May 9, 2004

Dryden in the 1840s

George Goodrich covers a lot of territory in this chapter, from the slaves held in Dryden to the quality of liquor and its use in raising church walls to the appearance of mineral coal, steam engines, and sewing machines in Dryden.

Chapter XVI.

Review of the Development Period.

We have failed to mention the war with Mexico, which occurred during this period from 1846 to 1848, resulting in the addition to our country of a vast amount of western territory, including California. The war did not excite great interest in the state of New York, and so far as we can learn no organized effort was made in Dryden to promote it, and no volunteers, except perhaps a few scattering adventurers, went from Dryden to engage in it. It was a Southern measure, not over popular at that time in the North, although in its results it proved to be important and highly beneficial to the country at large.

This was an era of prosperity in which the value of real estate and other property maintained a healthy improvement. As the water power used by the saw-mills ceased to be required for that purpose on account of the rapidly decreasing supply of saw logs, attention was given to other kinds of manufacturing to which these water powers were adapted; and hence many of the mills and factories of the town date back to this period.

During this time stoves to a great extent took the place of the old-fashioned fireplaces, and tallow candles furnished the means of house lighting in the evening, supplemented toward the end of this period by sperm oil lamps and an explosive burning fluid compounded of camphine and alcohol.

The anti-slavery movement developed largely during this time. The census of 1820 shows that there were then held in the county of Tompkins fifty slaves, of whom thirty-two were held in the town of Caroline, nine in the town of Hector, six in the town of Danby and three in Ulysses (then including Ithaca), but none were then held in the towns of Dryden, Groton or Lansing. In the preliminary draft of this chapter we said that we found no evidence that negro slavery ever existed in the town of Dryden. We had learned that Edward Griswold kept in his family an old negro by the name of Jack O'Liney, who had once been a slave, but who seems to have been harbored by Mr. Griswold as a subject of charity. Further investigation develops the fact that Aaron Lacy, who came to Dryden in 1799, while he resided on the Stickles corner in Willow Glen, bought and kept as a domestic servant, a slave girl by the name of Ann Wisner, remembered by some of the older people as "Black Ann," who was sent to school by her master in the Willow Glen district in those early years, and who, after her emancipation moved to Ithaca and has since then frequently visited the family of her former master. In the will of Aaron Lacy dated in the year 1826 and recorded in the surrogate's office of Tompkins county in book B, page 69, this slave girl is bequeathed to his widow, Eliza Lacy. Perhaps other slaves were held in Dryden, but we learn of no others, and slavery was abolished in the whole state of New York early in this period, July 4, 1827.

A great change in the customs in regard to the use of alcoholic and spirituous liquors took place during this time. As we have seen, in 1824 there were five distilleries of whiskey in operation in the town and we are told that everybody in those days made use of it. Intoxicating liquor of some sort was considered a necessity to be furnished at every raising of the frame of a new building, and no farmer could commence haying without providing a supply of strong drink for the use of himself and his help during this laborious operation in those times. Tradition says that for the raising of the frame of the Presbyterian church edifice in Dryden village, which occupied a week in the year 1819, a large amount of whiskey was supplied to the volunteer workmen. Whether, as is sometimes claimed by old people, the whiskey of those days was so pure that it had none of the pernicious effects which attend the intemperate use of the modern article of the same name, is fortunately not within the province of history to determine.

In reviewing the first fifty years of Dryden's inhabitation we cannot but be impressed with the great progress and improvements which had been made, and doubtless the inhabitants of 1847 considered that the limit of progress in art and science had then almost been reached, and that but few improvements could be expected in the future. Yet at that time not a single mowing machine, reaper or family sewing machine had ever been brought into the township, the first of the former, an Emory mower, having been brought into town by Elias W. Cady in 1850, and of the latter was a Grover & Baker sewing machine presented to Mrs. John E. McElheny by her brother, Volney Aldrich, of New York, in about 1857, the cost of which was one hundred thirty dollars. At that time people came from as far as West Dryden to see a machine which could "actually sew," and that same machine is still in active use.

Up to this time not a single bushel of mineral coal ("stone coal" as it was called in those days) had ever been introduced, the first, as we learn, being a barrel of blacksmith's coal brought as an experiment by Obed Lindsey and Jim Patterson in 1850. Kerosene oil had then never been heard of, and it was some time before "stone coal" was used here for heating purposes, the term "coal" then being universally applied to charcoal, which was used much more commonly than now.

We believe we are safe in stating that up to this time not a single steam engine, either stationary or portable, had ever been introduced into the town except where the D. L. & W. R. R. now crosses the south-west corner. On that old road in 1840 it was attempted to use the first locomotive, but without success until it was sent back to Schenectady to be enlarged and improved. When returned it was so heavy that it wrecked one of the bridges and was abandoned until about 1847, when steam power first became a practical success on this old line of railroad.

In concluding this chapter we quote two stanzas from a centennial poem written by a lady who was born in our adjoining county of Cortland and who is a relative of the Hammond family in Dryden, as follows:

"Where women sat beside their looms,
A hundred years ago,
And wove in cloth in threads they spun
Of linen, wool, and tow,
Now great King Steam, in workshops large,
Like some old giant elf,
Gets up with angry puff and roar
And does the work himself.
"The poor, old stage coach lumbered on,
A hundred years ago,
O'er rugged roads and mountains steep,
Its progress was but slow;
Now, through the mountain's heart, and o'er
Deep chasms, yawning wide,
With iron steeds, in palace cars,
How fearlessly we ride." - Luranah Hammond

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 47-49.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at May 9, 2004 4:50 PM in
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