February 15, 2004

Developing Dryden, circa 1825

When we talk about "development" now, we tend to mean adding buildings and infrastructure to terrain that's already firmly under our control. "Development" in the 1822-1847 period that George Goodrich describes here means removing the forest and eventually the stumps to clear land and produce money for its future development.

As rough as this phase of Dryden's history may seem, it marks a significant change from earlier chapters on Dryden's state when European settlers first arrived and during the Pioneer Period. The "virgin forest of pine" is giving way to agriculture, mostly dairy. It's easy to take our current landscape for granted, or think it's "just nature", but reading Goodrich's history makes it plain how much effort has been expended by humans all over Dryden to make it what it is today.

Chapter XV.

Occupation of the Inhabitants

During this "development" period Dryden was emphatically a lumbering town. Agricultural operations had been developed sufficiently to support the population, but the surplus product of the town at this time in the era of building was mainly pine lumber of a superior quality. This did not need to seek a distant market but was in ready demand at the low price which then prevailed of from four to five thousand dollars per thousand feet by the country immediately north and easy of us, which was not well supplied with pine lumber. The following statistics concerning Dryden are gathered from the second edition of "Spafford's N.Y. Gazetter," published in 1824, and furnish valuable data bearing upon this subject of the occupation of the people:

Number of grist-mills in town, 4; saw-mills, 26; fulling-mills, 2; carding-machines, 4; distilleries, 5; asheries, 4; population, 3,950; taxable property, $208,866; electors, 733; farmers, 2,005; mechanics, 132; shop-keepers or traders, 4; number of families, 634; acres of improved land, 14,323; number of meat cattle, 3,670; number of horses, 674; number of sheep, 6,679; number of yards of cloth maunfactured in families in 1821, 37,300!! Number of school districts, 20; public school money in 1821, $576.05.

We observe from this record the small number of horses kept compared with cattle; the small number of store-keepers compared with the number of farmers and mechanics, and the small amount of taxable property, not being one-fifth of what the farm buildings of the town are to-day insured for in the Dryden and Groton company.

In the year 1835 the number of saw-mills in operation was fifty-three, all employed in working up the great quantity of timber, mostly pine, which produced the ready money for the people, the predominance of which industry greatly retarded other farming interests. The picturesque fences of pine stumps, now disappearing, but which have served their purpose in this form for half a century, often attract the attention of strangers and are reminders of the former abundance of pine. Any person who has occasion to pass through the woodland remaining on the Dryden hills to-day may observe the large weather-beaten but almost imperishable pine stumps still standing in the woods, from which the wealth of pine timber was taken in this period of our history. Every merchant of those times kept in connection with his store a lumber yars, where he received from his customers lumber in exchange for goods. John McGraw, then a clerk in a Dryden village store, obtained his first lessons in the lumber business in handling the local pine timber of the town, from the profits of which he obtained his start in the financial world, and afterwards applying his experience thus obtained to larger operations elsewhere, he amassed the forune which netted over two million dollars to his estate after his decease. Dryden must then have presented the appearance of a vast lumber camp, the fifty-three saw-mills, all run by water power, giving employment to a great many men in cutting logs, drawing them to mill, and manufacturing and marketing the lumber, operations all requiring much more labor to produce the same results then than now. Like all lumbering communities Dryden did not present a very advanced or refined state of development in that period, and John Southworth, who was a keen and careful observer of men and things in those times in which he participated, used to say in after years that the Dryden farmer, who occasionally took out of his clearing in those days to the county seat of this or an adjoining county with his ox team a load of lumber, or perhaps a cargo of charcoal, or sometimes a few barrels of potash salts leached from the ashes gathered after the burning of his fallow, when he was interrogated by the tradesmen to who he sold his products as to where his home was, would admit with no little hesitation and embarrassment, that he lived "just in the edge of Dryden."

A great change has taken place since that time. The pine timber lands, so valuable to the lumbermen, but after the removal of the timber, so beset with obstacles in the shape of the pine roots and stumps, so troublesome to the agriculturist, have at length been subdued and reduced to cultivation, and prove to be possessed of rich and enduring qualities of fertility. The disposition of the Dryden farmers to devote their efforts to dairying instead of grain-raising has tended to improve rather than diminish the natural resources of the soil. In place of the original pine timber, excellent farm buildings have been supplied, and the Dryden farmer is no longer ashamed to acknowledge the location of his home. In fact his tendencies now seem to be in the other extreme, and subject him to the charge that he believes that his town was created a little better than the rest of the world in general. The interest which was manifested in the celebration of Dryden's Centennial is proof of the pride which her inhabitants now take in acknowledging and honoring their native town.

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 45-7.

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

Posted by simon at February 15, 2004 9:38 AM in
Note on photos