Friday, May 31, 2013

Rose Hill Farm, Sustainable Agriculture, c. 1860

By Anne Dealy, Director of Education and Public Information

In May of 1850 Robert and Margaret Swan took up residence at their new property on Seneca Lake. According to several sources, the farm was not in great shape, but had, as we might say today, potential. Certainly Robert knew this from his time living on the Johnston Farm just next door. Rose Hill Farm was comprised of 350 acres and was purchased by Robert's parents as a wedding gift for the young couple. The previous owners, the VanGiesons and their relative, William Strong (builder of the mansion), had not been farmers and probably leased the land out to tenants who farmed it. As a consequence:

"It was then in the ordinary condition of farms in that section of country, and being a wet, tenacious soil, the crops were, except in very favorable seasons, small. The farm was very indifferently fenced—filled with swales and sunken places, where coarse aquatic grasses and noxious weeds had full possession. Here was a work of no ordinary importance for a young man, just entering upon his career, as a farmer." [New York Agricultural Society Transactions, 1857].

Sale notice for Rose Hill farm, 1847

Likely too busy to keep much account of his doings the first year after his marriage, we have no records of his farming during 1850. He probably spent much of that time repairing fences and deciding what he would plant and where. We have both an account book he kept from 1851 to 1862 and a journal of his activities on the farm for 1851 to 1858. These, combined with family letters and articles about farming in the state farm journals, give us a fair idea of how he worked his farm.

Robert, like his mentor and father-in-law John Johnston, grew wheat as his chief crop. He also grew oats, corn and grass for forage (timothy grass and clover) every year. Some years he mentions barley and buckwheat, but it is unclear if he grew these annually. He had sheep, cattle and pigs on the farm, as well as horses for transportation.

In upstate New York farmers plant wheat in the fall and harvest in early July. Robert must have planted in fall of 1850 because he started harvesting 58 acres of wheat on July 19 and wrote it looked to be a "fare [sic] crop." The next year did not go so well, beginning with dry weather in September when he planted the wheat and a cold spring. These conditions were followed by grasshoppers at harvest time. By July he wrote, "My wheat looks miserable enough. I don't think I will Average 10 Bushels an Acre. I Shall only sow 25 or 30 Acres of wheat this Fall. Drain more, manure more, & have more of my farm in grass, & by this means I will by & by make more grass, & by this means I will by & by make more out of it than having so much in crop."

Genesee Farmer, November 1858
And drain he did. Over the next two years he laid over 60 miles of drain tile on 305 of his acreage. He reported that this cost him $0.30 per rod (16.5 feet) or $96.00 per mile. This brought the total cost of drainage to $5,823. He wrote in his application for the State Farm Premium, "This land reclaimed, is now equal to any land upon the farm, and in the field of 60 acres of wheat raised the present year [1857], about fifteen acres of it was land reclaimed; and the wheat upon that portion was equal to the very best of the field." [NYAS Transactions, 1857]. His wheat yields grew from five bushels an acre in 1852 to 20 bushels per acre in 1857, a year when the wheat midge damaged portions of the crop. By 1862, Rose Hill averaged 40 bushels an acre, just short of the modern American average of 46 bushels for a non-irrigated farm.

He followed Johnston's method of farming: raise sheep and cattle for manure, meat, milk and wool; raise grass, corn, and clover for feed and bedding straw; spread rotted straw and manure on the fields to feed the crops; sell livestock and butter for cash; use cash and credit to drain the land. Johnston and Swan also made sure to rotate crops, leaving wheat fields fallow for portions of the year or growing clover on them to restore the soil's fertility. In many ways, this is what we would today call a sustainable system. Swan grew crops to feed livestock, and the livestock fed the land to grow better crops. According to one article about the farm, every crop grown on it was consumed except wheat, which was the most profitable crop to sell.

Ad for Albany tile works in 1858 Cultivator magazine

This method relied on a formula of "Dung, Drainage and Credit." The farmer needed to drain and manure. To do both he needed credit until his farm proved profitable. While John Johnston had to invest his profits in draining his land a little at a time, Robert Swan's access to credit (likely due to his father's connections) meant he could drain his entire farm more quickly and profit more quickly. Even the modern farmer would probably say that with credit, nearly anything in farming is possible.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Engines and Silver Trumpets

By Alice Askins, Site Manager of Rose Hill Mansion 

While looking for information on the naming of Linden Avenue (said to have been named for singer Jenny Lind) I read the Geneva village meeting minutes from the early 1850s and there is a lot there that is interesting.  One topic that takes up a lot of space in the minutes is fire – not surprising in a world of fireplaces and wooden buildings.

The American Fireman by Currier and Ives ca 1858 

Firefighting has a long history, dating back at least to the third century BC in Egypt.  There is evidence of firefighting machinery from that era, including a water pump invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria.  Here in the New World, as early as 1631, Boston governor John Winthrop outlawed wooden chimneys and thatched roofs.  In 1648, Peter Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam appointed fire wardens (men who inspected all chimneys and could fine people who violated the rules).  Later there were fire watchmen who patrolled the streets at night, alerted the citizens to fires, and organized bucket brigades.  In 1678 the first fire engine company went into service.  

The United States did not have government-run fire departments until around 1860.  Before that, private fire brigades competed with each other to be the first to respond to a fire, because insurance companies paid brigades to save buildings.  There were even some incidents in New York City where buildings burned down while rival companies engaged in fist fights to determine who got to put out the fire. In 1853, the Cincinnati, Ohio fire department became the first full-time paid professional fire department in the United States, and the first in the world to use steam fire engines.   In Geneva, the fire companies appear to have worked closely with the village government.

Based on the minutes the exact organization of the fire fighters is unclear.  There seem to have been four companies in 1851, and a fifth company added the next year.  There are some variations in names, though – is Hook and Ladder Company #3 the same as Fire Company #3?  We do, however, find some clues about how the fire fighters worked with the village. The companies presented lists of new members and officers to the village board for formal approval.  The companies apparently handled their own discipline.  For example, on June 2 1851 “Patrick Bradley was Expelled for disorderly Conduct” from Company #4 and the board was informed.

The companies often requested money from the village for new equipment, although it seems they also spent their own money for the newest in hoses and engines.  In 1851, one of the companies proposed to buy a new engine for $500.  They did not want the village to help pay for it, but asked approval to go ahead with the purchase.  In other cases that year, the village board voted $300 for a new “aparatus” for Hook and Ladder Company #3, and $800 for a new engine for Fire Company #2.  In July, the board gave permission for Engine Company No 1 to “Erect an aparatus for Drying their Hose not to exceed $8.00 at the Expence [sic] of the Corporation.”  To give these figures some context, the farm workers at Rose Hill were earning $10 per month.

Geneva also had fire wardens.  In May of 1851, the board resolved “that the Fire wardens . . . are hereby directed to report to this Board . . . how they find the condition of the Village as to the liability to fire or unlawful deposit of Powder and usual deposit of ashes and all Such other things pertaining to their office . . .”  The next January, we find “On Motion Resolved – that the Fire Wardens give notice again to all delinquents in their beat – that the fine as fixed by the Bylaws will be enforced unless they comply with their requirements immediately – Whereas It has been reported to this Board that J.S. & H.C. Prouty, Wm [sic] Hudson and Prouty & Chew have violated the Village By Laws – by keeping a greater quantity of Gun Powder on their premises than allowed by Law – Therefore Resolved – that they be proceeded against for Violation of Chapter 3 Section 4: & 5: [sic] of the Village By Laws.“  It seems that Phineas Prouty (of Prouty and Chew) must have changed his ways after that, because in October of 1853, the board appointed him, Ira Powers, and Abel Steer as Fire Wardens.  They replaced three men who were “removed from office . . .  for not attending to the duties of said office,” and fined $10 apiece.  

A variety of fire-related issues came before the village board.  In May of 1852, the board resolved that “Franklin Ally [sic] be repaired and kept clear of obstructions, so that the Engines can have ready access to the Lake.  Also Res[olved] that the entrance to the park reservoir be widened so that the engines can have ready access to the same.”   The village approved accessory expenses for the fire companies – “Resolved that the trustees, Fire Wardens and Police Constables be furnished with appropriate badges to be worn at fires.”   “A bill for 4 Brass torches or Lamps for fire companys [sic] was presented by W Hayward $3.75 each $15.00 ordered paid.”  The Chief Engineer of the Fire Department was authorized to purchase a German Silver Horn or trumpet for the use of the Fire Department, not to exceed $25.  The board also authorized payment to the chief engineer of $2.50 for repairs to his hat. The minutes, however, do not tell us what happened to it.

Fireman with trumpet, Litchfield Connecticut, ca. 1850s

The village board had some control over the use of the fire equipment.  In 1853, the trustees authorized their president “to forbid the Fire companies from using their Machines for any other purpose than for Fires and ordinary exercises unless by consent of the Trustees.”  They granted their consent when “Ocean Engine Company No. 1 asked permission to take their Engine to Rochester in September next at the time of the State fair.”  Perhaps in partial return for such consideration, in October 1853, the Chief Engineer of the Fire Department invited the board to the Fireman’s Tournament in the public park on the 19th.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Geneva's Changing Waterfront

John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

Geneva’s Changing Waterfront was the name of a 1989 exhibit and catalogue by researcher Kathryn Grover. The title sounds “ripped from the headlines,” as some TV shows say. Seneca Lake and its shore have always been valuable commodities to Geneva but the nature of that value is always changing.

The lake offered food and transportation for Native Americans. They had no known towns on the lake – those were situated on hilltops for defensive reasons – but in the summer people camped on the shore to catch and dry fish. This was especially true in the shallow areas near inlets and outlets where it was easier to wade out and use nets. A canoe could travel up the Seneca River and east almost to the Mohawk River; after a short carry, it could continue out to the Hudson River.

Early sketch of South Main Street from the lake, 1790s

American settlers valued the bluff that became South Main Street for its view and healthy air. Land around the foot of the lake (the Finger Lakes flow south to north, so the north is the “foot”) was swampy and people who lived near it contracted “Genesee fever,” probably a form of malaria. Land agent Charles Williamson laid out the new village on the high ground; today’s Pulteney Park was the central business district, with homes down Main Street and nearby. The bottom land was occupied by warehouses and less-affluent citizens.

The lake was a major transportation route from the 1790s until the early 20th century. Lake schooners and steamboats carried produce and goods from around the lake to Geneva, which became an inland port when the Erie Canal was completed in 1825. (The Seneca-Cayuga Canal was in operation prior to 1825.) Steamers hauled “gangs” of barges on the lake between the Seneca-Cayuga in the north and the Chemung Canal in the south.

Factories were always portrayed with smoking stacks; no smoke meant no work.
Commerce has always located near the best transportation routes. Factories and warehouses built docks along the downtown lakefront. Hotels, taverns, billiard rooms, and bordellos on Exchange Street served the lake and canal traffic. Until the 20th century, respectable businesses were located on upper Seneca and Castle Streets, away from the riff-raff.

In the 1950s, the lakefront was again valued as a transportation route, this time for a bypass around downtown. Almost a million tons of fill were used to expand the shoreline so Routes 5 & 20 could avoid local streets. Divided highways were laid out with a wide grassy median. The downtown lakefront had no perceived value until the 1980s when the roads were moved to the west, creating room for development.

The original arterial design, 1960s
This is a simplified history of the waterfront. A more complicated version includes a century-long debate about how to use the lakeshore closest to downtown. From 1916 to the 1950s, Lakeside Park, at the end of Castle Street, was a pleasant recreational site but it took eleven years of heated debate to be built. The Historical Society has blueprints, master plans, and recommendations for waterfront development dating back to 1935. They range from a mix of industry, retail, and recreation, to single-use options. New reports are added to our archives every few years.

This 1935 proposal for a park begins at Lake Street (far left). The eastern portion, not shown here, included ball fields and a marina, similar to what was finally built in the 1960s as Seneca Lake State Park.

I’ll refrain from giving an opinion on lakefront development; I’m one person, and this is a hot topic. I will say that the Historical Society is a great resource for anyone seeking the “long view” of the lakefront’s history. We have maps, photographs, postcards, and the aforementioned plans and studies. Geneva’s Changing Waterfront: 1779-1989 is out of print but used copies may be found in local stores and the Geneva Public Library should have a copy as well. (We are considering digitizing the book and offering on-demand copies in the future.)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"Kid" Collectors

By Karen Osburn, Archivist and City Historian

A lot of things have brought childhood to my attention lately.  My friends have made me an “Honorary Aunt” several times and I find myself spending enjoyable time shopping in toy stores and book stores looking for the perfect gift for small friends.  I am not a woman who can’t wait to purchase that perfect little dress or cute little baseball uniform to dress the new niece or nephew in, but I am the person who can be counted on to purchase charming stuffed animals, favorite children's books, building blocks, puzzles, crayons, art supplies and (shudder) things that allow children to make their own noise!  You know drums, tambourines, whistles, harmonicas and xylophones.  I am not the aunt who purchases toys that need batteries or power supplies, toys that say “moo”, “neigh”, “meow” or that do the exploration for my young discoverers.  No, I am the aunt that grew up with books, many physical collections, and a real back yard swing set and teeter- tauter.  I am the aunt who discovers and collects!  Just ask my niece, Alicia, if you ever meet her.

Part of the joy of being a child, for me, was reading books that took me to many imaginary places filled with wondrous sights and sounds.  I could spend an entire rainy day solving a mystery with Trixie Belden, or on the back of a Black Stallion with Alex Ramsey, or being in a sunlit forest with Bambi, or even a space ship created by Robert Heinlein.  I loved books and started to ask “Santa” for them as soon as I could write my own letters to him.  I found out early that when you ask for books Santa is much less likely to bring you socks and underwear for Christmas.  I guess Santa is a fan of reading.  One of the many things I collected as a child was books.

It didn’t stop with books though.  We had a cottage on Lake Ontario when I was a child and walking the shoreline led to collections of interesting stones, interesting driftwood and colorful collections of “lake glass”.  My fate was sealed.  I would become a collector.

I also collected stuffed animals.  I will confess immediately to being an animal lover from my very first memories.  If it had fur, I loved it.  Of course many of my parent’s friends encouraged me with stuffed dogs, cats and mice, but my first love was bears!  My parents encouraged toilet training with the irresistible reward of a bear.  Bears came home with my father from hunting camp; he said he found them hiding in trees begging to come home and eat cookies with me. Very large carnival bears came from my teenage cousin who managed to win them at games of skill (he must have been between girlfriends that year).  Then, of course, there were the dogs that came home in lunch pails and stuffed rabbits at Easter. 

I am sure you see where this is going.  As a child I not only had a book collection and collections of interesting lake debris, but a stuffed animal collection.

These collections were quickly followed by a new love….HORSES!  How could I read the Black Stallion and not love horses?  I received my first model horse for “being good” when I got my tonsils out.  It was a Hartland black and white pinto with Cochise as the rider.  Cochise was kept in pristine condition, untouched, while I played with his horse so often and so intently that I broke the poor thing’s front leg off.  My father fixed the leg and we embarked on a journey of fix, rebreak and repeat, fix, rebreak and repeat that continued until the small equine figure vanished.  It was about this time I discovered Breyer Horses.  A company now in business more than 50 years, they made beautiful “plastic” horses.  My first Breyers were and appaloosa mare and foal followed, as rapidly as I could manage, by others.  My parents were not as enthused with this collection.  It required dusting and took up space, something at a premium in our small house so they were more than a bit discouraging every time I tried to add another horse to the “stable”, but lucky for me my mother’s friend “Grandma Roberts” sent me horses for every birthday and Christmas holiday.  I keep and treasure those horses today.

Anyway, fast forward to this moment.  Do I still collect?  Of course!  I am an archivist and a museum worker by avocation and inclination!  I still collect books today, some of which remain from my childhood; and bears, stuffed, carved and painted create a diorama on my 2nd floor landing; Breyer Horses fill shelf after shelf in my home jostling agreeably for shelf space with my books ; of course there is Native American pottery, rugs and baskets; then there are fossils; interesting shells and stones; and finally (I can’t be too sure about that though) beads with which I create items I hope others will want to add to their collections of jewelry. 

By now you might be wondering what the point of this article is.  My “Kid Collections” led me to a career, a lifetime of learning and discovery, helped me form friendships with people in various walks of life I may not have otherwise met, and given me endless hours of fascination.  I support encouraging children develop interests and hobbies that lead them to curiosity, creativity and inspire lifelong learning.  Collections can lead to research, discovery and inspiration that will at least make life more satisfying even if it doesn’t make one materially rich.  This may sound obvious, yet everyday legislators, tax payers, and bureaucrats question the value of informal education.  Just think how desolate life might be without libraries, museums and the arts.  Think of the topics that fascinate you and where you might go to learn about them if we didn’t have institutions that are a part of the informal education network.  Imagine saying, “I’m bored, there is NOTHING to do” because there is nothing to do!  Help a child start a collection today!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Shop Till You Drop!

An essential ingredient to any museum is a gift shop.  The opening of Rose Hill Mansion this week also means that the Carriage House Gift Ship is open and ready for business!

We carry a variety of items, including several locally made products.  For foodies there is Arbor Hill wine preserves and grape twists; squash sweet oils and roasted pumpkin seeds from Wholehearted Foods; Woodstead’s Hot Anything and Everything Sauce; and maple syrup from Day Brother’s Farm.  From Seneca Ceramics in Phelps there are ceramic bread warmers and trivets, and handmade soaps from Wick-edly Sent Soap and Candle Co in Canandaigua.  Kids of all ages will enjoy ball and cup, Jacob’s ladder and other old fashioned games.  For history lovers we have local history books and reproduction cook books.  You  can also take home a piece of the Geneva Historical Society with Rose Hill bottle stoppers or matted reproductions of Andes traded cards.  Coming soon are Rose Hill Mansion ornaments.  And, of course, there’s our sale corner.

Located in the Rose Hill Mansion Visitor Center, the Carriage House Gift Ship is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm.  And members of the Geneva Historical Society get 10% off their purchases.