A Hammondsport Odyssey
Ups and Downs
The Pan-American Exposition was ending, not with a bang, but a whimper. The B&H canceled its twice-weekly special, though the Erie Railroad kept on. Pan-Am commemorative stamps were discontinued after the 31st. Germania Wine Company's Grand Imperial Sec won the only gold medal for champagne, and Harry Champlin from Pleasant Valley Wine Company got a gold medal for his two-year-old stallion Star Chimes at the horse show. But the spectacular world's fair was winding up its business at a loss, plagued by appallingly hot weather, the assassination of President McKinley, and its own astronomical expenses.
October was kind of a dreary month for a lot of folks. Sheep worrying was a problem around Hammondsport—dogs killed 13 at M. H. Dildine's farm, two at L. Ward's, and six at Abe Depew's. A hundred people got food poisoning at a party in Cass Corners, requiring the speedy services of every doctor in the southwestern part of Steuben County. A Mr. Crinton broke his arm while working on the new Opera House in Hammondsport, then developed sciatica and had to go to the county farm. His daughter was sent to the Davenport Home in Bath, but the son proved more difficult to place.
Grasshoppers and tobacco worms ruined 30% of the crop in the Southern Tier. Fred Shults, apparently intoxicated and asleep on the tracks, was killed by the B&H locomotive at the Erie yard in Bath. British troops in South Africa suffered a sharp defeat. A U. S. Infantry company in the Philippines was attacked at breakfast and nearly wiped out, suffering 48 dead and 11 wounded out of 72 officers and men. Over in London, King George had surgery for throat cancer. In the America's Cup Race, Columbia beat Shamrock II in three straight. But the losing yachtsman, tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton, was such a good sport that he remained a hero on both sides of the ocean.
Of course, there was also plenty of pleasure to be found as fall slipped toward winter. The Hammondsport Band played October 12 in warm sunny weather (the first snow fell on the 23rd). Nationally-known cartoonist Sidney Smith gave a chalk talk at Hammondsport High School. Pleasant Valley Grange held its last dance of the year on Halloween. Back in the village, at the Presbyterian Church, the King's Daughters hosted a 95-cent dinner that night, serving up rolls, escalloped oysters, salads, donuts, cheese, coffee, and pumpkin pie.
Speaking of pumpkins, the first ones came to Market in Hammondsport on the 17th. Chestnuts, which were large and abundant, sold at $2.50 a bushel, cabbage at $8 to $10 a ton. Hay was getting $10.50 a ton around Pulteney. Fifteen to 25 boxcars of grapes were shipping out of Penn Yan every day. But Hammondsport Preserving Company had too few apples to process, although it still had apple and other juices from the 1900 season. Speed and Snyder, cigar makers in Hammondsport, increased their work force-wonder how much they paid for tobacco with the crop so bad?
All this agricultural activity meant big business. H. M. Champlin invited farmers to take advantage of his Hammondsport Steam Roller Custom & Flour Mills and the Hammondsport Box Factory and Lumber Yards. This impressively-named institution offered new sheds for teams, new scales for weighing in, and up-to-date equipment, including "All the modern machinery for Buckwheat custom milling." W. E. Cook offered much of the stoneware you would need for preserving your yield, including butter crocks at eight cents for each gallon of capacity and meat tubs at 10 cents a gallon. L. D. Masson had shears, picking boxes, covering slats, corn knives, stencil brushes, paste, rubber stamps, pads, and inks. At Smellie's Pharmacy you could get feed that would keep your hens laying, bringing in $5.00 worth of eggs for every 25 cents spent on poultry food.
At W. T. Reynolds, fall footwear was in. Mr. Reynolds carried boots, shoes, and rubbers, "Not a scrimpy little lot in a few different styles, but big, generous assortments that make you feel sure you have come to the right place to be satisfied."
In Buffalo a group of visionaries formed the Frontier Telephone Company. Over in Bayonne, France, bullfight promoters replaced the picadors' horses with motorcars. All seven bulls ran away, and that was the end of that.
A Busy Month for Socialites
Glenn and Lena Curtiss, along with their infant son Carlton, spent Thanksgiving Day in 1901 visiting friends in Rochester. It they had stayed at home, they could have attended Union Services at 10:30 that day in the Methodist Episcopal Church on Lake Street, where Glenn's grandfather had once been pastor. At the Presbyterian Church they could have attended a Thanksgiving Fair, with "Chinese curios, Angora cats, cut flowers, potted palms, …other things too numerous to mention, and a fine supper to finish off with."
If Lena had chosen to make her own Thanksgiving feast, she could have gone to C. G. Kay for "Thanksgiving Eatables." Cape Cod cranberries were 10 cents a quart. A package of sage leaf cost a nickel. She could have gotten three pounds of raisins for a quarter, or half a pound of chocolate candy.
The Curtisses could have enjoyed many other social events that long-ago November day, if they were in fact so inclined, although Carlton's poor health doubtless slowed them down. They could have joined one of Mrs. Benedict's dancing classes in the newly opened Opera House Block. (Do you think Glenn would have liked that?) They could have watched Bath-Haverling clobber the Hammondsport home team 16-0 in football. On November 7, from 3:00 to 6:00 and again from 7:30 to 10:00, they could have attended a chrysanthemum show and sale at the home of Mrs. W. Brown. Fifteen cents would have gotten them admission, coffee, and wafers.
Glenn didn't become a Mason until 1914, but the Lodge was moving into its new rooms in the Opera House. Citizens' Hose Company had ladies' night on the 25th. The Epworth League literary society met at the home of Miss Florence Voorhees to discuss the life and work of Edward Eggleston. A "jolly party" went on at Germania Wine Cellars, but those were all people from Rochester. The Curtisses could also have slipped over to the Casino Opera House in Bath for a delightful love romance, "When We Were Twenty-One," presented by "a strong and popular company."
Lena would not have been eligible for a mysterious group formed one Friday evening in November of 1901 at the home of Miss Adda Shull. All members of the "M.M.M." were "bachelor girls," but they refused to reveal what the initials meant. Hammondsport Herald editor Lew Brown archly conjectured that they might stand for "Merry Marriageable Maidens," "Merciless Man-Hating Maidens," or any number of other possibilities. He also twitted them in verse. Members would say only that their goal was to discourage matrimony, improve their proficiency at Pedro (a form of the card game pitch, which seems to have been wildly popular around Hammondsport in 1901), and encourage the production of palatable culinary products.
While Lew Brown would have his fun with the M.M.M.'s over the next several months, he was conscientious in reporting women's issues. In fact, if the paper's columns reflected his views, he supported woman suffrage and increased women's rights. On November 13 he published lengthy extracts from an essay by Ava Stoddard of M.I.T. analyzing why women's pay was less than that of men. Miss Stoddard stated the reason was political-established workers feared competition from women, and women were not in a position to force improvements. "Give women the ballot," she urged, "and… 'Equal pay for equal work' will be realized." She would probably be horrified to see how little that is true a full century later.
Of course, Hammondsport also had some more prosaic interests back then. Sheep worrying was still a problem. J. S. Hubbs added an iron fence to his home on Sheathar Street. Miss Grace Ellis was working as the telephone and telegraph operator at Smellie's. Trappers and hunters were busy taking muskrat. Concrete or limestone sidewalks were being installed, along with a crosswalk at Lake and Wheeler. Lown's in Penn Yan held its winter millinery opening on the 14th and 15th.
Out in the big wide world, variolid (a mild form of smallpox) had broken out in Corning. The Soldiers' Home in Bath had 1706 inmates. The New York Central settled a strike by agreeing to a 10-hour day (down from 12), plus overtime. The Boers beat the British badly in a South African battle. A coastal storm devastated sections of Long Island and New Jersey.
The Treasury Secretary ordered a buy-back of US bonds; our government had so much money, the surplus was starting to drain the economy. The Board of Naval Construction was doing all it could to solve the problem, proposing 40 new ships in addition to the two battle ships and two armored cruisers already on the ways. And the Navy's first submarine boat, Fulton, submerged for over 15 hours in New York on the 25th.
Just in case you were wondering, the Herald ran its first Christmas ads on November 27, the day before Thanksgiving.
Another Touch of Grace
Once Thanksgiving was over, everyone's thoughts turned to—Christmas! W. E. Cook "respectfully" called people's attention to the possibilities of hardware as gifts for their loved ones. "Why not a Range, Stove, Cutter, Whip, Bells, Horse Blankets or Mechanics' Tools? Because they are useful does not detract from their suitability for Christmas gifts." W. T. Reynolds agreed, pointing out that "Santa Claus is a common sense old fellow… . He has a way of being practical as well as jolly…JUST NAME A MORE SUITABLE GIFT than a nice pair of Shoes, Slippers or Rubbers for any member of the family."
A. M. Becker & Company ("The Cash Store") offered "holiday bargains in everything." This took in shoes and boots, but also included underwear, dress goods, black goods, bedding, sterling silver novelties, handkerchiefs, pillow covers and dressing sacks, not to mention "Unmatched Cotton Values." Becker proclaimed, "The Christmas Spirit Prevades This Store," which was probably true if your Christmas spirit ran to heavy fleece-lined men's underwear at 33 cents ("others ask 50").
That spelling of "pervades" is original, by the way. There was no Pagemaker and no spell check in those days. Typesetters had to work with tiny letters raised in reverse, so the wonder is not the number of errors that they made, but the number that they avoided, especially considering how bad the lighting was. A speedy typesetter was one of the most awe-inspiring sights the world had to offer back then, but they tended to get very near-sighted as time went by.
Did kids have to be satisfied with boots (Arctic buckles at 49 cents) and underwear back in those days? Not necessarily. You could get skates and sleds at W. E. Cook in Pulteney, F. N. Goodrich & Co. Offered "Trains of cars, Ringing Bells, Mouth Organs, engines that steam up, Toy Banks, Toy Blocks, Doll Beds, Tool Chests, Drums, Whips and Guns." Goodrich also sold G. A. Henty's historical adventure books, which were just as big as Harry Potter a hundred years ago. "Six Trading Days to Christmas," Goodrich proclaimed in 60-point type. "We fear some people would not be ready for the ringing of Christmas Chimes if we did not keep counting the days and saying. Hurry! Hurry! Early in the day is a good motto to be adopted by Christmas shoppers."
Of course, other things than shopping were also engaging the minds of Hammondsporters. The new Opera House Block was at last fully open, and it lost its first tenant. Mrs. Benedict's dancing class had proved so popular that she had to move to more spacious quarters in the Town Hall. J. L. Shattuck moved with his family into the janitor's apartment in the Opera House, which meant that they were on hand when fire broke out on the morning of Thursday, December 5. Prompt action by citizens and firemen saved the structure—can you imagine Hammondsport without it over the last hundred years?
Winter was coming on strong. It was four below on the 17th, and Painted Post was under four feet of water. Hammondsport School closed some of its rooms while the furnace was being repaired, and P. G. Zimmer begged electrical customers to be patient and cut back their consumption while he installed a new engine. In his "spare time," he was overhauling the Kanona & Prattsburgh locomotive at the B&H shops. People were skating at the head of the lake before Christmas. Influenza was widespread, and bad checks were circulating around Bath and Hammondsport.
Out in the wider world, the British continued to do badly in South Africa, even as mass meetings in the United States protested British actions against the Boers. In our own colonial war, General Chafee accused surrendered Philippine leader Emilio Aguinaldo of continued subversion of U. S. Rule, threatening to exile him to the mainland. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett (actually William Rothwell) took the heavyweight boxing title away from Terry McGovern. Bad feeling about the Boer War did not stop John Philip Sousa and his orchestra from performing for the Queen's birthday.
Chicago was suffering from a coal famine. Police and striking streetcar workers in Scranton were fighting running gun battles. Up in Rochester, Susan B. Anthony predicted that New York women would vote by 1914; she was off by four years, but wouldn't live to see it. Out in the Midwest, Walter Elias Disney entered the world.
Reverend Thomas Duck resigned after serving St. James Church for nine years. D. S. Derrick opened a shoe repair service in Glenn Curtiss's bike shop. Curtiss himself took on a situation as traveling sales rep for a bicycle plant in Syracuse.
School closed for two weeks at Christmas, and the Hammondsport Wine Company gave every employee a turkey. There was good sleighing in the hills as December dawned, so the year ended much as it had begun, with merry parties, warm blankets, jingling harness bells, and the schuss of runners through hard-packed snow. They seem to have enjoyed it. I think we would, too.
© 2003, Kirk House