The Luther and Lewis L. Crocker Homes, the Career of Lewis L. Crocker, and the Career of Walter W. Crocker

By Douglas Shepard

Barker Museum Newsletters
2001

Luther Crocker’s name first appears in the Pomfret assessment rolls in 1836. He is then on a farm of some 160 acres. Ebenezer Crocker also first appears in that year on 138 acres. He and his wife Lucia Porter left Dutchess County and set up residence here. Later assessment rolls identify their locations as Lot 9, Twp. 6, for Ebenezer and Lot 48, Twp. 5 for Luther. The 1854 Map of Chautauqua County shows and "E. Croker" on the south side of East Main Street at about 345 E. Main Street (Lot 9). Luther is on the north side of West Main Street about at today’s 4806 West Main Road. Luther’s son Lewis L. Crocker continued to live there, in his family home, after his marriage in 1857, although he took up his own 35 acre parcel.

By matching names from the 1865 New York State Census with their locations on the map of Fredonia in the 1867 Atlas of Chautauqua County, it is clear that Lewis L. Crocker is still living at 4806 W. Main Road at that time. However, by then Luther had moved to Center Street. Since the 1864 Assessment Rolls show Luther Crocker with only personal assets listed, no real estate, he must have been renting on Center Street.

Using the same technique of matching census and map names, it is clear that L.L. Crocker is still found on West Main Road in the 1875 Census. Child’s 1873 Directory states that he "leases of J. Farrell 200 acres." L.L. Crocker’s 35 acres added to his father’s 160 would result in the 200-acre estimate. Since Farrell’s name replaces Luther Crocker’s on the 1867 and 1881 maps, it looks as though the Crockers had sold the land to Farrell but leased it back and continued to farm there. It could also mean that the Crocker’s had always leased and never owned on West Main Road. A search of the deed registers would answer that question.

Luther died in 1865 but it is not until the 1880 Census that we find L.L. Crocker moved to a house either at 104 or 105 Water Street in Fredonia. His name in the Census is between J.P. Cobb’s and W. P. Tennant, so he could be on either the east or west side of Water Street. No doubt the move was to put him closer to the Water Street meat market that he and Henry Burr had begun in 1872.

By the time of the 1883 Directory he had moved again, this time to 40 Center Street. Originally, it was numbered 28; the system was changed for the 1896 Directory where it became 33, and, finally with the 1899 Directory, to 40 Center Street. He lived there until his death in 1904. His widow, Nancy, continued to live there, taking in a boarder, until her death in March 1921 when the house was sold.

According to the Fredonia Censor Ebenezer Crocker died at age 65 on the 10th of October, 1854. His wife, Lucia Porter Crocker lived with her daughter, Mrs. Blood, until her death at age 93 on March 19, 1888.

Lewis L. Crocker was born in 1836, when his father, Luther, had a large farm in Pomfret. In November 1857, Lewis married Nancy J. Wilson. The 1858 Assessment Roll shows him, for the first time, as an independent householder but, apparently, still living in his father’s home. From 1859 on he is farming on his own 35 acres. He continued farming at least through the time of the 1875 New York State Census, where he identifies that as his occupation.

However, by 1872 he had also begun a meat market in partnership with Henry Burr. Their location seems to have been a basement area of the building at the corner of Water Street and East Main Street. The entrance to the shop was toward the rear of the building, on Water Street.

In October 1872 the furniture store partnership of Bartram Bros. was dissolved, and Amos Bartram joined the meat market to make it Bartram, Crocker & Co. Bartram did not remain too long, since the 1873 Directory refers to the firm again as Crocker & Burr. Burr then left and, in April 1873, Ephraim P. Wilson of Portland took his place in the firm of Crocker & Wilson.

In January 1877, the partners bought a vacant lot on the west side of Water Street from L.A. Barmore for $600. Their announced plan was to put up a two-story wooden building for a meat market on their 15x70 foot lot. (The basement they were vacating was to be used by the Howard Bros., who owned the corner building, for manufacturing eye salve, the former Pettit-Barker enterprise.)

The announcement of the Crocker-Wilson plans was in The Fredonia Censor of 10 January 1877. By the issue of the 31st, they had taken over George Blood’s furniture store at 13 Water Street (the modern number), giving in exchange their recently purchased vacant lot plus $1,000. Blood’s old store building was only 18x40 feet, but sufficient for their needs. Blood was already planning his new building at 12 Water Street.

The Crocker & Wilson meat market continued at 13 Water Street until February 1881 when Lewis Crocker withdrew from the firm, which became E.P. Wilson & Son.

At that point he began a harness and grape basket manufactory (the harness part soon disappeared). The office was in a small, three-story building on Day & Prushaw’s Carriage Factory lot about at 20 Center Street. The carriage business fell on hard times and, in April 1888, was sold off. In 1889, Thomas and Samuel Wellman who had bought out Vincent Dunn & Son’s broom factory near Laona moved it to the third story of 20 Center Street. By December, they had purchased Harry Parker’s former marble shop at 114 East Main Street and moved the broom factory there, leaving the third floor of 20 Center Street free for Lewis Crocker, who wanted to expand his basket factory operation.

An October 1890 item in the Observer had commented on the fact that Crocker was then employing four men and the factory was very busy, all of which suggests the grape basket operation was doing quite well.

After the carriage works had failed, the D&F Street Railway Co. bought the property and began laying the foundation for a new car barn about 12-18 Center Street.

By the mid 1890s, Crocker moved the basket factory to a building about at 35 Church Street. The company seems to have lasted through 1900 although not on Church Street. It may have been moved to a building on East Main Street, part of the Felt Factory lot where the Howard Watch Co. had been. The Fredonia Censor of 28 March 1900 reported that a small storage barn of the basket factory was destroyed when the Felt Factory burned.

Since the last Directory to identify Lewis Crocker as a basket manufacturer was that of 1900, it may well have been the fire loss that caused him, finally, to retire. He died some four years later

Walter Wilson Crocker was born on 7 May 1876, the youngest of Lewis L. and Nancy J. Crocker’s children. The others were Emma J. born 1858 and Silas T. born 1863. He attended the village school through 1895 and then began work as a clerk at L.S. Barber’s grocery at 11 East Main Street. The business was bought out by Belden & Leworthy late in 1896, so Walter may have continued to work for them or was able to obtain a position with Jesse K. Starr whose grocery was at 32 West Main Street.

Walter Crocker told his grandson Wilson many times how he talked Starr into giving him a job after finishing his schooling. Although Starr claimed he didn’t need anyone, Walter insisted he would work for whatever Starr would pay him. Starting at a very low wage, he worked his say up to $9.00 per week, more than any other clerk on the street, before moving on.

On 6 May 1900 he married Essie May Emmons of Laona. In October 1903 he bought the W.E. Alger grocery store three doors from Starr’s at 38 West Main Street. In October 1905 he moved to the former E.A. Smith & Co. Shoe Store at 24 West Main Street, assuming Henry Clark’s lease. The store was occupied by the National Wrecking Co., who specialized in close-out operations. At the time of the move to 38 West Main Street, he entered into a partnership with Homer H. Ellis as Crocker & Ellis, grocery.

The Observer of 16 September 1965 ran a photograph of the grocery store showing the staff of about 1908. On April 1911 they leased 14 West Main Street, the former W.K. Farres Co., dry goods store, and remained there until around 1922 when Walter Crocker began the Crocker-Sprague Co. with Robert D. Sprague, leaving Homer Ellis in sole possession of the grocery at 14 West Main Street.

Crocker-Sprague dealt in wholesale coffee and groceries with the business located in Dunkirk. Around 1940, Walter Crocker began the Lake Shore Oil Co. in Dunkirk near the Crocker-Sprague building.