Once Europeans started muscling into our area in noticeable numbers, about 1790, the first economic pursuit, no surprise, was lumbering. Settlement at first spread along rivers, so you cut down the trees and rolled them down to the stream. You kept cutting until you didn't want to roll any farther. *Their construction and their implements […]
Once Europeans started muscling into our area in noticeable numbers, about 1790, the first economic pursuit, no surprise, was lumbering. Settlement at first spread along rivers, so you cut down the trees and rolled them down to the stream. You kept cutting until you didn't want to roll any farther.
*Their construction and their implements all made heavy use of wood, plus of course they used it for fuel. But while much of the lumber could then be for own use, it was also a cash crop. Well into the 20th century long rafts of lumber were floated down the Canisteo, Conhocton, and Tuscarora to the Chemung. At places like the Gang Mills, sawmills dressed the logs, or they might be floated further down the Chemung to the Susquehanna.
*On that newly-cleared ground, you could now plant crops and pasture livestock.
*But if you produced beyond your own consumption… which is what most people wanted to do… how could you then handle your produce? Men on Mount Washington spent several weeks each winter hauling their grain by sledge through snow to Naples, where it could be milled. Before too long, though, gristmills were scattered throughout the region " Jemima Wilkinson ordered mills built on Keuka Outlet. William Ovenshire of Barrington paid off twenty dollars on his farm by making eighteen trips to Wagener's Mill in Penn Yan, each time leading a horse carrying three bushels of grain, 'by a path only recognized by blazed trees.'
*Even then, though, you still needed to get your goods to market. Well, remember all that lumber? The reason this area was attractive to the Pulteney investors, and the reason Charles Williamson founded Bath, is that those river connections on which the lumber was drifted connected all the way to Chesapeake Bay and the Tidewater " probably the richest part of America.
*The rivers were the highways, and Williamson's business plan was to sell vast country estates to the wealthy Tidewater barons, who would settle the region lightly with their retainers and their slaves.
*This didn't happen, thank God, but Steuben County farmers cut trees and seasoned lumber, and stored up a year's worth of produce. Then they used the lumber to build rafts or arks, loaded up their produce, and poled down all the way to salt water, then often along the shore to Baltimore. There they sold their produce, then sold the ark for the lumber, pocketed their money, and walked back home.
*One man decided he wanted to see George Washington's home. So after poling down to Baltimore he walked from there to Mount Vernon, made his visit, and then walked back home to Prattsburgh.
*Steuben County was officially created in 1796, and things progressed for exactly 20 years when they hit 1816 " the Year Without a Summer.
*Snow fell every month of the year. Frost formed every month of the year. The Tuscarora Creek froze over in April, and again in September. All the grain died in the fields. All the vegetables died. Almost all the fruit died. And people died with them, not so much from cold (the summer was still warmer than a Finger Lakes winter) as from poverty and hunger.
*We now know that volcanic eruptions caused the catastrophe, but people then wondered if the sun was burning out… or if the end of the world was upon them. What would the next year bring?