“I have a vaporizer for allergies by Frank Burns of the Burns Vaporizer Company, Westfield NY, #941,” was the first sentence in an email to email@example.com
in early December 2011, which caught my immediate attention. The email was from an unknown person, and with the subject line of “Vaporizer” the spam mail filter had trapped it in grey mail. The writer from Illinois requested information on Frank Burns, his company and the brass vaporizer which she termed “a unique piece.” Having seen one of Billie Dibble’s articles about this very unusual contraption, as well as an advertisement for the Burns Vaporizer Co. in an early 1900 WHS Class Book, research and email exchanges were initiated and continued, including the receipt of a couple photos of the brass contraption from the writer. The Dibble’s Dabbles story of Feb. 5, 1987, included a copy of the 1901 WHS Class Book “The New Century” advertisement showing a drawing of the entire vaporizer mounted and in operation. Comparing this with the photos received, it was immediately obvious that the extant brass item was only about half of the entire vaporizer. Although the writer of the emails is not the owner of the item, as it belongs to an antique dealer whom she had met at an antique show, she had graciously photographed and offered to research the item for the non-computer savvy owner. The antique dealer-owner was contacted to find out if he also had the other parts of the apparatus, but he said that was all he’d acquired from another antique dealer in Texas. So now the search was on, by all three of us, to try to locate the remainder of the vaporizer. Meanwhile, the Westfield Republican archives were researched to locate as much information as possible, as well as U.S. Federal Census records and Sanborn Maps, to document Frank Burns, the location of his vaporizer company and his family relationship with Andrew Burns who owned a Grape Basket factory near Chautauqua Creek which had the misfortune to burn down not just once, but twice, during the late 1800s. In the 1870 U.S. Census for Perrysburg, Cattaraugus, New York, Frank Burns is listed at age 7, with his parents, Theodore and Sophia Burns, his older brothers, Andrew (19) and Peter (11), a younger brother Theodore (3), and two sisters, Lena (4) and Margaret (1/12). Theodore Burns, the father, was a cooper by trade, and both Andrew and Frank are known to have learned the cooper trade from him. The 1930 U.S. Census for Westfield, Chautauqua, New York, lists Theodore P. (63), Esther L. (67) and Frank Burns (67), again noting that Frank and Theodore are brothers, and Esther is Theodore’s wife. The location of the Burns Vaporizer Company in Westfield was determined from a brief note in the Aug. 30, 1905, Republican and several Sanborn Maps. The newspaper noted that “The Burns Vaporizer Co. has moved from the Ard building on South Portage Street and the building is being refitted for Young Lee.” Lee ran a Chinese Laundry on South Portage in the building that remained after the McClurg block burned during the 1884 devastating Westfield Hotel Fire when it jumped Main Street from the northwest to the southwest corner of Portage and Main. The Ard Building included four or five storefronts — lots 209 and 210, or addresses 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 South Portage. A shoe store or cobbler was located in the north end of the Ard Building and can be seen in several old photos of that corner from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The 1886 Sanborn Map shows the shoe shop and the American Express Office in the first 209 section — note that a previous Dibble’s Dabbles had an old photo with the American Express horse-drawn wagon in front of this office — a hand printing shop and the Chinese laundry were in the second 210 section. Andrew Burns Cooper’s basket factory was located near the corner of Water Street and Chase Street. By 1896, and again in 1902, the Sanborn maps show the cobbler at address 5/6 and Frank Burns’ tin shop where the vaporizer was manufactured at address 8, with the Chinese laundry at address 9. Andrew Burns has his cooper factory, or grape basket factory which was rebuilt after a fire in about 1898 in the same location near Water and Chase Streets. By 1907, the Sanborn map shows the Chinese laundry where Frank Burns’ tin shop had been removed in 1905. The basket shop is still near Water and Chase. One other note regarding Andrew Burns, Frank’s older brother, is that he built the Burns Block on Main Street near Market Street after the devastating 1909 Minton House fire, and ran a Theatorium there starting in 1910, in part of the building where the Napa Auto Parts store is now located in 2012. Since Billie Dibble provides a comprehensive biography of Frank Burns and his inventions, please refer to the Dibble’s Dabbles being republished in this week’s newspaper.
Part of a brass vaporizer made by the Burns Vaporizer Company which used to exist in Westfield.
Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 — inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment.
Beigh can be reached at westfieldhistorian@
fairpoint.net or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).