From the series Peaks of Allegany, Alfred Sun, February 22, 1940 (pt.1) and February 29, 1940 (pt.2).
Transcribed by Karen Meisenheimer.


Part One

By Hubert D. Bliss

When I embarked upon “Peaks of Allegany,” I had to proceed on a premise for which there was no collected data available. It was a virgin field; all of which proves that the days of pioneering even in Allegany County have not passed. Yet the related data that has accumulated in establishing as a fact that Allegany plateaus are the highest arable points of the Empire State quite baffles me.

Because, now, the series has reached the stage dealing specifically with that arability—namely, that of agricultural life as among the three major fields of human activity rating as Allegany “peaks”. The material is too extensive to permit details other than in a selective sense. Many a reader will have in mind some significant data that he feels should be part of any such series. To them I can only trust a tolerance toward my objective of raising salient points of farming within a highland region, rather than seeking a compendium of Allegany County rural life.

To challenge two mountain regions as taking a back seat in respect to the highest inhabited area of New York State might appear rash for a spot known as the Allegany hills. But the fact stand up under every test. It is significant that the premise has evoked much valuable information from various private and official sources, where surprise has been mingled with recognition of the points raised.

Allegany has two distinctive claims based on elevation:

First, it has on Alma Hill probably the highest tilled soil in the state.

Second, it has scattered over the country, but more particularly around Andover, Independence and other south border towns, the highest lands rates as “first class farms” in the state.

The Alma Hill claim to cultivation peaks today does not rest on a practical farming basis. Yet that plateau which holds the state altitude record outside the Adirondack and Catskill forests is generally cleared, and some tiallage is carried on. The U. S. Geological Survey rates Alma Hill with a 3548-foot elevation. Hence that figure represents the cultivation maximum of Allegany County, though no actual farm work may be done at the exact maximum. All facts point to this as the highest place in the state actually tilled, but in such a big territory as the Empire State one has to be aware that there is no official farm elevation figure on land without a productive farm status.

Oil has superseded farming as the economic base of Alma Hill. Out of Wellsville, in a southwesterly direction, the hills rise in ever more towering peaks until they find their climax in Alma Hill. That intervening region is farm land, some of it good and some not so rated; besides embracing some oil leases. That section around Niles Hill and toward Petrolia accounts for some of the really good farms on which Allegany County can rest its claims as being the arable peak of the Empire State.

Toward the Alma Hill eastern rim, this margin of actual farm rating begins to diminish. Probably that last farm within the slope range that can justify itself on an operating basis today is the old Chris Vossler place. Mr. Vossler is one of the larger oil and farm property owners thereabouts, though his original holding was his farm.

But when the Alma Hill plateau was settled some 70 to 80 years ago, farming and some lumbering provided the only livelihood. The Quicks, Masons, Wycoffs and others who cleared plateau lands wrestled livings from what is declared to be fair soil. Some Quicks still live in the section, but generally follow the oil workings.

The large Quick homestead, full three stories, stands as the topmost outpost of the cleared plateau. It was built by the late Jule Quick, and a son now occupies the place. Close by a rise the woods that skirts the western and southern rise of the plateau, and which extend over the entire slope from there to Alma hamlet.

Where farming comes into its own on a straight operating basis at the “peak” state points is around Andover, more particularly south of the village. There farms liberally distributed over a large area, command the attention of state farm agencies as among the finest in the state.

There hilltops rise from 2,200 to 2,400 feet in constant series. One 2.500-foot wooded elevation is south of Whitesville and it is between Andover and Whitesville that the greatest expanse of good farm land at high elevations exist. These are potato farms, primarily, though dairying is of corollary importance.

Which then of these farms is the highest? That is a big order: a wiser man probably would avoid committing himself. But after all, we have brought this series to the stage that requires some beacon of this sort: one that can be cited without actually labeling it as the highest first class farm in the county, and thereby the State.

Reference to high spots at Andover immediately envokes comment on Round Top, with emphasis on the high fertile Augustus (Gus) Lynch farm at its very peak. The government rates Round Top to the extent of placing a bench mark there, but snowclad fields do not suggest a winter search for this survey record as feasible. The Geological Survey maps, however, show an elevation of at least 2,400 feet, and the Lynch fields are farmed to their maximum.

Potato folks of the country know the record of this Lynch farm, and space does not permit details beyond citing the fact that it is rated as producing around 10,000 bushels of potatoes yearly.

If Round Top thus becomes the beacon as the highest farm of real economic consequence in the Empire State, it must be recognized as more a symbol for the Allegany elevation supremacy than of distinctly overshadowing scores of other good hilltop farms through the county.

Since Allegany County has a total acreage of 662,118, of which 76 per cent is in farms, there is plenty of room to qualify a lot of its hill farms as “peaks”. Most towns have some farming at 2,000-foot elevations. Alfred has some farms right at the top of the Elm Valley hill road, where the altitude is 2,350 feet. A half mile off on a side road, atop the ridge toward Andover, is the old McAndrew place, still one of the fine farm spots of the county.

Wellsville, Willing, Friendship and Amity all have good farms at 2,100 and 2,200 feet, possibly higher. The Cuba sector has some hills right up in the air toward Clarksville and out Swift Hill that rate tops as livestock and dairy farms. Ward has its productive Irish Settlement highlands, Rusford and Centerville are north western area towns where hill lands account for the chief fruit farms of the county, in addition to potato and dairy farming. Angelica, Almond, Burns and other towns add to the roll call.

Copyright, 1940 by H. D. Bliss.

Part Two

By Hubert D. Bliss

From Dean Carl E. Ladd of the State College of Agriculture at Ithaca comes an observation that has a place in such a series. Dean Ladd was director of the State School of Agriculture at Alfred for a few years back 20 years ago.

He writes:
“I presume you have this particular thought in mind that with the relatively rapid action of nature in restoring forest cover to the abandoned land and with the reforestation undertaken by this State and other agencies, the hills of southern New York, within the next generation, will constantly become more beautiful.

“When this brushy second-growth timber which is just now starting matures into merchantable lumber I hope that public opinion will be so aroused that never again will the hills be skinned and made ugly. A careful and scientific cutting of the timber would leave the hills their natural beauty and yet bring financial returns to the region.”

Here is work ahead for Allegany County of a pioneer nature.

Last week’s article, as the first section of the double-header chapter on farming as one of the three major fields of human activity rating as Allegany peaks, discussed the chief elements that account for this position.

This second chapter section elaborates on certain economic and social aspects of this farm pattern.

Elevation has not been exploited as rating such Allegany County land as better within the lad use category. This series has not sought to delve much into this highly technical phase. Instead the emphasis placed on elevation has been in respect to practical arability that sets the county apart as an upland homeland, rather than on comparative land merits within its own borders.

Yet, one recognizes that rugged country lags some when rated with rolling or valley land. Allegany County follows much this pattern within its borders. Still the town of Independence, where there’s little other than slopes and hilltops, leads the county in the percentage of its land in farms, a total of 97 percent; with 43 percent in crops.

Hume, where the elevation average falls off, has 92 percent of its land in farms, with 43 percent of that in crops. This township, with its Genesee River valley dominance, probably ranks as county leader in farm unit productivity. That river valley influence exerts itself upstream to the Pennsylvania border, and so accounts for many farms that rate Allegany high as an agricultural county.

Between these two contrasting high fertility areas lie more variable towns, wherein elevation is a factor in depreciating land use. Bolivar, Alma, Genesee and Wirt rate high in submarginal lands, independent of oil and gas values. Allen and Granger, much less rugged towns in the northern tier, fare little better on farm land use ratings, however. All had enhanced agricultural importance even within the present century.

Still elevation remains much as the backbone of Allegany farming. The uplands mark it as a dairy region; the plateaus chiefly account for the county’s ranking eighth in potato production in the state. The figure at hand, that of 1935, places the total county yield at 1,305,931 bushels.

The soil is there over the highlands where the glacial age left it, with varying fertility. But there’s something else “up in them thar hills” that potatoes like, and elevation plays its own role. Such factors as winter conditioning of soil at high altitudes, credited with increasing soil fertility; summer air channels that tend to check disease; a moderate amount of rain through the growing season and fair drainage—each contributes toward the high rank that Allegany County holds as potato region.

Elevation also adds another factor in the type of farming that can be carried on profitably in normal times—and that is its tendency to keep land values low. Hence it is that over a period of years dairying, potato growing and poultry ranks as the three kinds of farm that pay in Allegany hills.

Crop figures also tell their own elevation story for potatoes. Andover sets the pace for town total production; Independence for the average yield per acre. The data is from a state source breakdown of Allegany County farm statistics of 1935. Andover is credited with 150,418 bushels; an average of 175 bushels to an acre. Independence, in setting up its 200 bushels per acre average, produced 146,193 bushels.

Hume had a 197-bushel average for its total yield of 82,770 bushels. Wellsville and Willing had higher total productions. Alma was third in average, with 185 bushels, but a dozen towns exceeded its 33,559-bushel total. Hume is the only one of these town whose terrain does not fall within the scope of Allegany’s arable farm “peaks”.

The county total of 1,305,931 bushels is for 2,850 farms reporting from the 3,777 farms in the county. The county average was 145 bushels to the acre.

It is into such a productive homeland, then, that Allegany folks have turned these plateaus that the glacial age left fertile here and in adjoining counties; but highest here. Prof. F. B. Howe of New York State College of Agriculture at Ithaca, whose findings were cited last week as supporting the Allegany elevation claims supplied in his letter the explanation of the land fertility.

He writes:
“In seeking an explanation for the presence of farms in Allegany County as such elevations, one must consider the character of the underlying rock from which the soils are developed. For the most part the rock formations consist of sandstone which weather rapidly. The action of the glacial ice when it over-rode these areas was to round out the hill-tops and leave a mantle of soil material which was gritty or loamy in texture. The soils are comparatively free of stone. One does not encounter flaggy stone fields. Also fairly well-drained.”

This does not extend generalization to Allegany hill farms as all good. There is a great difference in soils that govern their value.

Steuben County as a movement under way that is indicative of new appraisal of the section as a potato farming region. Within the past two or three years, potato growers have come in from other states, particularly Maine. They have applied the Maine formula, and the results have made farm circles over the state take notice. More Maine people are coming in and next summer promises to give a fairly comprehensive test of their methods.

These newcomers are looking up soil conditions very carefully and avoid hilltops that do not test fairly good. Abandoned farms figure in their purchases, though, as acquisition of suitable soil at low cost is a prime requisite. While in hill country, this “Little Maine” is appreciably lower than such plateaus as those around Arkport, Greenwood and Rexville, that help make Steuben County state leader in potato production.

In Potter County this preference for hill country by potato growers from Ohio has been of longer growers from Ohio has been of longer standing. For a decade or more, the acquisition of desirable plateau land has been under way and one big scale firm today grows many thousands of bushels of certified seed potatoes.

Allegany County has not experienced a similar land demand, though some surveys have been made. Farm leaders here do not believe that “Main methods” must be introduced. Certain conditions, they feel, make Allegany a more favored region than either Steuben or Potter in supplying its own development should it be determined that any distinct revision of growing practices is necessary. At the same time, they maintain a friendly attitude toward any who may find in the Old Allegany highlands something better than is now wrested from its gnarled landscape.

These references to Allegany farming may appear to have put undue stress son potato growing. There has been an effort to make a balanced ration, as compounding a people of cosmopolitan pursuits. That has taken us on occasional excursions into the pastoral dairying lore that attaches to any upland country, Allegany always has led the state in high grade herds. Breeding of purebred stock was accompanied years ago by active disease eradication work, such as ranked the county as a pioneer. Dairy products have been a chief cash source for all parts.

Other types of farming too share in the county’s enviable position. But within the scope of this series, potato farming finds emphasis as more distinctly the crop atop the plateaus that give Allegany County a unique homeland recognition as the highest productive region in the Empire State.

--Copyright, 1940, by H. D. Bliss