Friday, August 30, 2013

Early Food Preservation in the Finger Lakes

By Anne Dealy, Director of Education and Public Information

Living in the Finger Lakes, it is impossible to miss the recent emphasis on fresh, local, organic produce. People today examine and question what they put into their bodies. It is an important element of the Finger Lakes region’s tourism business. Of course, this is a problem that comes only when you have choices about what to eat and, in the United States at least, often an unlimited supply of things to eat. For most of human history, the problem of food was ensuring you had enough to survive. Preserving food when it was available was essential to surviving the long months of winter when it was scarce. Traditional methods of preserving include drying; salting; pickling in vinegar; smoking; fermenting; preserving milk products by making butter and cheese; and preserving in sugar. More recently, canning, refrigeration and freezing were added to the mix.
The first people in the Finger Lakes to deal with the problem of preserving food were the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois: the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk and Tuscarora. They and their ancestors adapted to the lake environment over thousands of years. They cultivated crops, foraged for wild plants, and hunted and fished wild game. The primary crops they depended on were the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash. Native peoples gathered blueberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries and blackberries. The corn they relied on was not the sweet corn we love today, but a starchy white corn that could be dried for soups or ground into meal. Once dry, it was stored in granaries, like the large palisaded fort that was at Ganondagan [link to] in the 17th century. From there it could be transported or traded. Fish and game were plentiful, including salmon, deer, bison, turkey and other wildfowl. Most of these foods were preserved by drying over a fire or by the sun and wind. Dried strips of meat were pounded to shreds and then mixed with melted fat or lard, a small amount of bone marrow, and some dried fruit to make a long-lasting food that was easy to carry. Called pemmican, European explorers and frontiersmen adopted this Native food to sustain them on long trips.
White corn grown as part of the Ganondagan State Historic Site White Corn Project

Most of the earliest non-Native settlers were from New England towns. They had no experience living off the land and wanted to reshape the environment to reflect their values and culture. This meant taming the wilderness with neat houses, fenced livestock, and fields of cultivated wheat. In 1852, Orsamus Turner interviewed some of the remaining pioneers and wrote the History of the Phelps and Gorham Purchase and the History of the Holland Land Purchase to chronicle their efforts to transform Western New York. His books include stories of privation and near starvation in the 1790s as these families traveled to settle newly purchased land. Many immigrants underestimated the provisions needed to survive the journey from settled parts of the state. One New England family arrived in March at Colonel Seth Reed’s house in Geneva, “destitute of provisions.” All Reed had to share with them was one loaf of bread. Fortunately for them, a ship arrived that afternoon supplied with flour, which they purchased for the remainder of their journey. Salt pork and corn meal were the basis of a limited diet supplemented by whatever wild foods could be found or hunted. When Nicholas Stansell’s family ran out of supplies in Lyons, they bought corn from the Onondaga and relied for food on their cow’s milk, forest greens, and the abundant venison and fish they caught.

These settlers brought traditional English food preferences with them. This meant meals of boiled or roasted meat, soups or stews, boiled vegetables, pickles, porridges, pies, puddings, breads, and cakes. With poor transportation and no ready sources of salt, sugar or vinegar, most of these dishes were impossible to make in the earliest settlements. Women accustomed to using fireplaces and bake ovens to prepare food had to learn to cook over an open fire with limited ingredients. Salt and other supplies had to be conveyed west in Durham boats or bateaux, boats shallow enough to navigate the rivers and streams of the Finger Lakes and light enough to carry between navigable waters. It could take weeks or months to get supplies from Schenectady to Lyons or up the Susquehanna to Seneca Lake and Geneva. Then it was days more for a man to get his purchases from these outposts back home.

Durham boats were used on New York’s inland waters until the canal era began in 1817.

The first crops most families started were grain crops that would supply bread and porridge.  Storage crops of beans, potatoes and turnips would also have been among the first planted. Some men visited their land and planted grains, hoping to have a crop to harvest when they returned with their families. Others cleared enough land to build a rude shelter and plant corn and potatoes anywhere the sun could reach. The first livestock brought to the area were oxen to clear and plow the land, cows for milk, and hogs for meat. Pigs could be left to roam the woods and feed themselves, and then hunted for food. Cows’ milk carried families through lean times and could be preserved by making butter or cheese, even in difficult circumstances. One early immigrant made her cheese on a tree stump, using a stone for her press. Another woman with an outdoor press lost her cheese to a bear.

Instructions for drying fish and beef appeared in cookbooks like the 1798 American Cookery and 1838 Virginia Housewife.

Drying was probably the first and easiest method of preserving food because it could be done with as little as fire, wind or sun. Grains and legumes could be easily stored if kept dry, while fruits, vegetables, meat and fish required more attention. Once transportation became a bit more reliable and salt and vinegar were readily available, families would brine their meat and pickle vegetables to preserve them. Meat had to be rubbed in every crevice with salt and packed in a tub of salt for 10 days. Then it would be put into a barrel of brine. Cookbook author Mary Randolph’s recommendation was 15 quarts of salt to 15 gallons of water to one pound of saltpeter. Then before cooking, the meat had to be soaked for a day to release the salt and make it tolerable to eat.

By the first decade of the 1800s, the earliest homesteads began to resemble the third stage of settlement illustrated in Turner’s History of the Holland Land Purchase. The forest is seen only in the distance and a frame house stands next to the old pioneer cabin. Fences enclose the yards and sheds and a barn protect the livestock. An extensive garden is planted next to the house, while the corn grows neatly in the field and a small orchard is laid out to provide more fresh food and greater opportunities for preserving it.

Turner’s History of the Holland Land Purchase includes illustrations of farms through four stages of development in Western New York.

By this time, 1791 traveler Elkanah Watson’s vision was being realized of the day “when the waters of this lake will be stripped of nature’s livery and in its place ruck [zig-zag] enclosures, pleasant villas, numerous flocks, herds, etc., and inhabited by a happy race of people enjoying the rich fruits of their own labors, and the luxury of sweet liberty and independence approaching to a millennial state.”


Mary Randolph. The Virginia Housewife

Amelia Simmons. American Cookery

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An Officer and an Artist

By Alice Askins, Site Manager for Rose Hill Mansion 

Waldo Hutchins

J. George Stacey Jr. painted the portraits of Waldo Hutchins and Margaret Hutchins that currently hang in the Music Room at Rose Hill.  When I looked for more information about George Stacey, I found that he was a versatile and busy man.

Born in 1863 on the family farm in Fayette, east of Rose Hill, George spent his adult life in Geneva.  As a boy he showed artistic talent and the Historical Society owns one of his boyhood sketchbooks.  Though George had an eye for the details of everyday life, his favorite subjects  were weapons and fighting.  In 1881, the Geneva Advertiser reported that “Mr. J. George Stacey of Geneva will attend the State shoot in June, being one of the best shots in the Seneca Gun Club of Waterloo.”  The previous year he had enlisted in the Folger Corps, a militia unit that became part of the NY National Guard in 1880.  By 1887, he was Quartermaster of the 34th Separate Company, which had evolved from the Folger Corps. 
Childhood Sketch

George graduated from Hobart College in 1886.   Four years later the Advertiser ran a notice that Charles Burrall had taken J. George Stacey Jr. as his partner in E. J. Burrall & Son Insurance.  (The Stacey and Burrall families were related.)  One can picture George in the ‘90s, working with his cousin and spending a lot of time at the armory moving up the ranks.  In May 1898, the 34th was mustered into the army for the Spanish-American War, and among the officers was Captain J. George Stacey Jr.  The 34th went to Camp Alger in Virginia, but never saw action.  By August, George had typhoid fever and was not expected to live.  His fiancĂ©e, Bessie Langdon, rushed to his side for what everyone thought was a deathbed wedding.  Fortunately, George pulled through; the newspapers found this “Romantic.”  

Once home, George continued his work with the National Guard, but professional he seems to have switched from insurance to plumbing.  In March of 1901 he put a notice in the Daily Times, announcing that he had dissolved his partnership with Dorchester and Rose, in a steam fitting and plumbing business and from now on, Stacey would do plumbing by himself.  In August 1902, he bid $2,640 on the plumbing contract for the YMCA building.  As it turned out, nobody got the contract – the YMCA decided they did not have the money for plumbing after all.  In April of 1904, the Times reported that Stacey had won the contract for the installation of sewer and water connections in the Geneva streets that were to be paved that year.  Shortly after, George took the Master Plumber exam.  In 1905 he started running an ad in the Times:  “IF YOU ARE GOING TO BUILD THIS SPRING, ask J. George Stacey to bid on your Plumbing, Heating, and Ventilating.  You will not only get a fair price, but also some valuable ideas.”

Margaret Hutchins

While building his plumbing business, George continued to be active in the community.  He helped organize the yacht club in the late 1890s.  When he attended the first meeting of the new Chamber of Commerce in 1902 - he was asked to speak, but refused because he was unprepared.  Also in 1902, the Daily Times said he was the probable Republican nominee for President of the Common Council, though apparently he never took that office.  For the rest of his life, he held such honorary appointments as Grand Marshal of the Military and Industrial Parade (July 4, 1910,) judge at the Fireman’s Parade (August 1914,) and one of the committee considering a new proposal for a veteran’s memorial in Pulteney Park (1937).

For several years Captain Stacey ran the 34th .    He was not afraid to try new ideas.  In 1901 he replaced the glaring arc lamps in the armory drill shed, with softer gas lamps, which he considered a qualified success.  He thought about installing a swimming pool in the armory, and traveled to New York City to find out about options and costs.  This plan seems not to have worked out.  In 1902, George allowed a businessmen’s gym class to use the drill room on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoons.  The police also arranged to use the gym and shooting range at the armory. 

The Times reported that Captain Stacey was President of delinquency court where members of the 34th had to answer for unexcused absences from parades and drills, and for being behind in their dues.  In November of 1902, 60 guardsmen were summoned to the court; “Capt. Stacey. . .Was Lenient With the Militiamen.”  The fines levied were nominal, and many of the excuses “ludicrous.”  Sadly, the paper did not report the excuses in detail.  The Times did note that one of the men called Stacey on the phone, “and pleaded guilty by wire.”

Self-Portrait, ca. 1924

In 1904, George resigned from the Guard.  With the demands of his business, he could not give the 34th Separate Company the time it required.  His resignation must have been temporary, though – in 1913, The Syracuse Herald announced that Captain Stacey was retiring after 26 years of service.  He believed a younger person should take up the burden of Captain of the company.  At this point he received the brevet (temporary) rank of Major.  During World War I George trained the high school cadets from Geneva, Waterloo, Seneca Falls, Phelps, and Ovid.  For this work, he received the full rank of Major, though he preferred to be called Captain.

It is safe to assume that while he was in the middle of two careers, plus fatherhood and public service, George had little time for art.  Warren Hunting Smith tells us, in Gentle Enthusiasts, that George returned to it increasingly in his 50s.  Mrs. Stacey and her sister had inherited a Gothic Revival house on Jay Street, and George had a studio in the barn.  His works were exhibited and sold locally, and sometimes received commissions for portraits.  (Smith says that his portraits of men were commissioned, but his portraits of women were for fun.)  He studied at the Art Students’ League in New York, and spent a summer at an art colony at Provincetown in the 1920s.  Though best known for his portraits, George also produced a few still lifes.   In 1927 one of his still lifes, a study of Japanese vases and oriental rugs, won a prize in an art show in Rochester in 1927.  Hallett Burrall Jr. remembered his cousin George paying him ten cents an hour in 1932 to sit for his portrait.  Hallett could not sit still for more than an hour, so the portrait took most of the summer to finish.  Warren Hunting Smith tells us that a visiting architect thought Stacey painted with much of John Singer Sergeant’s bravura – a compliment that may have pleased Stacey more because of the military echoes of the name.


J. George Stacey died in 1951, leaving behind an admirable record of useful energy and creativity.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Geneva's History On Facebook

By John Marks, Curator of Collections

Last fall we claimed a Facebook page for ourselves and I began posting old photos of Geneva. It started off slowly – the key to building a following is posting something every day – but at this writing we have 724 “likes” and have an average of 4,000 unique visits a week.

It’s a lot of work to gather information about people who visit our museum, but with social media, the work is done for us. Facebook tracks statistics on all the people who visit our page (and this is why many people are uncomfortable with the Internet).
We have more women than men, about 65% to 35%. Agewise, it’s a classic bell curve with 45 to 54 year olds in the center. The next two largest groups are 35 to 44 year olds, and 55 to 64 year olds. Our biggest audiences are in Geneva and surrounding towns and cities, but we also have followers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Italy, Turkey, and India.

I don’t have a system for selecting photographs. I began with images that were already scanned and on my computer. While many were from the 1870s, I included scenes from the 1940s and 50s. I also recognized that not everyone has the same interests and tried to appeal to a wide audience. And I’ve resorted to letting my nine year old son pick photos (more on that in a moment).

Facebook is like high school: if you become a little popular, you want to become more popular. At first I was thrilled with 200 people clicking on a photo, then I wanted more numbers. People liked photos of bars (Cosie’s) and bands (Wilmer and the Dukes, the Echomen). They also like food; the lunch counter at McCurdy’s, and Pronti’s restaurant each had well over 2,000 views.

Cosie’s, officially Sam’s Bar & Grill, early 2000s

My son came to work with me recently and wanted a project. I handed him a three-ring binder full of slides and told him to pick some that I should post. He chose Kmart and Pudgie’s Pizza. I didn’t think they were special but, humoring the lad, I put them on. Kmart generated over 2,500 views, 150 likes, and about 50 comments; Pudgies Pizza did almost as well.

Kmart in the Pyramid Mall, Routes 5 & 20
After a few months, people began writing me with requests, which I fill if I can. A “white whale” is a bar owned by the Venuti family on the corner of Railroad Place and Wadsworth Street known as “the Old Man’s.” I’ve had many requests but can’t find an image. One woman pointed out the lack of people of color in my photos, and I’ve addressed that, although they are underrepresented in our collection. Another said she was born in 1970 and, while she enjoyed all the photos, she’d like to see more when she was growing up. Apparently she wasn’t alone, as shown by the thousands of people who remember Kmart and Pudgies’ in the 1970s.

Baseball club from the High Street neighborhood
Posting these photos achieve several things at once. It gets our collection out into the world. It creates interest in the historical society. It also starts conversations and connects people. The best photos are the ones that make people share memories, then they go off-topic (which is a good thing), then they see that a high school friend left a comment and begin reminiscing with each other.

We all have aspects of our jobs that aren’t what we signed up for, such as paperwork or committee meetings. Selecting a Facebook photo is the best ten minutes of my day because it’s exactly why I wanted to work in a museum – to make history accessible and personal and to spark conversation.

If you, or a family member, have a Facebook account, search on Geneva Historical Society to find our page. You can see everything we have posted so far, and click “Like” to receive updates.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Balmanno Cottage Closing Friday, August 23

Balmanno Cottage, 583 South Main Street in Geneva, will be closing t0 the public permanently on Friday, August 23.

In her will Mrs. Blanchard Walker left her house and the vast majority of its contents to the Historical Society.  As part of the bequest she wanted to establish her husband’s collection of 18th and 19th century American furniture and decorative arts as a memorial to him.    These objects became the William Walker Memorial Collection.  Since the death of Mrs. Walker in 1997 Balmanno Cottage has housed this collection and the other household furnishings.   Mrs. Walker also provided a modest endowment for the house and its contents, but she recognized the potential burden of maintaining it. (We already owned three historic properties.) She stipulated that if we were no longer able to maintain the house, we could sell it but we must display and care for the William Walker Collection.

With few changes since the Walkers moved there in the late 1950s, Balmanno Cottage is virtually a time capsule.   We developed interpretation which highlighted Mrs. Walker’s life, as well as the house’s furnishings.   The house was part of Annual Tour of Homes, and occasionally used for holiday open houses. For a number of years we hired guides to have the house open for drop-in visits on weekends in July and August. Though visitors were enthusiastic, the overall numbers remained low.

In May, for a variety of reasons, the Board of Trustees voted to sell Balmanno Cottage. While we develop a plan for the permanent location of the Walker Collection, the collection will be temporarily moved to Geneva History Museum (Prouty-Chew House).  Portions of the collection will be on display there in the two period rooms, and the remainder will be placed in collections storage.  Not all the contents in Balmanno Cottage are part of the Walker Collection.  Objects with significance to Geneva will become part of our permanent collection. The other household contents (non-collection furniture, lamps, rugs, dishes, etc.) will be publicly auctioned at Hessney’s on November 6. Proceeds from all sales will be directed towards collections care, such as storage shelves and creating a new display area.

Mrs. Walker wanted the Walker Collection maintained as a memorial to her husband and on display for the general public.  We believe we are fulfilling her wishes to the best of our ability.

Balmanno Cottage is currently open Monday through Friday, 9-5 p.m. by appointment only. To visit the house before August 23, please call the Geneva Historical Society office at 315-789-5151.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Stain Removal, Now and Then

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

The other day I was eating some cherries for lunch and a particularly juicy one squirted on my shirt.  My shirt was red, but the cherries were almost purple and left some spots on a favorite piece of clothing.  As I was berating myself for not having a stain stick or Tide pen with me to take care of the stain the question crossed my mind, “how did people handle stains in the days before colorfast bleach, Stain Stick, Tide Pens and laundry detergent”?  I remember my mother telling me to use cold water for chocolate and blood and hot water for any type of fruit stain, but how did people in the 1880s handle mud, grass stains, manure, blood from slaughtering, bear grease, goose grease etc.?  We have the books on hand so I thought I would do a bit of research to see what the experts of the 19th century suggested.

The first source I reviewed was The American Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy, written by Lydia Maria Child in 1833.  The author lists several remedies for stains, one dealing with ink spots.  She recommends soaking the spot in milk before the ink has a chance to dry.  If the ink is already dry she instructs you to rub table salt on it and drop lemon juice upon the salt.  For grease spots she gives a recipe of magnesia rubbed upon the spot, then covered with clean paper, and followed by a warm iron placed above (on?) the paper.  This is supposed to draw the grease out, though she does say that where a large amount of oil has been spilled it will be necessary to repeat the operation several times.

She devotes two pages to dye-stuffs for various colors, which made me wonder if stains were not considered as much of a problem as they are today.

Another book I consulted was Common Sense in the Household: A manual of Practical Housewifery, by Marion Harland, published in 1874.  Ms. Harland has many suggestions on how to clean clothes from woolens, to silk, to “Doubtful Calicoes”.  To remove grease spots from silk she offers the method of scraping Venetian of French Chalk and moistening it to a stiff paste with soap-suds, making that mixture into cakes and pressing them between two boards and drying them in the sun or an oven. 

Once you have a spot of grease on your dress, take a cake and scrape it to powder to cover the spot.  Then lay the silk on a clean linen or cotton cloth and cover the chalk powder with two or three layers of tissue paper and press it with a hot iron for a minute or more, being careful the iron doesn’t touch the silk.  Finally lift the tissue and scrape off the grease with the chalk.

Marion Harland has instructions for restoring the pile of velvet, curling tumbled feathers, clean straw matting, washing lawn or thin muslin, woolens, white lace edging, black lace, cleaning cloth coats, putting away furs and woolens for the winter, cleaning very dirty black dresses, dealing with “iron mould” (rust), mildew, ink, acid or alkali  stains, and grease spots.  Marion’s recipe for removing grease spots called for boiling water, pulverized borax and gum camphor.  This was said to be excellent for removing grease from woolens.

Two different recipes, one from 1827 for removing grease spots and one from 1870s for removing acid stains, call for “hartshorn”, made from the horns of the male red deer.  This apparently had ammonia-like properties when properly prepared and could be used like a detergent. 

One book by Helen Campbell dated 1881, The Easiest Way in Housekeeping and Cooking, devotes pages to washing day.  It discusses everything from the clothesline, (rope should be brought in after every use so as not to become weather-stained and damage a garment), to fruit stains which should be treated with boiling water. Ms. Campbell suggests treating iron rust by spreading the garment in the sun, applying salt and lemon juice enough to wet the salt.  She also gives directions on how to wring the clothes, usually a mechanical wringer is recommended as opposed to hand wringing.  There is a mention of using butter to remove machine-oil, which is a puzzle, grease to remove grease? There is also the admonition never to rub soap directly on a stain as you will cause it to set.

No wonder one day of the week was usually set aside to do laundry in the 19th century.  The amount of preparation and knowledge one needed to tackle, what seems today to be quite an easy task, was formidable.  Remember there was seldom running water and no hot water heaters in the early to mid-1800s.  Water had to be carried in buckets and heated over a fire, and then there was pre-treatment of stains.

No, I know I would rather be dealing with stains and laundry today than over 100 years ago.  It is so easy to just treat a stain with a stick, or a spray and put the dirty clothes in a machine that washes and removes most of the water in one step.  I think I will just write myself a note to bring a stain stick to work and continue eating the fresh fruits of summer.

Friday, August 9, 2013

P.S. Wish You Were Here: A Brief History of Postcards

By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director

Just call me a deltiologist or simply a postcard collector.  For as long as I can remember postcards have been the “must have” items from any museum gift shop.   I’ve even started collecting antique postcards.  My favorites are night scenes.  And I’m not the only one.  Postcard collecting is one of the largest collectable hobbies.    My collecting got me curious about the history of postcards.

The first postcard turned out to be a practical joke.  In 1840 Englishman Thomas Hooke received a hand painted card in the mail.  It seems that Hooke actually sent the card to himself as the card was caricature of postal workers.  In 1873 the Post Office issued pre-stamped penny postal cards.  An easy and convenient way to send a note, the front of a postal card was blank for messages and the back was reserved for the address.  At the time only the Post Office was allowed to print postcards.  Though expensive, private printers and publishers would purchase the cards and print images on the front.  This quickly became a popular method to advertise businesses and hotels.  In fact, the first souvenir postcards were actually printed ads for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Five years after the Columbian Exposition, Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act.  Under the act, private printers and publishers were allowed to create and distribute their own postcards.  However, the cards could not be called postcards.  Instead, they were called souvenir cards and “Private Mailing Card” was printed on the back of each card.  (In 1901 the ban was lifted and private companies could call their cards postcards.)

One can even divide postcards into different eras, which aids in dating them.  1898 to 1901 is called the “Private Mailing Card” Era and 1901 to 1907 is called the “Undivided Back” Era.  Until 1907 messages were not permitted by law on the address side of any postcard.   A small space for a brief message was reserved on the front under the image.  

Beginning in 1907 postcards began to have divided backs.  The entire front was reserved for an image while the left side on the back was reserved for a message and the right side for the address.  The “Divided Back” Era (1907-1915) is also considered the Golden Age of postcards.  During this time postcards served a variety of purposes - mementos of vacations, business ads, greeting cards for the holidays, a way to chronicle community events and the list goes on. In 1909, 969 million cards were sent in the United States!    Collecting postcards as a hobby skyrocketed.  To encourage collecting, companies produced numbered series and special postcard albums.  The postcard industry also led to several inventions.     To more effectively display postcards, E.I. Dial invented a revolving steel rack.  Dial’s invention led to racks for books, magazines, comics, greeting cards and sheet music.  The Eastman Kodak Company even developed a “postcard” camera that produced postcard size negatives. 

During the “White Border” Era (1915-1930), the front image was surrounded by a white border.  

In the “Linen Card” Era (1930s -1950s) postcards were printed on linen paper stock that gave them a textured feel.   Since 1939, postcards have been in the “Chrome” Era (colored photographs with a glossy appearance).

Next time you’re in an antique shop, take a look at the back of some postcards and see what you will find.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Community Day at Rose Hill

Join us on Saturday, August 10 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for Community Day at Rose Hill Mansion.  Tour guides will be stationed throughout the house and visitors can walk through the house free of charge.  Along with touring the house, visitors can try old-fashioned games, make a craft to take home, or go on a scavenger hunt.  Lemonade and cookies will also be served on the grounds.  In  the Carriage House Gift Shop author Pat Gorthy will be signing copies of her children's book, Peppermint Summer.  Copies of Peppermint Summer will be available for purchase in the Gift Shop.

Community Day is free and open to the public.  Support for the even is provided by the Delavan Foundation.