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Ag History

Railroads were used to transport products East to New York and other markets. Railroad terminals were located at the City Pier in Canandaigua and in Naples. Producers transported their commodities to one of the two terminals either by truck or by steamboats that traveled along the shores of Canandaigua Lake. Typically a farmer would go to one of the many docks along the Lake and put out his flag. The steamboat would stop, be loaded, and transport the commodities to the rail terminal.

A typical 1890’s farm was about 50 acres in size and was highly diversified compared to the farms of today. They had about 13 cows, a few pigs and chickens plus a substantial garden. These commodities were used to feed the family and also served as commodities to barter for other goods and services. This farm would also have a major enterprise that provided cash income to the operator. Hops, barley, milk, sheep, black raspberries, apples and grapes were the usual commodities. Milk was shipped to Canandaigua and shipped to one of the two breweries in Canandaigua for processing. Sheep were raised for wool and meat; black raspberries were sold to manufacture a dye for use in Jello that was produced in Leroy, NY. Apples and black raspberries for “fresh” sales were dried and shipped to market while grapes were sold as fresh and became the basis for the growing wine industry.

Early immigrants from Western Europe (Germany, Switzerland and Italy) started grape production in the area. They recognized that the soils and topography of the area were well suited for wine grape production and started that production in a location that reminded them of their homeland – Naples. Grapes were also shipped to Canandaigua on steamboats or were trucked to Naples for processing into wine. The typical wine was produced from American grapes.

Neighbors would work together when it came time to harvest. For example, a wool house and a fruit dying facility were located in a hamlet like Cheshire along with a cider mill, school and an equipment repair business. Neighbors worked collectively in these facilities to shear sheep and card the wool, as well as dry different fruits. In the early 30’s a pea veiner was housed in Cheshire. Again, neighbors worked together to remove the peas from the vines and pods so they could be shipped to the processor.

Early farm families were usually large, by today’s standards, and very close. Children attended grammar school at home or in a one-room school house that contained the 8 primary grades. If the community was large enough, they had a multiple room school house, such as the one in Cheshire, where there were 2 grades per room. Students who wished to go on to high school went to a school shared by multiple communities.

Groceries and dry goods were available in local hamlets and barter was the usual means of payment. People bartered with commodities from their farm or traded labor for the items they needed. Medical care was available in Canandaigua and Clifton Springs. Therefore, a seriously injured person would have to travel to one of these locations for help. Fire was very devastating on a farm because there was little to no fire protection available in the community. Neighbors helped one another as need arose. The most common form of cooperation surrounded harvest and shipping commodities to market. Grain was thrashed, peas were veined, wool was sheared and carded and corn was chopped and put in silos cooperatively.

This site brought to you by The Ontario County Agricultural Enhancement Board In cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County, the Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, and Ontario County Department of Planning. Canandaigua, New York 14424
585-396-4455 or 585-394-3977.