OUR WEST ALMOND, NY STORY
From “The History & Memories of West Almond, NY & Its People” by Virginia Hargraves McKnight Burdick
and used with the authors permission. (Transcribed 2006 by Mary Rhodes)
This is West Almond, NY, our hometown, a small quiet hamlet. Located northeast of the center of Allegany County. “Allegany” derived from the name of the ancient tribe of Allegwei Indians. West Almond, containing 22,109 acres with water drainage from the east reaching the Atlantic Ocean through Chesapeake Bay, and from the west it flows to the St. Lawrence River.
When the Pioneers arrived, probably by way of the Turnpike, they came prepared with a supply of provisions, such as salt meats, bread stuffs, dried fruits. Choicest meats were easy to supply their tables with, deer, moose, rabbit, pigeons, pheasants, quails and speckled trout. They had plenty of leeks, Allegany County has always rested under a stigma on account of it’s prolific source of leeks.
Fruits were considered a luxury. Wild plum was found to be plentiful in swales and along the creeks. Two varieties were found, red and yellow; when ripe they were delicious. Raspberries, blackberries and whortleberries were found to be abundant. For clothing they wore very simple, respectable and serviceable clothes for the woods. Sheep and a piece of ground sowed to flax were a must. In those days they knew how to spin, weave and sew. They wore linen in the summer and were proud that Mother made their garments. The women and girls were obliged to work the wool into rolls by the slow process of using hand cards. After shearing, the hum of the big spinning wheel was heard in every cabin.
The year of 1816 was a severe season for most of New York State; history calls it the cold season. Wheat, corn and hay crops were ruined by frost. Settlers had to dispose of some of their stock, others browsing their cattle to keep them alive thru the winter. They cut maple saplings to feed the cows tender twigs and boughs.
The first settlers had property and supplies, but the newcomers had no money, and limited resources, and for them they saw nothing but starvation. The brave Godfearing men of the first settlers heard the cry of the newcomers; they made a promissory note of $500 and purchased food for their destitute neighbors. In clearing lands for cultivation some of the pioneers let their land be chopped, cleared and fenced by the acre. The average price was about ten dollars per acre, the jobbers boarding themselves. The land was generally sown to wheat in the fall. With wheat at $1.50 to $2.00 per bushel, the first crop would often pay for the land, leaving a nice little balance in favor of the ower.
Now as to the harvesting of the grain on such a field after it is cleaned, there is a stump wherever there was a tree. They couldn’t use machinery of any kind. In fact there was no machinery at that time. Cradles and sickles were used altogether, mostly sickles. Many of our young people have never seen a sickle, I presume. Their general shape was like a cornknife. The blade was lighter but in one sense larger. A larger circle with more of a gather and the edge was of fine teeth similar to a saw, very fine and sharp. They always aimed to reap up hill, as they didn’t have to stoop so much, making it easier on the back.
It was necessary in harvesting to commence on the left hand side of the field, and we will suppose there were 6, 8, 10 or 12 reapers. The first one, or the leader No.1, would go two or three feet ahead. His sickle would gather about a foot square of the grain in a compact bunch which was caught by the left hand, all you could well manage, and then wrap it behind you with the butt-end towards No. 2. No 2 puts his grain on No.1’s gavel, No. 3 works the same as No. 1 and No 4. the same as No 1. and so it worked along the line. They would work only on one side of the field; consequently they walked back to the place of beginning. Every other man would take two sickles and walk back half way and hang them on a stump and bind from there to the place of beginning and then repeat the operation. With due care in reaping and binding, all the grain could be secured in nice compact bundles. These bundles were gathered ten in a place by a boy or some man would could not reap or by the reapers themselves, and put in a shock at their convenience. Eight bundles were set up, two by two making an oblong shock and bundle and placing them one lengthwise of the shocks with butt ends in the middle. Grain capped in that way could stand a good deal of rain without injury. It would seem to cure out quicker without capping in case it didn’t rain - and some took the risk. Nearly all the old reapers had a new piece of land of wheat to cut every summer and they would exchange work and aimed to the ripest first and so all work together.
West Almond was formed from Angelica, Almond and Alfred on April 15, 1833. Its population has never exceeded 1,000, being 935 in 1860, 799 in 1870, 803 in 1880, 649 in 1890, 642 in 1892, 320 in 1950. The first settlers were chiefly farmers engaging in dairying. The pioneer settler of West Almond was Daniel Atherton, who settled at the center in 1816 and kept the first tavern in 1817. Jason Bixby, Isaac Ray and Daniel Hooker settled on the “turnpike” before 1818. About the same time John Alfred from New Jersey settled near the north line, and other settlers coming soon after from the same state, causing that part of West Almond to be called “Jersey Hill”. Seth Marvin, Chester Bennett, John Patterson, Jasper White of Vermont, Richard Carpenter with his sons in 1819, Samuel and Smith, David H. and Ellison Carpenter and Abjal Weaver were among the first settlers also. Elijah Stevens settled in 1820, Daniel Dean in 1822, Joseph, John and Matthias Engle in 1823 and Alvin Stewart in 1825. William and Sether Dean, Joshua and Ira Baker, Sidney Marble, Philip McHenry, Joseph Hodges, Henry Lewis, John Lockhart and Carey Baker came soon after.
West Almond has no grocery store, but it once had two. It no longer has a tavern, the Inns are gone and not even the ruins are left. They have made the Baptist Church a Grange Hall and a few years later when the Grange was no longer a need in the way of life; they named it a Community Hall. The Methodist Church was a big part of life for many of us in the 1940-1950’s. It is now the Town Hall. No longer can anyone watch the cheesemaker make curd and cheese. The two cheese factories are in ruins now after being ravaged with fire.
For many of us in our memories, it is still our hometown. We remember when we could run to Grandma Fletcher’s grocery store for a loaf of bread and maybe a piece of penny candy. We remember going to the store across from Gene Fletcher’s where we could even buy a stamp for 3 cents to mail our letters to our friends and the guys that Uncle Sam called to his service. The most dependable industry was the produce and dairy farmers; most of them have disappeared too. The new family farms are widely scattered. The local people are working elsewhere or are retired.
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