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“History of Springwater” by Orson Walbridge

Early History of Springwater New York

Chapter 9 - Manner of Living and Doing Business and Financial Conditions of Early Settlers.

by Orson Walbridge


Having mentioned some of the early settlers of the town, I will now describe their condition financially and their means of procuring a living. The most of the first settlers who came here were dependent upon their daily labor to support themselves and families, and as most of the lands were in a state of nature and covered with heavy timber, and required clearing before there could be raised sufficient food to feed the people; therefore other means were necessarily us-sorted to; and as there was plenty of pine timber upon the hills, a large proportion of the first settlers resorted to lumbering and making shingles for a livelihood. Consequently there were many sawmills built here. The manner of procedure was to select the best trees, take two or three saw logs, the best of the tree, to the mill to be sawed into lumber and leave the remainder of the tree in the woods to rot. Also in making shingles, they would select a shingle tree by chopping into the side of a tree and split out a block and try it to see if it would split free. If they thought it would make good shingles they would cut it down and saw out a block the right length for shingles and if it worked well they would use up what was suitable for shingles and leave the rest in the woods to decay and go to waste. After the lumber and shingles were manufactured they had to be taken north to some of the previously settled towns and exchanged for bread-stuffs and other necessaries for family use. One way of transporting them was to draw them to the head of Hemlock lake and raft them down to the foot during the summer season, and taking them down on the ice in the winter, or when the lake was sufficiently frozen, where the lumber and shingles could be sold or exchanged for such things as were needed for family use.

In the winter when there was sleighing and the lake well frozen, many of the northerners were in the habit of coming up after lumber end bringing something to exchange for whatever they wanted. Some would bring a barrel of pork and some a few bushels of grain or apples, or such other commodities they might have to spare; and they would frequently get as much lumber for one barrel of pork as they would need for a long time. I have seen as many as one hundred teams passing north from this valley in a day. But things have changed. Our lumber has been used up, and we now have to go to other parts to get lumber for our own use.

I am happy to say that there have been other changes. The forests have been cleared away, and the lands brought under a good state of cultivation, and we are now able to raise our own bread-stuffs, and have each year a large surplus, of the products of the earth to dispose of and send to the eastern markets, instead of to a few northern towns as was previously done, and a citizen of Springwater now may not feel ashamed to say he lives in Springwater, Livingston Co., N.Y.

Manner of Clearing Lands

The most usual way was, when a person wished to clear a piece of land, he first went on and cut all of the brush and timber and commenced the brush heaps. Then he would cut down the larger timber, trim off the limbs and brush and pile them on the heaps, then cut up the bodies of the trees into logging length, about fourteen feet long, and proceed in that manner until the piece was finished. It was a custom with some to leave a few large trees after the tops and brush had been cut and piled without cutting up the bodies of the trees. These were called “roll pile trees.” It was a common practice to hire chopping done by the acre; and in such a case the parties would specify that there should be (generally four roll piles to the acre.) Another way of clearing was by slashing, so called, that is by cutting all of the brush and timber so as to as nearly cover the ground as possible lopping down the limbs of the larger trees and leaving it for the brush to dry in that manner, not cutting up any of the trees or logs until after the brush was burned. Another way, which was practiced by many, was to cut and clear off all the brush and small timber and girdle the large timber, that in to cut a ring around the tree so as to prevent the sap from ascending, and thereby kill the tree. This was the quickest way of getting the land ready for a crop, but I think the poorest and dearest way in the end, for the limbs would soon die and become tender and begin to fall off and made it necessary to be continually clearing until the old dead trees were all removed.

But to go back to the first chopping. After the brush were sufficiently dry they were burned; and if they were in good condition the ground was mostly burned over, and the fallow was ready for logging. I will here state that the logging was done by men and ox teams, and there were many who had no team, and those who had not sufficient help to do logging to advantage, therefore, they were in the habit of assisting each other, and when one got his fallow ready to log he would go around and ask all hands and teams to his logging bee; and they were most all ready to turn out, and those who had oxen came with their oxen. If there was a large fallow to log they would make an all day bee, and furnish dinner for the men and teams, and in this way they would log ten or twelve acres in a day. In this way they would go around until all the logging was done for three or four miles around. My father, I remember, made an all day bee and had twelve acres to log, and after that he attended a bee with his team for about two weeks each day, so it was a kind of mutual help all around. By the help of a liberal supply of whisky there could be quite an excitement gotten up in logging. When they arrived at the place of work they would all start in on the same side of the field, each team with a chosen gang of hands. About four besides the driver would take a strip about four or five rods wide and pile the logs into suitable heaps. The large logs were drawn by oxen to the heap and piled by the men, and the small stuff was piled on by hand; and there was a strife to see who could first get across the field, and by passing the jug, often the excitement would increase and the work become more lively, and before night the spirits ran high and the logs came together In a miraculous manner; and the oxen, some of them, seemed to enjoy the sport as well as the men and some of them that were used to the business seemed to know what they were about as well as the men, and when their chain was hitched to a log they would go to the heap with it, and the men had to get out of the way or be run over.


As I have given a little in relation to clearing land, I will now state that some employed “niggers” to assist in working up their large timber. (Do not take this as meaning the same kind of Negroes that the lazy Southerners employed to do their work) I will explain: If one had some very large logs to dispose of, and too large to chop he would nigger them up into logging length by cutting a few notches on top of the log, at proper distances apart, and then build a fire on the log and lay a few poles across the log, and let them burn; by going around once or twice a day and waking up their niggers, by punching off the coals and laying on more poles across they would in three or four days nigger off or burn the logs in two.

Manner of Doing Business.

Having made mention of some of the early settlers and their locations, their manner of doing business may be in order, and to show the contrast in the way of town business then and now, I will give the record of the settlement with the supervisor of the town as taken verbatim from the book:

Oliver Jennings, to the town of Springwater, Dr. as supervisor for 1817, to monies received of the collector $175.00. Cr. September 28th, 1818:

We the undersigned having met to audit the accounts of Oliver Jennings, later supervisor, do find that the money paid together with his own services to amount to $175.16. JOHN CULVER, J. P. Hugh Wilson, Town Clerk. Will now give some of the bylaws on votes taken at the second annual town meeting held in the town of Springwater, on the 1st day of April, 1818: Voted that path masters shall be fence viewers That Erastus Barber shall be pound master and his barn said to answer for pound, and that John Wadams and Joad Gillette shall likewise be pound master, and their yards to be town pounds. Voted that owners of rams shall forfeit one dollar per day for each day they run at large from the first of September to the first of November. Voted that all hogs weighing over fifty weight shall be free commoners. Voted that solid fence five feet high shall be considered lawful fence. Voted that the next town meeting shall be held at the school house near John Rudes (This was at Marvins corners on the hill.)

Ontario County - Statement of votes as taken at the anniversary election for members of assembly, 1818, viz: Benjamin Green had one hundred and one votes; Elijah Spencer had ninety-six votes; John Van Fossen had ninety-nine votes; William McCartney had ninety-six votes; Nathaniel Case had ninety-five votes; John A. Stephens had eighty-seven votes; Myron Holley had eleven votes; Michael Mussleman had five votes; Timothy Barnard had six votes: William Billinghurst had five votes; Eli Hill had one vote; Valentine Brother had thirteen votes. For members of Congress, Nathaniel Allen, had one hundred one votes; Albert H. Tracey had one hundred and one votes. For Senator, Perry G. Childs had ten votes; Gamaliel H. Rarsto bad twenty votes, David L Evens had twenty votes; Samuel Paine had ten votes.

Ear Marks.

In the early days of Springwater it was a custom to let cattle, sheep and hogs run at large on the commons and in the woods, and it was necessary that they should be marked, so that each person could claim his own; therefore, each person had an ear mark by which all stock was marked before they were turned loose in the spring. I will give a few as I find them upon record: May 11th, 1817, Oliver Jennings (mark) square crop off the right ear and a slit underside the same; Alphus Phelps’ mark is a square crop on the left ear; Lyman Herrick’s mark a swallow’ fork on the right ear; Simon Pemberton’s mark a slit in the right ear and a hole in the left; David Herrick’s mark, a swallow fork in the left ear; John W. Barnes’ mark, a slanting crop on the under side of the right ear; Abner Goodrich’s mark, a square crop on the right ear and a slit in the left; Solomon Doud’s mark, a slanting crop on the upper side of the left ear; Hugh Wilson’s mark, the left ear cropped, the right slit deep; Mark Wilson’s cows, his hogs and sheep; Jacob Gillette’s mark, the right ear cropped (as he has said it) the other left as nature made it; as H. H. Grover nothing got I slip his mark down 0.

As I have given sufficient to show style of marks, I will say that cattle, sheep and hogs running at large, and having the range of the woods, could come out in the fall looking sleek and well, and many young cattle fit for beef, and hogs, especially when it was a good fall for shack, (plenty of nuts and acorns) would grow well and fatten so as to be fit for pork without any other feeding. I have known a great many hogs taken from the woods and killed, and they were very nice pork, except it would be a little oily when fattened mostly on beach nuts. When our cows ran in the woods in the spring they were in the habit of feeding on leeks, and when they found plenty of them their milk and the butter made from their milk would be so highly flavored from the leek that it would be nearly unfit for use; and sometimes an onion or leek would be eaten before the milk or butter, and in that way it could be eaten very well. There were many ways in which the early settlers were deprived of the privileges and conveniences which we now enjoy. The wheat then raised was very apt to be smutty and as the mills here were not provided with smut machines or other means of cleaning the smut from the wheat, it had to be ground as it was taken to the mill smut and all; consequently we got very dark flour unless we cleansed the wheat before taking to mill. The usual way was to wash the wheat. I will describe the way of doing so: They would take a tub or other large vessel and partly fill with water and then gradually pour in the wheat. The smut balls would remain on top of the water and the wheat sink to the bottom, then skim off the smut balls and what else that came to the top, and then by stirring and rubbing the wheat with the hands, and then draining off the water and adding fresh water and rubbing and washing until the smut was all removed, then drain as dry as possible and spreading on blankets or sheets and placing in the sun or other convenient place to dry; and by tending and stirring a few days it would be sufficiently dried to grind, and In that way we could get quite passable flour. But let us go back and mention the manner of harvesting, threshing and separating the grain from the chaff. The only way of cutting grain in the early days of Springwater, was with the sickle, which was a slow way but a very saving way, as there was but very little grain wasted if well reaped. A good reaper would reap about one acre and bind the same in a day. In a few years grain cradles came into use, which was an improvement on the sickle, but after the cradle came into use the sickle was resorted to for lodged grain, rough places or steep side hills. I recollect of cutting wheat for Wells Chamberlin with a cradle on the west part of what is now A. G. Marvin’s farm, when at the same time there were other men cutting with sickle on the steepest part of the field. This was in 1827 or ‘28, and the first crop ever raised upon said field. I also cradled a piece of wheat for Willis Carpenter the same year on the field east of Nelson F. Snyder’s house. I was then but eighteen or nineteen years old. After cradles came into general use the most of the grain was cut by them for a number of years, and until within ten or fifteen years past, when reapers began to take the place of cradles and horse power was used in place of man power for cutting; and now self binders are doing away with hand binding and the latest improvement is the bundle carrier by which sheaves are dumped in piles ready for setting up in shocks to dry, which as yet has to be done by hand, here but on the western prairies they have machines to cut, thresh, separate and bag the wheat all combined. I believe the bags have to be tied by hand and thrown off the machine, hut we are not able to guess what will come next. But to go back to Springwater. Seventy years ago the most of the grain raised had to be threshed with a flail, which at that time was about as cheap and profitable way as any, for if a man had more grain than he wanted to thresh himself, he could hire a man, usually during the winter season, for about thirteen dollars per month, or fifty cents per day, and let him thresh all winter or as long as the grain held out; and if there was stock to feed they could feed out the straw while threshing, which was much better than for the cattle to pull it from the straw stack, as at the present time, and as the farmers were not in a hurry to market their crop, as at that time there were no railroads, and the Erie canal was not completed until 1824, so there were no means of conveying the grain to the eastern market, and the surplus had to be disposed of at home. Consequently much of the coarse grain was manufactured into whisky. One other mode of threshing: After there were barns with floors sufficiently large they were in the habit of using horses to thresh. They would fill the floor with sheaves of grain and then drive on the horses, as many as could be conveniently used; and by driving them around on the grain and letting them tramp it out with their feet, and by continuing to stir up the straw with a fork and tramping with the horses, they would get the grain very well threshed. There were no threshing machines here until about 1830. There was then one built and started at Thos. L. Spafard’s barn where Ezra Willis now lives. The cylinder was made of wood and cast iron lags or beaters bolted on to a tight hollow cylinder, and when they started up the machine it seemed to be all right, but in a few minutes, from some cause the cylinder burst and the fragments flew in every direction, one of the pieces striking Amos Spafard in the head, putting out one of his eyes, breaking his jaw bones, and disfiguring his face very bad. He made out to live and get well, but it changed him from a good looking and one of the most active young men among us to a poor disfigured and discouraged man, and after a few years he died. The improvements that have been made in threshing machines since then are to well understood, and the manner of threshing so familiar to all that they need no explanation from me; so we will go back and clean up the wheat that we had pounded out with the flail. As there were no fanning mills here for a few years after the first settlement of the town, the people had to resort to the old style hand fan, such as we read of in olden times, or by winnowing. The fan was fiat and fan-shaped, and so as to hold about a peck of wheat with the chaff at a time and by tossing up and catching the wheat in the fan as it came down the wind from the falling wheat would blow away the chaff, and by continuing this process for a little time the chaff would be all removed, leaving the wheat in the fan, and then by wrying so called yerking the fan back and forth a few times, the wheat heads or short straws that were left would be collected on the top and at the center of the wheat and they could be brushed off. A common thing to brush off with was a hen’s or a goose’s wing, which was kept for that purpose, and in that way the wheat could be very well cleaned, though it was a slow and tedious process. Another way to clean up was by winnowing. To do this they would clean a place on the threshing floor, and then when there was a good strong wind blowing they would take a scoop shovel or measure of the wheat and chaff and by holding it as high as possible pore it out gradually, and the wheat would fall in a pile by its self and the chaff would be carried along by the wind and fall in a place separate from the wheat, and by repeating this process a few times the wheat could be got possibly clean. But in the present age of progress and improvement these old ways of doing business are almost forgotten or unknown to the young or the rising generation. This is truly a wonderful age, and old customs as well as old people, are fast passing a way, and new inventions and a new or younger generation are taking the place of those that have gone before; and still the world wags on awaiting God’s appointed time for another change.