Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Arrival of the Consumer Economy

By Anne Dealy, Director of Education and Public Information

Geneva, like most of American society, was gradually but completely transformed between the post-Civil War period and the early 20th century from an agrarian and somewhat homogenous village into a much more diverse, industrialized, and wealthy city. This transformation led to political and cultural shifts that challenged long-standing ideas about identity, work, gender, religion, and family roles. One of the most significant changes that clearly emerged by the 1910s and 1920s was the shift to a modern consumer culture. Whereas in the past, most Americans had defined themselves by religious, work and family roles, by the 1920s Americans were increasingly demonstrating their values and identity through the things that they owned.

Buick markets its 1923 sedan as a car for a woman and her children.

Technological advances, improvements in productivity, and innovations in financing combined with the development of mass media to create this mass culture. The prosperity of the 1920s led to an explosion of consumer goods available even to people of modest means. Household products and conveniences that were developed in the late 19th century and used by wealthy Americans became cheaper and began to spread down the economic ladder. As production increased, companies had to figure out how to sell their products to more and more people. Marketing and advertising became major components of national businesses. Newspapers and magazines were the preferred way to reach people. Then, as now, marketers believed that women were the major consumers of household products, and so, many goods were marketed to them, even those not originally considered to be of interest to women.

There was no shortage of stuff to buy in Geneva. Kresge’s variety store opened in 1930 on Seneca Street, right between Keilty’s Dry Goods and Woolworth’s 5 and 10.

Genevans participated in this new economy, both as consumers and as producers. New retail shops opened in town to sell automobiles, phonographs, radios, electrical and heating equipment, furniture, cameras, sporting goods, clothing, food, typewriters and vacuum cleaners. Among the many goods manufactured by Geneva companies for sale nationally were typewriter type, cutlery, boilers, stoves, canned foods, eyeglasses, razor strops, boats, and auto wheels.

Geneva companies reached a national audience through magazines like Popular Science.
Houses in local 1920s real estate listings boasted modern conveniences like electricity, bathrooms, garages, paved streets and steam heating. The long list of contractors indicates that there was a strong market for building and redecorating houses, as people added wiring, central heating and plumbing.

Local and national advertisements featured modern, “sanitary” bathrooms.

National women’s magazines advertised stoves, kitchen cupboards, bathrooms and cleaning products to make the home safer, more efficient and pleasant. Women in the upper class and growing middle class no longer had to spend the whole day doing food preparation and housework. They were free to pursue other activities—joining women’s clubs and lending a hand to church charities, the suffrage movement and the prohibition lobby. People spent more time reading, eating out, playing sports, listening to the radio, and going to the movies.

Advertisers stressed how their products saved time and money, appealing to housewives’ interest in doing things other than housework. Efficiency and organization, which had revolutionized factory production in the 1910s, were applied to the household. Professionals in the new field of home economics worked with manufacturers to bring efficient and sanitary principles to the home.

Advertisers sold the idea that a modern kitchen was a healthier and more efficient one.

Marketers also had solutions for those who aspired to consume the latest goods, but had less money. Products like linoleum were sold as durable and cheap alternatives to more expensive rugs or patterned hardwood floors. Hats could be dyed or refreshed with a coating that made them look new. Payment plans allowed people to buy on installment. A woman could sew her own dress in the latest styles of Paris. With these products any woman could save money and still identify with movie stars and socialites.

Advertisers prompt Americans to keep up with fashion on a budget.
Although it would slow consumption down for a decade, even the Great Depression could not stop the American desire to buy. Kresge’s (now Kmart), which opened just as the Depression began, survived the contraction, as did most other Geneva department and variety stores. The post-war period brought consumption back full force, and we have not looked back since.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Seneca Chief

By Alice Askins, Site Manager of Rose Hill Mansion

View of Geneva, ca. 1836.  The steamboats are the Geneva (formerly the Seneca Chief) and Stevens.

In 1807, people on the west bank of the Hudson River saw a strange boat.  It was Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat, often called the Clermont.  The boat was the first vessel to prove that steam propulsion would work for commercial river traffic. According to the book Great Fortunes: 

What seemed strange in the vessel was the substitution of lofty and straight black smoke-pipes, rising from the deck, instead of . . . gracefully tapered masts . . . and, in place of the spars and rigging, the curious play of the working-beam and pistons, and the slow turning and splashing of the huge and naked paddle-wheels . . . The dense clouds of smoke, as they rose wave upon wave, added still more to the wonderment . . “.

In 1817, steam propulsion spread to Lake Ontario when a consortium in Sackets Harbor funded the construction of the first US Great Lakes steamboat, the Ontario.  By the late 1820s Seneca Lake had its first steamboat, the Seneca Chief.  It was built for and operated by the Rumney brothers, Geneva merchants.

The Chief’s keel was laid in Geneva on December 12, 1827.  Originally the boat was 90 feet long, 19 feet wide, eight feet high, and the draft was four and a half feet.  In June 1828, the Geneva Gazette reported that the Chief’s engines were between 40 and 45 horsepower, and would propel the boat at 10 to 12 miles per hour.   

Launched in May 1828, the Chief’s first official trip was part of the Independence Day celebrations (the exact date is uncertain, as different sources mention different dates).  The Gazette reported,

“We are indebted to a friend for the following account of an excursion made on Saturday last, from Geneva to the head of the Seneca Lake, on board the Seneca Chief, by a party of Ladies and Gentlemen, which . . . amounted to one hundred and thirty persons. The day was uncommonly fine, the party in excellent spirits . . . The Boat left the Harbor at Geneva precisely at 8 o'clock in the morning . . . The country on each bank of the Lake excited universal admiration among the passengers . . . between four and five thousand persons assembled at [the head of the lake]  . . . to greet the Steam Boat on its first trip . . . After stopping here about two hours, the Boat set out on its return to Geneva, where she arrived at eight o'clock, having been a little more than five hours going, and rather less in returning.  Part of the way down her speed was equal to ten miles an hour, without raising the pressure to near the capacity of her excellent Engine . . .  when fully completed and the machinery worn smooth, the Boat will be enabled to make her trips . . . and return in eight hours, including short stoppages at several points.  A Band of amateur Musicians afforded a zest to the pleasures of the day.“

The writer was delighted that the Chief had created “ next door neighbors” at the other end of Seneca Lake, “that hitherto remote region.”

The Seneca Chief, however,  was not just a pleasure boat, though. 

“Immediately after the Fourth the Steam Boat will commence her regular trips to the head of the Lake daily, Sundays excepted, leaving Geneva at 7 in the morning and returning at 7 in the evening—carrying the mail in connexion [sic] with a daily line of Stages to Washington city.  She will touch at Dresden and at Bailey town 
(near Ovid) to receive and deliver passengers and take freight boats in tow.”   

The Courier mentioned in April 1831 that the Chief had arrived with passengers and ten boats in tow, which included such cargo as flour, pork, whisky, and lumber.  The Gazette predicted that “Geneva will become a great focus for travel by Steam Boats, Canal Boats and Stages.”

The Rumneys did not rest on their laurels.  Less than a year after its launch, they overhauled the Chief:

“The Engine has been raised so as to add three feet to her wheels, giving them a diameter of 15 feet.  An elegant Cabin is erected upon the deck . . . a mast has been added on which to spread a sail in a fair wind; and, taken altogether, she is much improved in speed, accommodations and appearance.” 

In January 1832, a storm sank the Seneca Chief at the wharf.  When the boat was raised, the damage was minor.  Still, the Rumneys took the opportunity to make more changes.  That spring, the Courier announced that

“The Steam-Boat Seneca Chief has now commenced running up and down Seneca Lake, four times each week . . . The boat is much improved in appearance and speed . . . and every attention will be paid to the comfort of passengers, as well as the strictest attention to neatness and order.  No ardent spirits will be kept on board. ."   

In 1833, the Rumneys sold the Seneca Chief to John R. Johnston and Richard Stevens, who in turn bought the steam navigation rights to Seneca Lake.  Johnston and Stevens rebuilt the Chief, lengthening it by 35 feet and renaming it the Geneva.  They may have installed a bigger engine, as an 1879 memoir stated “When John R. Johnston operated on the water, a new life was put into the steam marine of Seneca Lake, and things moved lively from that time to this.”   Two years after purchasing the Chief,  Johnston and Stevens built the Richard Stevens, the second steam boat on Seneca Lake.

By 1847 or 1848 (sources differ) the Seneca Chief/Geneva had come to the end of its useful life.  Someone had a brilliant idea – they could blow up the boat as part of the July 4th celebrations.  The Gazette described the event in 1889:

“It was to be the grand coup of the celebration. Loaded with a supply of powder she was placed far out in the lake, and a wire connected with an electric battery run to her. A grand spectacle was looked for by the assembled multitude on the shore. It is estimated that 10,000 people were present lining the shore at every convenient point. The electric key was touched time and again but there was no thundering response. Failing in this a party armed with a fuse was despatched [sic] in a small boat and another attempt was made to blow her up by thus igniting the powder.  This even failed to work, but the boat took fire and the disappointment of the spectators was considerably lessened by seeing the relict of the grand old steamer shoot fiery tongues towards heaven, illuminating the whole harbor and the adjacent shores . . . The powder had become wet in some manner and its explosive qualities thus destroyed.  As it was the sight was a memorable one.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Geneva's Armory: Form and Function

By John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

We walk by buildings every day without questioning their appearance, whether or not we know architectural styles. Sometimes we stop seeing buildings altogether. The Armory comes to mind because I recently spent several months on a committee to plan a Veterans Day event there. Anyone over the age of three years old will look at the Armory and say/ think, “Castle!” Why?

Built in 1892, the Armory initially looked like many other public buildings of its time: red brick, rough stone foundation, and lots of arched doorways and windows. The tower was a little unusual but not unheard of.

Original armory and High Street School

New York armories were all designed the same. There was an administration building in front, and an attached drill shed behind it. (The drill hall looked like, but should never be called, a gymnasium.) The Geneva armory drill shed is visible in back and to the left.

Geneva’s National Guard unit, the 34th Separate Company (later Company B), quickly outgrew its building. The state legislature authorized an expansion which was completed in 1906.

1906 Armory – current size, but the right-hand tower still has conical roof

The castle or fortress appearance, adopted earlier in other towns and cities, was no accident. The 1890s and 1900s were times of immigration, labor unrest, and concern about Socialists and Communists trying to organize new immigrants and workers. State militias were activated to protect citizens however the government saw fit, by preventing violence or breaking strikes. Armories were built in the center of towns and cities to reassure citizens, and remind agitators, that the militia was on the job.

The Geneva armory, like others, was built to function defensively if necessary. Look at the south (left-hand) tower. The base rises in toward the building while the top windows of the tower jut out. If attackers attempted to scale the foundation, defenders in the tower had a clean shot at them. Likewise, the casellations (pattern on top of the tower) and narrow windows provided protection for soldiers shooting down at the street. Larger armories had iron gates that locked in front of the main doors for extra protection against mobs.

Armory with final alterations
Sometime after 1906 the top of the north tower was altered to match the south tower, and a porch was built over the main entrance. The last addition to the building was the garage to the north, sometime after World War II.

Being in town and city centers, older armories were often built on small lots with little room for expansion. Changes in military vehicles and equipment required more storage space; by the 1960s, many urban armories were abandoned for new buildings on the outskirts of town. Some found new uses, many were demolished. Geneva is fortunate to still have this building on Main Street.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Grocery Shopping in Geneva 1957

By Karen Osburn, Archvist

I don’t know about you, but I love to grocery shop.  I love seeing the new products and choices and the incredible array of fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, fish and meats.  I can go to the store for a jar of peanut butter and come home an hour later with cashew butter, peanut butter, almond butter, cherry jelly, 6 cans of beans in 6 different varieties, 3 birthday cards, a set of dishes, 10 varieties of tea, a chocolate sea salt toffee candy bar and a jug of cat litter.  I will have spent way over my allotted food budget in a short period of time and loved every minute of it.

I remember going to the grocery store with my parents in the mid to late 1950s, when I was still quite young, and thinking that everyone drove to a shopping center.  My family went to Northgate Plaza where there were 2 grocery stores in the plaza; a Wegman’s and a Star Market.  One store was on the north end of the plaza and the other on the west side.  Sometimes we shopped at Wegman’s and sometimes we shopped at Star and on really good days we shopped for bargains at both!  They both had coin operated rides in front of the stores that were usually horses and if I was really well behaved my dad might put a nickel in and let me ride the horse. 

In my memory of those days we bought things like flour, eggs, butter, chuck roast, chicken, milk, sugar, toilet paper and whatever fresh fruit or vegetables were in season.  My dad would often pick out a couple of chuck roasts and ask the butcher to grind them for him and we would have hamburger or meatloaf.  We seldom bought already prepared foods as my mother was a good “from scratch” cook.  When we finished checking out we got S&H green stamps with our receipt or a different type of stamp that was yellow.  I was usually given the task of pasting the stamps in little booklets and when we saved enough books of stamps we went to the Green Stamp store and exchanged them for “gifts”, items like toasters, charcoal grills, lawn furniture etc.  I loved this adventure in shopping too, though I never convinced my mother to get me the stuffed animal that was only ¾ of a book of stamps.

I grew up in a rural part of the Town of Greece and it never occurred to me that in cities like Geneva there were a lot different grocery stores that you could walk to!  I pulled out the Geneva City Directory of 1957 to compare the stores in Geneva to the ones I remembered in Greece and found out that in 1957 there were 38 retail grocery and meat shops listed!!  I knew that corner grocers were popular and necessary in that time period but to have 38 stores for 19,414 people meant one store for every 500 + people.  These stores were spread all over the City on Castle, Genesee, Exchange, Seneca, Middle, North, High, Lyceum, John, Hamilton, Oak, Wadsworth, William, Angelo, and Andes streets to name some of them.

The stores had names like A&P, Acme Market Basket (there were 4 of those listed), Best Market, Brennan’s, Commesso Foods, The Corner Store, Crest Super Market, the Economy Store, Madia’s, Loblaw’s,  Hamilton Food Market, Sunny Fruit Store and Thomas’ Red & White.  That is only 13 out of 38!  I am not sure what types of goods they stocked or how they would have compared to our two Greece Groceries, but I will bet they were plentifully supplied with a variety of good things. 

One Geneva grocery in particular, Market Basket, was a big success story.  Started in 1901 by Harry E. Hovey with one small store in Warsaw, NY he opened a store in Geneva in 1914 and eventually his business grew into 300 small groceries in central and western New York and by 1951 it had developed into 141 large self-serve supermarkets with a fleet of 35 trucks, their own carpentry shop, and its own “mimeograph” department.

When Harry Hovey died in 1953 Gordon Hovey, one of Harry’s sons became president of Market Basket.  In 1956 a proposed sale of the business was announced by Gordon Hovey and Paul Cupp, president of American Stores; the merger was completed in April of 1956 and the Geneva headquarters of Market Basket closed.

Today Geneva has three supermarkets Wegmans, Tops, and Madia’s.  Wal-mart has a large grocery section in their store on Hamilton Street as does BJ’s across the street.  Red Jacket Orchards also has a store across the street from Wal-Mart that sells fresh fruit from their orchards and other locally produced food products.  Wegman’s, Tops, Wal-mart , and Red Jacket are all located on Hamilton St. leaving Madia’s on the corner of Oak and Castle Streets as the lone representative of the once flourishing neighborhood food stores.

The way we purchase food has changed from what it was in the 1950s. The size of grocery stores has drastically increased while the number food stores in our cities have decreased, yet the variety of food items for sale would astound our parents and grandparents.  I wonder what your children will remember in 50 years about their trips to the grocery store with you…..