cannon mounted on a regulation caisson. The club became famous all over the region and won many honors.
Several rival Grant Clubs were formed during later political campaigns including the “Boys in Blue” from Rochester, the “Uncle Sam’s” from Buffalo,” and the “Third Ward McKinley Gun Squad” from Niagara Falls. At a parade in 1900 in Niagara Falls, the aforementioned Grant Clubs were supplemented with the appearance of the “Rough Riders” who wore modified Spanish American War uniforms and rode their horses like genuine cavalrymen. In the same parade, the “Wide Awake Club” performed with members who had once marched for President Lincoln.
By 1908, marching units and gun squads reached into every hamlet in the county. The Lockport Grant Club mushroomed in to a Company A, Company B, and Gun Squad who were often accompanied in parades by the Hydrant Hose Drum Corps. Newfane had its own Grant club known as the Newfane Taft and Sherman Club and Drum Corps whose members could be recognized because, in addition to their own distinctive uniform, their members always carried red lanterns. The prominence of the Grant Clubs in Niagara County waned and eventually disappeared following the two world wars.
Douglas Farley, Director
Ann Marie Linnabery
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094