Thursday, October 31, 2013

Food Preservation: From Home to Factory

By Anne Dealy, Director of Education and Public Information

By the 1820s many Finger Lakes settlements were well established. In town, supplies would arrive with some regularity. Water transportation routes had been improved, and Indian trails had been widened and turned into turnpikes that ran regular stagecoaches. Geneva grew quickly in part because Seneca Lake and the Seneca River were navigable for most, if not all, of the year. By 1821 Geneva grocers were regularly offering imported goods like fresh lemons and limes, pimentos, coffee, tea, rum, molasses, sugar, wine, gin, raisins and chocolate. Trade was well under way, but exploded with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. Not only could farmers finally sell their produce to larger markets, far more goods could be brought into the communities along the canal system. As historian Carol Sherriff details in her book The Artificial River, the arrival of fresh oysters in western New York shops was a symbol of the progress achieved by its construction.

Ad for Geneva grocery store, 1824

As goods became more plentiful and trade more reliable, families that had ready cash or goods to trade no longer had to grow or preserve all their own food. Many farmers like Robert Swan and John Johnston had smokehouses for producing hams and other preserved meats. Some of this meat may have been sold to grocers in town. Living on South Main Street in 1847, banker William Sill’s wife recorded purchases of beef, fish, veal, mutton and occasionally poultry from butcher H. H. Merrell. Purchases included salt salmon and smoked beef. Mrs. Sill also bought large quantities of salt and vinegar, so she or her servants may have been preserving some of their meat at home. Cornelia Bogart Grosvenor, the wife of a Geneva lawyer, recorded dozens of hand-written recipes in a notebook, from her 1827 marriage to her death in 1886. She kept recipes for pickled oysters, preserved watermelon, fruit marmalade, lemon jelly, pickle for 100 pounds of ham, and H. H. Merrell’s recipe for the “Celebrated Method of Curing Beef in Tunis.”

 Mrs. Sill tracked her expenditures in this ledger in 1847

In 1809, French chef Nicholas Appert discovered that boiling food in a sealed bottle kept it from spoiling. By 1823 New Yorker, Thomas Kensett, had secured the first patent for the tin can, which provided a cheaper and stronger container for preserving food using Appert's method. The first foods to be preserved were highly perishable fish, and expensive cans of salmon and lobster were luxuries not available to most families. After the development of the Mason jar in 1858, women at home could also easily use this method to preserve food.  Just two years later, Genevan Adelaide Prouty complained about these advances in preservation:
Bottling fruit the new fashioned way. Oh for the simple ways and plain living of olden times, when plain dinners and a few dishes were enough for the wants of a family. But now look at it–Soups, fish, meats, vegetables, puddings, pies, fruits, ices. And then the preparation for tomatoes. Fruits bottled, canned & dried, pickled, preserved & brandied. Vegetables, put up green, ripe & in every stage. It is enough to make the fall a season to be dreaded and a housekeeper's life one of drudgery & weariness.

As reliable supplies of food became normal and standards of living rose, expectations rose as well. Women who could, were expected to provide more variety in their family's meals. The new methods of preservation enabled greater consumption and became status symbols. Ironically, the hard work of preserving food for survival was transformed to hard work for the sake of conspicuous consumption.

Adelaide Prouty, c. 1855
The government's need for cheap, transportable, spoilage-resistant food during the Civil War proved a boon to the canning industry. Soldiers all over the country came back from war with a taste for canned pork and beans, and the industry exploded. By the 1880s, grocers routinely advertised canned goods like baked beans, corn, tomatoes, and canned fish.

Even canned goods were still seasonal in the 1880s.

In 1889 the Geneva Preserving Company started canning produce from area farms and distributing their products across the country. In the first years, a few thousand cans were produced each year. Production was time-consuming because cans were handmade, and most fruits and vegetables had to be processed by hand. Twenty-two years later, the manager of the company reported that they were growing produce on 300 acres of land, using machines to process produce, and handling 500 cans a day. Their business amounted to half a million dollars in 1911.

Businesses like the Geneva Preserving Company moved food preservation to the factory in the late 1800s.

Despite advances in factory canning, many people continued to preserve their own food. Farm families still preserved food for sale in markets. Cornell Cooperative Extension distributed information leaflets in the early 20th century explaining the process for preserving food safely for home consumption or sale. Home preservation regained importance during the World Wars, as canning facilities were converted to war time production and canned goods were reserved for the military. 

Bulletins were issued by the Cooperative Extension on home canning and preservation, as well as wartime food substitution

Innovation combined with continuing improvements in living standards in the 20th century to make home food preservation a lifestyle choice, rather than a necessity. Technological and social changes made electricity, refrigerators and stoves necessities for a household, rather than options. Frozen foods, TV dinners and convenience foods became accessible to the average family. Cooking, much less home food preservation, became something of a lost art. Low-cost fast food and convenience food have again transformed American households, apparently making cooking itself a luxury activity. According to one poll in 2010, only 41% of American adults cook five or more times a week and 11% never cook. At the same time, locally-sourced, organic, and homemade products have been transformed into high-end items for "foodies," while governments and social welfare organizations consider ways to get the poor to consume more healthy, fresh food. History may simply prove that only change is inevitable.


Chicago Tribune Eating & Dining Staff.  The Stew Blog

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


By Alice Askins, Site Manager at Rose Hill

The game of croquet was wildly popular in the 1860s and early 1870s.  It was  popular that it figured (in fantasy form) in Alice in Wonderland, published in 1865.  The craze began in Britain and soon spread to other English-speaking countries.  However, the origin of croquet is cloudy.  According to Wikipedia, the game derives from ground billiards, popular in Western Europe since the 14th century, with roots in classical antiquity.

By the late 1870s, croquet had been largely replaced by another fashionable game, tennis.   Many of the newly-created croquet clubs, including the All England club at Wimbledon, converted some or all of their lawns into tennis courts. There was a croquet revival in the 1890s, and again between the 1920s and 40s.  In the latter period, croquet was a favorite pastime of famous entertainment and literary figures. Harpo Marx, for example, talked about an extreme form of the game in his autobiography.  Extreme croquet is still with us – a variation distinguished by adventurous conditions of play.

Backyard croquet has maintained a presence in the United States America for over a hundred and forty years, as the ideal complement of garden parties, family gatherings, outdoor fund-raisers, and picnics.  There is a U. S. Croquet Association, and there are several Extreme Croquet groups.

I have not found any references to croquet in Geneva newspapers from the 1860s, but in September of 1868, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle said, ‘People brag of croquet as a successful new amusement—"It brings young people together, you know.”’  Bringing young people together, while frowned on by some, was significant.  Croquet was one of the first outdoor games that men and women played together, and it gave them opportunities to talk together in relative privacy.  The local papers carried several stories and poems about romance among the wickets – some humorous, some serious.  As the Courier put it in April of 1877, “The proprietors of croquet grounds are preparing for the spring and summer . . . and many will be . . . the matches made.”  Matches made, as opposed to matches played, is a reference to courtship.

Croquet, though, had its dark side.  Women were widely assumed to cheat by moving the balls under their skirts.  In 1875, the Geneva Gazette printed a fictional story of a devoted married couple who got into a terrible argument over the game; it ended with the wife telling her husband to shove his mallet down his throat and choke on it.  The Gazette referred in 1899 to croquet’s “devastating effect on the temper, its known tendency to break up happy homes and destroy the friendships of years.         . . . the rules are numerous, and new points are continually coming up, so that interested players often discuss the rules and dispute the interpretation with as much vehemence as baseball players in their quarrels with the umpires.”
As the Daily Times explained it in 1899, “Students of human nature can get a great deal of quiet pleasure out of the game.  The honest and dishonest natures will assert themselves, just as surely as in poker.  The quarrelsome and peaceful dispositions also show themselves.  One cannot always tell on the croquet field whom to marry, but it is not hard to tell whom one should not marry.”

The Oswego Daily Times tells us in 1873 about the Moral Discipline of Croquet.  “[Croquet] is a severe test of Christian principle . . . a rare test of character.  We have played with men whose high position warranted us in expecting the utmost honorableness and fair dealing.  But croquet was too great a strain upon their moral natures – the weakness of their characters revealed itself.  We remember a college president who could not help stopping his ball in the most accidental fashion when it was likely to roll too far.  We know fair ladies who, in a closely-contested game, always happen to dislocate their balls with their dress skirts, who then claim every advantage in replacing them.  What shall we say of such people?  That their honesty of character will not stand croquet – will not stand any of the severe tests to which the emulations of life subject them.”   

Despite the moral pitfalls, people continued to play croquet.  Even in the 1880s, when the game is supposed to have been in temporary eclipse, we find an advertisement in the Geneva Advertiser (May 1887) for Winnie’s China Hall at 204 Exchange Street selling croquet sets.  It was, after all, also “a game for all ages, and an enthusiast of rising eighty may play all day with an amateur of eight.”  (Geneva Gazette August 4, 1899)  The definitive word on the subject came early.  In 1878 the Courier printed an account of a trip from Geneva to the Antrim coal mines in Tioga County - “For a little the Tioga river bears us company, and then we leave it to ascend the long ridge that lies between us and Antrim.  . . .The country grows rougher . . . the buildings are rude and unpainted; yet the inhabitants are not uncivilized.  They play croquet.”

Friday, October 25, 2013


By Karen Osburn, Archivist

Old Canal Area at the Lakefront

You hear a lot nowadays about landfills, recycling, garbage and waste.  There are advertisements on the radio for recycling, letters to the editors about landfills, and exhibits, displays, and housing projects built around recycling.  Many people don’t care for the idea of garbage, their own or others, near their home.  There are concerns about smells, ground water contaminants, air pollution, and excessive traffic caused by garbage trucks.  There is no doubt that our disposable society generates a tremendous amount of waste and people seldom agree on how to dispose of garbage. 

In the more recent past, 50 or more years ago, we practiced a lot of recycling without even thinking about it.  The milk man delivered milk, eggs, butter and cream.  The milk and cream came in refillable glass bottles.  What soda pop there was came in returnable bottles that you paid deposit on.  If something broke it was repaired.  Items purchased at the store did not come with so many layers of tamper proof packaging.  When clothes wore out they had a new “life” as cleaning rags.  If you outgrew your clothes or toys there were siblings, cousins or neighbors to inherit your hand-me-downs. I even knew a man who once went so far as mend a three dollar toilet brush.  The generation that survived the Great Depression often went to great extremes to recycle or reuse various objects.  So historically, how did we as individuals and Geneva as a city deal with waste, recycling and landfills?

If you go back hundreds of years, people had “middens” or garbage piles outside individual dwellings.  Some may have been by the back door of a dwelling or someplace at the back of the garden at least that is where archaeologists often find remains of items people discarded. Remember, folks were not throwing out as much as we do now.  Animal bones, broken crockery and odd bits were usually discarded there.  People burned what was burnable and used what was useable and if you were wealthy enough to just throw away whatever struck your fancy, there was almost always someone needy enough to “recycle” items from your rubbish pile. 

Even privies or outhouses ended up being the recipient of broken household goods.  You might be thinking “Eew! Gross!”, but archaeologists find the sites of middens, privies or anywhere people discarded bits and pieces of civilization helpful in recreating the way people lived, worked and played. 

Earthship  Bathroom

Reading the Village of Geneva trustee meeting minutes of the early 1800s is interesting because it shows the Village trustees beginning to officially comment on where and what people could “dump”.  As sometimes happens, different individuals have different notions of how fastidious their surroundings needed to be kept.  Eventually public health dictated that people cease throwing garbage in their back yards and required a public dumping place on the outskirts of the residential area.

The City of Geneva had a “dump” as did most municipalities.  In checking the Geneva Bureau of Public Works Reports for the year 1930 I found care of the dump listed under the Highway Department and found they had expended $1,388.19 on “Care of Dump”. Compared to what gets spent on landfills and trash pick-up today that is probably very inexpensive, but I suspect that in 1930 part of “Care of Dump” entailed hiring a care-taker to make sure that “bears”, stray dogs or kids didn’t overrun the place after closing. Today many municipalities have their landfills operated by outside contractors or the dump is owned and operated by companies like Casella in Ontario County or Seneca Meadows in Seneca County.  Garbage is now big business (it appears the Ontario County Landfill had a budget of around $600,000 as of 2012).

Earthship Recycled Construction

So where were the dumps in Geneva?  I had to do quite a bit of looking to find out.  Even after hours of reading Bureau of Public Works Reports and newspapers the best I can do is point to a general area in which the dump may have been.  For example, there is a mention in the 1898 BPW Report that Geneva purchased a stone crushing machine and placed it near the Washington Street dump.  Then in the September 7, 1957 issue of the Geneva Daily Times there is an article about the dump being overrun by rats, but it doesn’t even mention the location.  It didn’t need to, everyone in town knew.  The Geneva Daily Times states that the Board of Public Works quit burning the rubbish and the rat infestation increased.  Apparently rats dislike charred food, but the neighbors downwind from the dump disliked the smell of burning garbage and burning ceased.  I am not certain the neighbors won much in this case.

A earlier article from the January 11, 1957 Geneva Times states the location of the landfill was at the north end of Seneca Lake and east of Pre-Emption Street.  There was much discussion about where the City Common Council could find the amount of land necessary for a sanitary landfill.  The figures cited in the paper were 1 acre of land for every 10,000 people each year.  The population of Geneva at that time would require 2 acres of land per year so for a 20 year period 40 acres of vacant, unproductive land would be required, an amount that would be very difficult to acquire in densely populated city.  The discussion may have been more prolonged if the need to close the dump so the arterial could be built hadn’t arisen.  But, then the question of where to put the new dump arose.

Earthship Recycled Homes

By April 1959 both the City of Geneva and the Town of Geneva had new locations for their dumps.  The city contracted with Dominick Tantalo and Edward Kenny, two contractors from Waterloo to operate a dump about a mile north of the Ecko Plant, a division of Geneva Forge, in the town of Geneva.  Meanwhile, after a disagreement arose between the city and the town of use of the existing landfill, the town hired Sam Maio to run a land fill for them consisting of a dump, which was located on Gambee Rd near the railroad tracks and between Genesee St. and Lyons Rd.  Mr. Maio with received about $100 a month for care of this landfill.

By 1978 the County of Ontario Landfill was operational and more municipalities in the county were arranging to use that landfill since the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation passed new and stricter regulations for running landfills that were also more expensive for small towns and villages to meet.  Some towns developed “transfer stations” where you brought your garbage to the town station and paid a fee to leave it there.  Some cities contracted for garbage pick-up.  There doesn’t seem to be a solution to refuse handling that everyone agrees on.  Garbage remains a difficult subject in more ways than one. 

Note: This whole article came about because someone asked me where the old dump was; unfortunately I still can’t say precisely where it was placed. 

Washington Street Dump

Monday, October 21, 2013

Linden Street

John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

Linden Street gets short shrift when people think of downtown. It’s one block long, traffic only runs one way, and half of the eastern side of the street is a concrete wall. It’s a passage to somewhere else, and its only good quality is the drive-up letter boxes for the post office.

1890 insurance map of Linden Street, with west side on top.

Rubbish, I say. Geographically, Linden Street is the heart of downtown. While it hasn’t been extensively photographed, there are plenty of records of the street’s business activity. Sanborn fire insurance maps show both physical change over time – when buildings were erected, changed, or demolished – and change in use. The 1890 map shows manufacturing (Geneva Optical Works, a printing company), public protection (Hydrant Hose fire house at 217), and retail businesses. There were still a few houses (dwg. = dwelling) on the north end of the street as well.

This map shows a connection from 15 Linden Street to 28 Seneca Street. Funny story about that. In the 1880s, the owners of J.W. Smith Dry Goods owned both buildings and wanted to build a second-story connection. Village code forbade building a structure over driveways…so the Smiths did it in the middle of the night, and the village let it stay. (The story seems a little suspect – how much work can you get done in one night? – but it’s a good one.) J.W. Smith maintained a Linden Street storefront for decades; many people recall using it as a cut-through to Seneca Street, or vice-versa, in bad weather.

Color slide of the J.W. Smith storefront on Linden Street, around 1950s.

I won’t indulge in an address-by-address history of the street, but it’s always been active. C.S. Burrall Insurance Agency. Farmers & Merchants Bank (later Geneva Savings Bank). Joseph “Soufa” George’s shoe repair and hat cleaning. A variety of real estate and law offices.

[Natural foods store and shoe shining] A natural foods restaurant next to Soufa George’s shoe shining, both in the Fairfax Building near Castle Street

Linden Street has been, and is, a place to try different businesses. In the past, it has had the New Delhi Natural Food restaurant and juice bar, the Geneva Food Co-op, and Café Cabana, a Carribean-style restaurant. Now, the Geneva Savings Bank, long vacant, is a special events and arts space, and 38 Linden (once the office of Ontario Coal Company) is Microclimate Wine Bar.

“Quaint”, “side street”, “hidden” – call it what you will, but Linden Street has always been an important part of downtown Geneva.

Friday, October 18, 2013

School Days

School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days
"Reading and 'riting and 'ritmetic
Taught to the tune of the hick'ry stick

Did you go to school in Geneva?  Were you a teacher at a local school?  Join the  Geneva Historical Society and Geneva City School District for Community Conversations: Dialogues About Geneva History, on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 7 pm at the Geneva High School Library.

Following a brief overview of the history of schooling in Geneva, historical society staff will share some of the material from our collections related to Geneva's schools. We will then open up the conversation to questions and personal stories from the audience.

Community Conversations is an opportunity to learn and share so the public is welcome to attend and take part in the conversation. We also encourage participants to bring documents, photographs, or other materials related to Geneva’s schools to share. For more information about the program, call the Geneva Historical Society at 315-789-5151.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Relive History in the Dark: Flashlight Tours of Johnston House

Did you ever wonder what it was like to live before electric lights? How did people find their way around after dark? Do you enjoy the occasional, short-term bout without electricity? Do you like to "rough it"? Well, if you’d like to see the 1822 Johnston House by moonlight and flashlight, join the Geneva Historical Society on Saturday, October 19 for a special flashlight tour of the house.

Built by Scottish immigrants John and Margaret Johnston in 1822, the Johnston House originally sat on an important farm where John Johnston became well known for advocating better farming techniques. The Geneva Historical Society will offer a special family-friendly tour of the house from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tours will start about every 20 minutes, beginning at 6:30 p.m. There will be light refreshments available following the tour. The tour costs $5 per household. The program goes on regardless of weather, so dress appropriately. Bring your flashlight and relive history in the dark!

The Johnston House is located at 3523 East Lake Road, near Route 96A. For more information about this program, call the Geneva Historical Society at 315-789-5151.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Louisa May Alcott of Geneva: Sarah H. Bradford

By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director

For me one of the real pleasures in life is curling up with a good book.  Even better is “discovering” a new author.  Among the local authors I’ve “discovered” is Sarah H. Bradford.  Though Sarah wrote books, short stories, poetry, songs and articles, she is perhaps best known for writing the first biography of Harriet Tubman.
The youngest of seven children, Sarah Hopkins was born on August 20, 1818 in Moscow, New York.  Before coming to Geneva in the early 1830s, Sarah and her family lived in Mount Morris and Albany.  On May 18, 1839 Sarah married lawyer John Bradford (1813-1861).  The couple would eventually settle in a house on South Main Street and raise six children (Charles, William, Mary, John, Elizabeth, and Louisa).
In 1847 Sarah published her first story, “Amy, the Glass Blower’s Daughter.”  Though she would write both fiction and non-fiction, Sarah’s primary audience was children. Often written under the pen name Cousin Cicely, her children’s books were considered “Sunday school” books because they offered moral instruction. Perhaps Sarah’s most  successful children’s book was the Silver Lake series.  Written between 1852 and 1854, the series is a six volume set and each stand alone volume contains a collection a poems and short stories.  The Silver Lake series include The Budget, The Jumble, Ups and Downs, The Green Sachel, The Cornucopia and Aunt Patty’s Mirror.  

Sarah’s other children’s books include Lewie, or the Bended Twig; The Linton Family, or the Fashion of the World; Getting Well: Tales for Little Convalescents; Grandmama’s  Search or Tom Lost and Found; The Old Portfolio; The Dominie or Reminiscences of a Girl’s Life; Splendors and Miseries: A Life of Sir Sacheverill Stiwell; The History of Peter the Great; The Story of Columbus, Simplified for the Young Folks; and The Chosen People.
Sarah’s writings may have helped to support her family as her husband apparently abandoned the family in 1857 and established a law practice in Chicago.    After John’s death in 1861 Sarah opened Mrs. Bradford’s School for Young Ladies and Little Girls in her home.  Based on an advertisement, the school offered lessons in English branches and Mathematics (for an additional fees piano and ancient and modern language lessons were also offered) over three terms from September 1 to June 1. 

Bradford Family Home (629 South Main Street)

While operating her school Sarah wrote the first history of Geneva, which appeared in the 1862 and 1863 Brigham’s Geneva, Seneca Falls and Waterloo Directory and Business Advertiser.  In the late 1860s Sarah was also approached by friends and supporters of Harriet Tubman and was asked to write Tubman’s biography.  At the time Harriet Tubman was endanger of losing her home in Auburn.  A committee was established to find an author to write her biography.  Once published, the biography was to be sold by subscription with the proceeds going to Harriet.  Sarah’s interviews with Harriet served as the basis for Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (1869).  Sarah, however,  is criticized by modern biographers for her artistic lesson and very subjective point of view.  A second edition of the book, Harriet, Moses of Her People was published in 1886.  Proceeds from the second edition went to the Tubman House, a nursing home in Auburn established by Harriet Tubman for African Americans.

Shortly after the publication of Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, Sarah closed her school and spent eight years traveling around Europe with her daughters.  Upon her return to the United States, Sarah lived in Albany and Rochester.  On June 25, 1913 Sarah died in Rochester and she is buried in the Washington Street Cemetery.

 For more information about Sarah H. Bradford, read "And who was she anyhow?" Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Biographer of Harriet Tubman by Preston E. Pierce