Reminiscences of the 1840's to 1895


Never in history has a lifetime encompassed so many changes in scientific, social and economic conditions. Much that is familiar to us today would have seemed incredible magic in my childhood. I write of a time when the Beautiful Chenango River was my Amazon. The hills on either side of the valley were my Alps and the Pinnacle my Jungfrau; of the days when the Chenango Canal was a busy thoroughfare. Before the day of rapid transit the arrival of the stage coach was one of the important events of the day. Up the long street rumbled the old thorough-brace, with its four-in-hand, the horn blowing and the whip cracking, and as it rolled up in front of the Chenango House, the driver threw his reins to the hostler, dismounted, and was the first man into the house and up to the bar, where he took four fingers of whiskey straight without blinking an eye. In the meantime, Uri Whittenhall had opened the coach door and was escorting the some thirteen guests into the hotel, where they rested during change of horses and mail, and the numerous trunks strapped on behind the coach for ballast were checked for security.

The stage driver was a very important person and felt the responsibility of a sea captain. My greatest boyish ambition was to be one and handle a four-in-hand.

Uri Whittenhall was a typical, old time, courteous landlord, always appearing in a blue broadcloth swallow-tail coat, highly respected among his contemporaries. He was always called upon to direct funerals of prominent people, before the undertaker had assumed the role of funeral director.

The Chenango House was popular with travelling public and villagers alike. Its lounging room on the corner with its great open Franklin stove radiating a cheerful glow from its wood fire made it an attractive place for men to gather to discuss politics and civic matters, and partake of a hot toddy. The ballroom on the third floor was the only place in the village where public entertainments could be held, such as the Firemen's Ball, the great social function of the year.

Myron Cowles, the landlord of the old hotel which stood on the canal bank where the Greene High School is located (On North Canal Street), was a sturdy, quiet man, mild spoken, but with nerve and muscle sufficient to maintain order when native whiskey created a fighting spirit on Election days.

The village was incorporated in 1842 and was a thriving, prosperous place. The canal, completed in 1837, created a shipping point which attracted produce from both neighboring valleys and Greene became the warehouse for goods shipped from New York to merchants in Afton, Coventry, Bainbridge, Sidney, Harpursville, and other places on the east side and from the Tioghnioga valley on the west from Whitney Point to Cortland, including Willet, Cincinnatus, etc.

There was no ready made clothing sold in Green at that time and no tailor who carried goods in stock. Men bought their goods and trimmings for a suit at the general stores and had their clothes made by a tailor. Every man who could afford it had a black broadcloth suit, which was kept for Sunday, and special occasions and in which he expected to be buried. Francis Dinnin, a tailor on Chenango Street, had the first sewing machine. Men were quite particular about their dress. It was the day of swallow-tail coats, fine calf boots and watch fobs. Jeremiah Tillotson, a gentleman farmer, always came to town wearing a white beaver stove-pipe hat, a blue swallow-tail coat with brass buttons, and a large watch fob. The Civil War made changes in customers, habits and styles. After the war the long leg fine boot and the swallow-tail for every day wear were gone forever, just as the late war has banished the stiff bosom shirt. As leather went up in price, the boot leg came down, until finally there was no book left and soon shoes were being universally worn. Patent leather boots, boot jacks and women's cloth gaiters are things of the past.

At the beginning of the Civil War there was but one New York daily paper taken in Greene, and that was received by the Chenango American office. The eager demand for daily news was supplied by Frank Fisher (one of the proprietors of that paper) who read aloud to a crowd who gathered on the hotel porch. Later in the year I secured a supply of New York dailies, which were brought by the afternoon stage, and sold them on the street, thereby becoming Greene's first newsboy.

Then I first saw light whale oil lamps were being used, I remember the introduction of kerosene oil and with what uncertainty it was received. But it soon outshone the whale oil and stylish but dangerous camphine lamps, as they in turn had taken the place of the tallow dip and the oil soaked rag.

In the old Fire Department of my day there were two small non-suction machines - the Alert and the Hero - neither having extension hose, just a short section carrying the pipe and attached to the top of the machine top. the brakes would possibly accommodate ten to twelve men. The bucket brigade required many men when the water supply was remote from the fire. With the engine as near the fire as possible, the brigade formed a line and passed buckets from hand to hand to keep up the water supply as fast as it was pumped out. Fighting fires was strenuous work.

I usually had a cow to drive for a neighbor, and thereby earned six cents per week, walking a total of fourteen miles. This assured me admission to the circus, fireworks for July 4th, and a few delicacies. Parents in those days were not lavish with pocket money for boys. If they wanted money they must earn it.

One of the interesting people in Greene was old "Grandpa Gallup", a Revolutionary veteran. His funeral was of sufficient importance to dismiss the school so that the scholars might join in paying tribute to the grand old soldier.

I attended school in the old white schoolhouse on Chenango Street opposite the Baptist Church. There were three rooms, two on the upper floor for the youngest children, presided over by a lady teacher, and one large room on the first floor. Here the schoolmaster presided. It was a bare, cheerless room, its begrimed walls dingy with smoke. IT was heated in winter (but never warm) by two large open-front Franklin stoves. From the cellar, piled full of wood, a boy was detailed each day to carry armfuls and keep up a roaring fire. Each mid-morning and afternoon a boy was sent to a neighboring well for a pail of water and all the scholars drank from the same cup.

My first teacher was Miss Melvina Pendelton, in the infant room, who taught me my ABC's. When I graduated from the second floor down into the large room, Benjamin Shove was the teacher. He was expert in the use of the rod. Later he became a Methodist minister. Next came M. Spring and then S. Dewitt Beals, who lived on a farm on the east hill. When the new School on Monell Street was built in 1859 a more intelligent system of education was introduced, the rod was abolished and new interests added to relive school hours of irksomeness.

I remember the old Baptist Meeting House with its cold, solemn interior and the Sunday School room in the damp, musty basement. One of the early pastors of the Presbyterian Church was Reverend Orton whose two sons established the first Daguerrian Gallery in Greene. Both became prominent men.

In the early days Linsey-Woolsey sold for 31 cents per yard. this was a home woven cloth for women's dresses, made in plaids and stripes, coarse but substantial, made from home raised wool and flax. Tow cloth, another home woven product, 25 cents per yard, was made from flax raised on the farm, very strong and when new, coarse and rough. As one old time has said "I recall wearing a pair of trowsers made from it which felt as if they were lined with curry combs.". The color was brownish gray, but after being worn by a generation it became white soft and comfortable. The original owner of the tow cloth suit never wore it out. Owing to shrinkage and durability it could be handed down from father to son. Another popular native product was sheep's gray, and all wool cloth for men's winter wear, made at Ephraim Wheeler's Carding Mill on Wheeler Brook, which sold for 70 cents per yard.

Black broadcloth with trimmings complete for a suit cost $13, and it cost $6 to get it made. A bombazine dress pattern with trimmings, which consisted only of hooks and eyes, and skein of silk and bunch of braid, cost $3.75. All thrifty housewives had something to use for linings. Dresses at that time carried no ornaments, severely plain was the style, and they were worn a long time without re-making. After a mother had worn a dress gray and shiny it was ripped up, dyed, turned and soon her eldest daughter appeared in a new frock.

I remember those squeaky ill fitting cowhide boots with wooden pegged soles which were made by shoemaker Clark who kept the first toll gate on the plank road to Smithville. They were one of the greatest trials of my young life.

I recall the longing desire for books in my boyhood days. Entertaining and instructive books were scarce. In my father's house the reading matter was confined to the New York Weekly Tribune, Pilgrim's Progress and Fox's Book of Martyrs. None of these appealed to me. There was a school library consisting of badly worn, mutilated books which was located in Dr. Willard's office among his drugs and smelled so strong of asafetida and Jalap that they not only impregnated my hands but the whole house, with their sickening odor. However, I did read all that were worth reading.

One cold winter day when 18 inches of snow covered the valley and there was no coasting on the hill, no skating on the river, no book to read, nothing for an active boy to do, I sauntered uptown on a Saturday afternoon looking for amusement. (There was only half a day holiday then from school). As I passed the vacant Rathbone and Thurber store, I saw a man inside opening some large boxes which aroused my boyish curiosity, that soon deepened into great interest when I discovered that they contained books. I stood there looking in the window, wiping my nose on a yarn mitten, and stamping my feet to keep off chill blains until the man came to the door and asked me to come in and get warm. But he also wanted help in placing the books upon the shelves, a task which pleased me. It was a joy to handle the beautiful books. He said that he was to run a book auction five evenings during the coming week and wanted a boy to ring a bell and announce it on the streets, the pay to be 25 cents and the best book in the store. I did the job conscientiously and when the last sale was made he paid me and told me to choose my book. I knew little about titles but knew what kind of a book I wanted, one full of love, thunder, and action to read and re-read and exchange with the other boys. For a moment I was speechless then asked him to make the selection. He gave me the nearest book on the shelf and I rushed home to tear off the wrapper, and found "Advice to Young Men". My disappointment was so great that I threw the book across the room. IT is still in my possession and still unread.

Reminiscences of 1842-1848: (page 141)

Extract from a letter from Frank A. Root (Son of Abel B. Root) from Gunnison, Colorado, May 4, 1884, about his life in Coventry:

"Not one house in five had a stove in it. Everything was cooked over a fireplace. Kettles and pots were hung on a crane over the fire, and bread, Pies, and cakes, etc. were baked in the utensils directly in front of the fireplace.

Up until 1843 I had never seen a match. Everyone banked his fire at night with ashes. IF it went out one went to a neighbor's to get a firebrand. I remember once carrying this on a run between 2 sticks. Matches were unknown in the country. A box of matches would last a thrifty family six months. On frequent occasions, before matches, it would be necessary to take a little tow and strike fire from a flint. Punk was also occasionally used. No well-regulated family of that early day was without a flint to use in case of emergency. (The first matches are said to have appeared in 1832. Punk was obtained from beech trees.)

Envelopes were not invented until 1851. It took two weeks to get a letter from the interior of Connecticut. Postage was 10-12 Cents.

Everyone turned out when the militia, preceded by a band of martial music, would march in their handsome military suits of blue coats with brass buttons, hats and caps trimmed with red and white feathers.

Nearly every farmhouse had two spinning wheels, a large one for spinning wool rools into yarn, and a small one for spinning flax into thread. (May 15, 1884).

Reminiscences of 1845: (page 141)

During the winters when we attended school in the old schoolhouse opposite the Baptist Church there were many more farmers who had business at the Chenango Valley Mills than now. There was hardly a recess that we had that we did not see a great procession of farmer's slights with grists aboard, going to and from these mills, and they afforded excellent targets for young snowballers. some took it good-naturedly, others did not. One time we thought it smart to knock the hat off one innocent looking old farmer. But the snowball hadn't been out of our hand three seconds when out he came from his sleigh, armed with a blacksnake whip and my! didn't he give me an awful warming? Some of the big boys came to the rescue and literally rained the hardest kind of snowballs upon him, and he was glad to beat a hasty retreat. After he landed in his sleigh a nicely directed ball hit him squarely in his left ear which pleased me so much that my audible grief over the warming ceased in mid-air and turned into hilarious laughter: (G.C. Roberts - Feb 28, 1895)

Account Books - August 17, 1846-June 5, 1850: (Page 141-142)

From two General Store Account Books of John H. Sherwood one can get a glimpse of the life of the times. At least 200 residents names are mentioned and all literally "traded" produce for supplies. Occasionally buyer and seller "agreed" on some purchases. Credit was given for butter, apples, eggs, flaxseed, muskrat skins, firkins, rags, veal, lard, hay, dried apples, corn, wood (2/per LB), a day's work (75 cents), bunches of pine or hemlock shingles, ashes, cord wood, chestnuts (6 qt. for 28 cents), oats (28 cents per Bu.), rye (5/bu), plastering cellar (S.A. Barnet), bundles of straw, 21 prs sox (@2/ - $5.25 toward materials for a coat, vest and dress), buckwheat, maple sugar, transporting barrels of flour, use of horse, etc.

Food prices: Eggs 9 cents per doz.; coffee. 10 cents per LB; salaratus, 8 cents per LB; 1 orange 3 cents, 1 lemon, 2 cents, alum. 8 cents per LB; 6 lbs. codfish 24 cents, 1 LB crushed sugar, 1/; brown sugar. 6 cents; 1 bbl flour, $6.75; 1 stick candy 1 cent; 1/4 LB, 6 cents, licorice 3 cents.

Drygoods: Pr of shoes, 38 cents, 56 cents, 63 cents, $1. 13; gloves 14 cents, 31 cents; fur hat $1.; oilcloth hat. 50 cents; caps. 81 cents; night cap 4 cents; calico 1/yd; bleached sheeting. 1/per yd; red flannel, 3/per yd; linen bosom. 37 cents; umbrella $1.25; parasol $1.00; 1 pr whalebones. 4 cents. 6 long ones 38 cents; feather fan. 31 cents satchel $1.25; cotton hose. 10 cents.

Misc: 1 doz. matches. 1/; 3 ox oz snuff. 3 cents; 1 oz indigo. 10 cents; 1 LB beeswax 25 cents; lamp black. 2 cents; tallow. 10 cents LB; 1 paper tobacco. 5 cents; razor. 38 cents; snuffer & tray, 50 cents; lamp wicks 1/; a broom. 13 cents; a rake 13 cents; a scythe. 38 cents; 1 LB shot 8 cents; spelling book. 1/; Saunders' Reader. 31 cents.

Each day's entry stated whether bought by self, wife, brother, father, self and wife, neighbor, hired girl, black girl, etc. A girl would be tempted to buy a hair ribbon, a mother always bought new materials, a father would occasionally take home 2 sticks of candy. F. Dinnin (tailor) would buy materials for suits, dresses, etc. and charge them to his client's account. At Christmas when one had special guests he bought "a set of blue dishes, spices, lemons, and new dress materials", when one married he really splurged to buy the necessities with which to set up housekeeping. On May 8, 1848, Simon Barnett bought 2 yds black crepe (75 cents), 1/4 yd bombazine (19 cents), and a hat (44). On the same day Charles W. Barnett and wife bought the same plus 2 leaf hats (38 cents), 2 pr silk gloves (88 cents), 1 pr small shoes (25 cents), and a cravat ($1.18) - suggesting a funeral. Next day Simon came in for the usual staples; mackerel, tobacco, turnip seed, etc.

From these Accounts we can see that molasses was used by all, loaf sugar and crushed sugar for special occasions only. Tea, coffee, flour, nutmeg, raisins, salaratus and rock salt were bought by all. When oranges were introduced the early settlers gingerly bought one or two at most, lemons frequently in summer. Those who did not produce their own butter and eggs etc. bought them. Codfish and mackerel were cheap and freely used. Food was kept in stone jars, and every one had a coffee mill and ground his own coffee. Griddle cakes, breads, spice cakes and molasses cookies were on the daily menu. All farmers had their own chickens, eggs, pork, ham, lard, beef, veal, lamb, milk, cream, butter, buttermilk, cottage cheese, corn, wheat, vegetables, maple sirup and sugar, honey, apples, berries, and nuts.

Hats, caps and bonnets, appropriate for the season, gloves rubbers, umbrellas for rain and parasols for sun were deemed important and necessary. Buffalo robes were common in winter for use in open sleighs. A few men bought tobacco, a very few chewed tobacco, even fewer used snuff at this time. From Sherwood's Store port wine was bought only once, apparently for a special occasion.

Some people were using candles and either bought or made them with tallow and candle wicking. Other's frequently bought lamp oil for lamps.

People were very honest and paid every penny even though it took a long time. Only a few articles were bought at a time, such as one bar of soap, etc. Most housewives sewed - a few had their apparel made. Most men did their own building and repair work, and shoes were mended as long as it was possible to mend them.

Fires in Greene April 3, 1843: (page 143)

One of the disastrous fires of Greene occurred when the entire business block on the north side of Genesee Street from the corner of Chenango Street to the canal burned. The buildings were old fashioned, low wooden structures, built about 1823, and they burned rapidly. There was no fire engine in the village then but the snow was three feet deep (one account says this fire was in January), and that with the water melted from it by the fire, was sued in the vain endeavor to subdue the flames. Colonel Elijah Rathbone and George R. Lyon were quite badly injured by an explosion of gunpowder in a store located about where Singer & Singer have their office today, while working at the fire.

Charles E. Barnard & Son owned and occupied the double Corner store at that time (Hitchcock & Perkins were in the west third of it), and Charles A. Stevens owned and rant the store west of that. Several of the businessmen lost every dollar they possessed that day. The old Cushman house (now the Elm Tree Restaurant) was saved. Among the old wooden buildings which composed that aggregation of business places was a little one story shoemaker's shop, conducted by a man named Clayton. So soundly did he sleep on the night of the fire that he did not know if it until the next morning despite the racket going on for several hours. As usual, after breakfast, he gathered an armful of wood at his home and started for his shop. When he reached the canal bridge across Genesee Street he gave a casual survey of the street whereon his shop had stood, and at once realized what had happened. His surprise was so great that he threw his armload of wood down on the bridge, shouting "Oh, thunder!", wheeled around and retraces his steps to his home to inform his wife. (C. G. Robert's reminiscences December 31, 1885, October 6, 1892, January 17, 1895.)


Pages 137 - 138 Reminiscences of the 1840's to 1895 by Frank B. Darby, dentist in Elmira, and son of Lucius T. Darby, a prominent resident of Greene 1836-1866. These are extracts taken from "Looking backward three-quarters of a century in Greene" written in 1923 by Dr. Frank B. Darby.

Dr Frank B. Darby, was the son of Lucius Tyler & Sarah Perkins Darby & nephew of Lucius brother, Rev. Chauncey & Mary Ann Short Darby. Rev. Chauncey Darby was Pastor of the Greene, Chenango Co, Baptist Church, hence you will notice many references in the writing to memories of the Baptist Church.

Dr. Frank Darby married the niece of Rev. Chauncey & Mary Ann Short Darby, Mary Ann Wheadon, dau of Cordelia Short & Charles Wheadon. Cordelia & Mary Ann & another sister who married another brother of Rev. Chauncey & Lucius Darby (Helen who married Edwin Darby), were part of the large family of Dorcas Weaver & Hammond Short. Hammond Short was a harness maker in the Cortlandville, NY area, & took as apprentices, many of the young men in the area, including Rev. Chauncey Darby prior to his seminary training at Hamilton College & Charles Wheadon, who later owned a harness shop in the area himself. Both Charles Wheadon & Rev. Chauncey married daughters of Hammond Short, becoming his son-in-laws.

Dr. Frank Darby was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, (as were Rev. Chauncey Darby's two sons, Dr. Charles Hammond Darby & Dr. Edwin Tyler Darby). He interned with Dr. Ransom Walker of Owego as did his two cousins also. (Rev. Chauncey's son Charles was a well-known dentist who practiced most of his life in St. Joseph, Missouri, & he & his wife, Ada Leonard are the parents of children's writer Ada Leonard, who died in 1953, was on the "Who's Who of American Writers" at the time of her death. Rev. Chauncey's son Edwin was the head of the University of Pennsylvania at Lansdowne , School of Dentistry, for over 40 years. One of his daughters married Frank Eaton, son of Seymour Eaton, writer of the Roosevelt Bears series, & another daughter of Dr. Edwin's married Charles H. Davis, well-known American Artist).

Dr. Frank B. Darby was the dentist to Mark Twain (Samuel Clemons) in his summertime residence of Elmira, NY where Dr. Frank Darby's practice was located for many years. These are facts which were probably known by the local residents who read his article in 1923, but would not be known by internet readers today & so are shared now with the readers.

"Reminiscences of the 1840's to 1895 by Frank B. DARBY, dentist in Elmira, and son of Lucius T. DARBY, a prominent resident of Greene 1836-1866. These are extracts taken from "Looking backward three-quarters of a century in Greene" written in 1923 by Dr. Frank B. DARBY"

Source: Reminiscences of the 1840's to 1895 by Frank B. DARBY: Page 137-143: "From Raft to Railroad", A History of the Town of Greene, Chenango County, New York, 1792-1867 by Mildred English Cochrane, Town Historian: Page 78.

Contributed by Lynda & B.J. Ozinga - 2002.


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