DAILY LIFE IN THE TOWN OF HERKIMER
1807 - 1957
The following is an interesting article I retrieved from files of the Herkimer Evening Telegram at the Basloe Library. It is typed exactly as in the original article.
The article relates to changes made in Herkimer previous to 1957 during the preceding 150 years. This is the date of the clipping and one needs to remember that changes after 1957 are not included.
With many residents sporting gay bonnets and derbies for the sesquicentennial celebration--which make good conversation pieces, one wonders if the donners would enjoy life in Herkimer 150 years ago.
Herkimer in 1807 was a quiet village, the 500 inhabitants quiet people who led a quiet life. Their rural life was seldom disturbed and contentment ruled the people.
Boys were rich with a 37-cent pair of skates and 25 cents for the 4th of July or menagerie day. The girls did not expect a "new spring outfit," the old one doing nicely until it could be mended no more. Six yards of calico did for mother what a twenty-dollar bill will do today. Dad had his "Sunday best" black or dark blue suit which lasted him endless years.
Doctors had not yet reached more modern use of a gig; calls were made on horseback--saddle-bags holding the only source of medicine from which prescriptions evolved.
The newspaper business in 1807 had not felt the influence of competition. They were published at a price that would put any modern publisher into bankruptcy. The only newspaper being published in 1800 was by Benjamin Cory, called "The Telescope."
The people had a village organization and government, as early as 1807, under a legislative act, the earliest in the state west of Schenectady.
Called "STONEY RIDGE"
The stony ground, mainly above what is now known as State St., and south of German St., usually called by residents, "Stony Ridge"; and the paralleled streets, Main, Prospect and Washington, with the intersecting cross streets north of State St. then existed. There were no sidewalks, the first being erected in 1832 on a portion of Main St.
The buildings, particularly in the country, generally were not finished, lathed or plastered above the first story. There were seldom locks on the outside doors.
The only church in the small hamlet was where the Reformed Church now standa on Main St. In 1834 there was a fire in the court house and jail where the present court house now stands, and it spread to the church, destroying both.
It is reported that Stone Ridge had but one cheap and dilapidated school house located on Washington St., the property now owned by Myron Pawlyshyn. In a separate district there was another school house situated nearly opposite the brick house of Jacob J. Bellinger on W. German St., approximately near the Maple Grove Ext.
One of the few stores was where the Herkimer County Historical Building is now located, and was operated by a Mr. Farwell. There was a block of three wooden stores where the First National Bank now stands.
There were however, more taverns in town than now. Their profits were small and outside the village the proprietors usually had farms. The tavern business was incidental to farming.
Prices were low, a sixpence for a meal and the same for lodging and one shilling for stabling a team of horses overnight, hay included.
Whiskey, which was the main liquor, sold for 15 cents per gallon and it was freely indulged in.
Practically all travel was on land. The stages carried most of the passengers to and from the west, passing over the turnpike, now German St., on the north side of the Mohawk River and through this village.
There were a few blacksmiths who not only attended the horses, but also made all the carpenter's equipment and the farming implements such as hoes, plows and shovels.
The shoemakers, besides making the footwear of the early settlers, also tanned hides for the trappers. There were no ready made shoes to be bought and the shoemaker would go around, and, working by the day or month, would once a year shoe the whole family--the farmer furnishing the work bench.
Tailors made all the clothes. They, too, would annually go around from house-to-house and make the clothes for a whole family out of cloth made from the wool spun and woven in the farmer's family. The itinerant shoemakers and tailors worked for about $13 a month.
A large part of the farmers' work was done by what was called "bees" made up of a group of neighbors. There were bees for paring apples, spinning, chopping and logging the wood, husking corn, and literally anything that had to do with maintaining a farm. This was also so in the village.
The men were stimulated with the free whiskey furnished by the homesteader, to keep them warm when it was cold, and cold when the weather was hot.
The farmers in the area were industrious, frugal and generally out of debt and independent; most of them never gave or held a note. In the winter time they carried their produce to Albany, returning with a load of merchandise for the merchants.
During the winter, dances called "Dutch Fuddles" were a great feature for both the farmers and villagers. They were held in a private house, with one fiddler standing on a chair furnishing the music. The women in the calico dresses and the men in homespun clothes and coarse boots, sometimes in just stockings, would whirl in a giddy dance that would make the "rock n' roll" of today look mild.
"MOHAWK DUTCH" Spoken
Residents were mostly descendants of the old Palatines, and of later German immigrants. German "Mohawk Dutch," as it was called, was the most often talked and understood language.
A simple people, there were no pianos or house organs of any kind or cushioned and upholstered furniture in their homes.
Early settlers were also honest, unlearned, superstitious, believing in ghosts and witches. There is one tale which claims that a man within the village by the name of Henry Helmer who lived on German St. had some hogs that were diseased in some unusual way. He concluded that they might be bewitched.
He consulted a professed witch doctor, Baltus Bridenbecker, who lived in Schuyler, and was advised to burn the hogs, and that the first to appear when the hogs began to squeal, would be the witch.
Helmer confined the hogs, piled brush upon them and set fire to it. A man by the name of Jacob Moon, a quaint character, was the first to appear when the hogs began to squeal, and so he was believed to be the witch.
The hogs were roasted and Helmer was thereafter called the "Sibrorer," the Dutch name for hog roaster.
The people were unhappily military minded then as now, with numerous military organizations. All males between the ages of 18 and 48 were compelled to train.
The residents of Herkimer today are probably no happier than the inhabitants of 1807. Yet the village has wisely kept up with the progress and changes which mark its history.