By Connie Williams
One of the most colorful historical characters that I have come to know of since working at the museum is Blind Bill Albright. I must tell you the story of this most remarkable man.
Originally spelled Albrecht, Blind Bill probably anglicized his name, as many immigrants did.
Blind since birth, he made brooms in North Town and then later moved his operation to Paynesville where he also lived. His brooms retailed at 25 cents, but if you paid him a nickel more, he'd make you a dandy one.
Although the manufacture of brooms was his main income source, he was also a very talented musician. From 1900-1920 he was the leader of not only the Paynesville Community Band, but director of brass bands in several area communities.
In addition to this he sold organs and pianos. He gave lessons on these instruments as well as the violin. He played entirely by ear.
Because of his handicap it is natural to think that music students came to his house for lessons. However, this was not always true. In the winter, the farmers who had children taking lessons picked him up and took him to their homes.
This is the amazing part. Many times in nice weather, he would walk for miles to give music lessons. It was not uncommon for him to walk the 16 miles from Paynesville to Grove City to give a child music lessons. How he knew where to turn at a crossroad or knew when he reached the entrance to the farm he was going to is nothing less than amazing.
Sometimes he would be invited to stay overnight. If he accepted the invitation, it is said that he would get up early and play the piano for the folks still in bed.
His remaining senses were so perfectly tuned that it is said he could tell what size a coin was when it was dropped on the counter. By touching the hair on a horse's back, he could determine its color.
Many people recall how he would get his bearings at the corner of Schwartz's Drugstore by clapping his hands and listening for the sound of the echo as it bounced off the cold storage plant, now the AMPI building.
Very sadly Bill Albright's life had a most tragic ending. When Paynesville was digging ditches for a sewer, the manholes were often left open and unattended. He fell into one of these cavities. He never recovered from his injuries and died.