From UTICA OBSERVER DISPATCH - August 31, 1952


by Paul Draheim

The fact that Herkimer County cheese became world famous is something every proud Central New Yorker knows, but just how it came about is something shared only by a few individuals.

Those who are in the know are scattered throughout the nation. One of them is Horatio Peter Baum, 89, a retired principal and teacher who currently resides in West Englewood, N.J.

Named after the famous Horatio Seymour, of Utica, and his father, Peter, the kindly and spry educator is a direct descendent of the Philip Baum family which with other Palatine Dutch fled from the Rhine Valley in Europe to the Mohawk Valley in America, prior to the Revolutionary War.

Despite his age, Horatio P. Baum has a remarkable memory, especially in regard to the picturesque Baum homestead located On the Steuben Hill Road in Town of Herkimer, about 10 miles east of Utica. The farm has been continuously in ownership of the Baum family since 1826, when it Was purchased by Henry P. Baum (grandfather of Horatio) from Lawrence Rinkle.

The second owner was Peter Baum who was born in Newville in 1815 and at the age of 11, came with his parents to the "new farm". He lived to be 63 despite the fact that he was a semi-invalid.

The farm then became the property of Byron and Horatio Baum, brothers, then Mrs. Emma Baum Cramer and Mrs. Ida Mae Johnson, their sisters and current owners. Presently residing in the large mansion is Mr. and Mrs. Louis J. Sass. Mrs. Sass is a daughter of Mrs. Cramer.

At the time Henry P. Baum purchased the farm it comprised 101 acres. From time to time he acquired additional pieces and at the time of his death there were more than 200 acres.

Herkimer County may justly claim the honor of giving birth to cheese-dairying as a specialty in America. It was from Herkimer County that the business began to spread to adjoining counties and from thence to different states and to Canada.

In many instances Herkimer County dairymen, removing to distant localities, were the first to plant the business in their new homes. In any sections cheese-dairying was commenced by drawing upon Herkimer for cheese-makers to manage the dairies. Thus, for many years, Herkimer was the great cheese center.

Cheese was made in small quantities in the county as early as 1800. Philip Baum knew the art when he settled in Newville in 1763. The business was continued by Henry P. Baum when he moved to Town of Herkimer. It was not until after Peter Baum took possession of the farm that the cheese making program really flourished. Possessing a herd numbering more than 30 cows, Peter spent most of his time making cheese.

It was an exceptionally good brand or score of cheese and it found a ready market in nearby Utica, Herkimer and Little Falls.

Baum's cheese brought world recognition to Herkimer County although Baum had very little to do about it, except to make the cheese.

Although Baum's traveling experiences were confined almost entirely to Herkimer and Oneida Counties, that of his cheese was far and wide. It all started when several of the outlets to which Baum had been selling cheese decided Herkimer County's chief product should be entered at the World's Fair in London, England in 1855.

After testing the various cheeses, the distributors decided Baum's cheese should comprise the entry. They inquired:

"Would you mind if we sent a few "wheels" of your cheese to the fair?"

Baum replied,"Go ahead."

That's all there was to it. Several months later the real news was received and it was that Baum's cheese had won first prize. From that time on the demand for Herkimer County cheese spread rapidly and by 1861 Little Falls was one of the principal cheese markets in the nation.

On market days, and there were at least two each week, hundreds of farmers gathered near the railroad station in Little Falls, each with his wagon loaded with cheese boxed and marked with his name. Around them gathered 20 or more buyers, some from far off England, and others from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and other leading cities.

The buyers could be seen examining, boring, tasting, smelling and making bids for the loads. In 1864, the first weekly reports of the Little Falls Market, then the largest dairy market in the world, began to be made in the Utica Morning Herald. Baum's cheese "of superior quality" always found a ready buyer.

Peter Baum became a semi-invalid early in life. At the age of 18 he was one of a crew of mowers cutting down a hay crop. In those days several men, each armed with a scythe, followed each other around the hay field. The mowers were proud of the skill and nothing prevented them from passing the man ahead. It was done solely for the purpose of humiliating the other fellow. It seems that Peter Baum was the man out in front and despite the heat, he set a terrific race to keep the others behind him. He was successful but at the expense of catching a severe cold which developed into pneumonia. From that time on he had a heart condition and a cough.

When Henry P. Baum died in 1857, he left the farm to his sons Peter, Daniel and William. Peter bought them out and operated the farm for about 20 years. His success as a farmer is credited to his ability to select good hired hands. Peter Baum continued to make cheese until 1872 when health forced him to abandon the profitable business.

For a number of years after Baum's death, his widow ran the farm. She later married the hired man, Martin Brice. When she died her son, Byron, ran the farm until about 15 years ago and for the next 10 years it was tenanted.

The 20-room, post-Colonial style mansion, now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Sass, was erected in 1863-64 by Peter Baum at the request of his wife who didn't like the original homestead dwelling and wanted a new one.

Although erected nearly 90 years ago, the house is in an excellent state of preservation, a testimonial to the workmanship of the carpenters and masons of that era. The cellar walls are in perfect condition. These were constructed by Cornelius Kane, an Irishman who had a reputation of being one of the best stone masons in the country.

The cellar, with the brick wall and the nine-foot clearance between floor and ceiling, was put to a successful test during the blizzard of 1888 when the Baum family was snowed in for weeks. All produce kept in the cellar remained untouched by frost.

The woodwork in the house is hand carved, the work of a carpenter named Borden. During the winter of 1863-64 he cut the doors, window sash and other trim, did the carving and fancy work at his home. With the Spring the materials were transported by horse-drawn wagons to the hillside and assembled. This was the first demonstration of pre-fabrication of homes in this area.

The house has two large fireplaces, which since have been blocked off. When first used there was a stove in every room. A central heating plant now provides warmth.

All of the wood used in the building came from woodlots on the farm, including the beautiful open stairway which leads from the first to second floors. Another lasting piece of art is the fresco work on the ceilings in each of the rooms. Then there is the ruby red cathedral glass in the main front entrance.

Ida Mae Johnson

Chinese Lamps, Parisian vases, globed-candle holders and many other articles fill the many rooms of the Baum home which is shared by Mrs. Ida Mae Johnson.
Master Bed

The Master's bed, fully equipped with a heavily draped and tasseled canopy, is another of the original pieces of furniture.

At one time a flock of more than 50 sheep grazed the pastures. Annually just before shearing time the flock was driven to the West Canada Creek, more than five miles away, to be washed. Sometimes dogs attacked the flock and the losses were heavy.

The roots of the Baum family go deep in American life. Philip Baum and one of his sons fought in the Battle of Oriskany. Dwight J. Baum was the architect who designed the buildings at Syracuse University and also the municipal buildings in Sarasota, Fla. L. Frank Baum was the author of the "Wizard of Oz" and other equally popular books of that day.

Horatio Baum spent his boyhood in this section, attending Deerfield Academy, Richfield Springs Seminary, Little Falls Academy and Herkimer. He graduated from Potsdam Normal School and taught in Richfield, St. Lawrence County; later in Clayville, Briar Cliff Manor and West Carthage, holding position as principal.

In 1926 he went to Florida to retire, but when a school teacher there decided suddenly to be married, he accepted an invitation to teach two weeks. The two weeks, however, grew into 15 years and he retired from the De Land, Fla. school system in 1941 at the age of 76, or nine years beyond the 65-age limit for teachers.

Some of the cheese presses and equipment still may be observed in one of the barns on the Baum place. Part of the mansion was severed from the original structure a number of years ago and was moved "up the hill and now is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harry P. Folts.

The Baum place gains prominence by the large 9 by 12 cupola crowning the flat roof. Horatio explains "The house was built during the cupola age, and according to Mr. Borden, its sole purpose is to set the house off.

The house is filled with priceless antiques, many of which were property of the Henry P. and Peter Baum families. To these, Sass has added many more from other family homes, both on his side of the family and his wife's.

Several of the rooms contain wallpaper hung nearly 90 years ago, Mrs. Cramer, now 85, and Mrs. Johnson, now 82, reside in Herkimer but spend the summers at the homestead. Mr. and Mrs. Sass divide their time between the homestead and their dwelling on Barringer Road in Ilion.

Another attractive feature on the farm is the row of 40 maple trees along the roadside. In the yard are many attractive lawn pieces, including urns, statues and benches. The Baum place is one of the show places in Herkimer County.

Baum Well

Old Oaken Bucket and the Well which since 1826 has served the occupants of the Baum farm. Turning the crank to hoist the bucket is Mrs. Frank Sass, niece of Peter and Elmira Baum, builders of the home. The two maples in background are part of the 40-long which form a single, straight line, beside the road.

(Additional information was under other photographs.)

A fine example of post-colonial architecture is the Baum farmhouse located on Steuben Road in East Schuyler. Erected nearly a century ago by a cheese maker who became world famous, and at the request of his wife who disliked the pioneer home erected on the same site a half century earlier, the 20-room dwelling is in perfect condition and with its contents, truly reflects a picture of the past. Among the features are the ornate gate-posts, the door with cathedral glass and the high ceiling rooms, many still covered with the original wallpaper.

Equally beautiful and representing a picture of the past is the fine East lawn which in addition to a bountiful supply of shade provided by numerous maple trees, is decorated with many lawn ornaments of yester-year including wrought-iron and marble benches, dolphins, and gothic urns, a sun dial, a garden house, bronze lions and a fish pool. Many of the items always have been on the farm while others were gathered by Louis Sass from equally as old homes of relatives residing in the Mohawk Valley area, including the Sass homestead farm on Coop Hill, south of Frankfort.

(Also pictured was the old oaken bucket and well, flying eagle weathervane, oil paintings, vases and chairs purchased in Europe, solid mahogany tables and stands, vases, statuettes, Chinese lamps, globed candle holders, ancient hall rack with the bonnet and hat of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Baum, builders of the house, and a sword carried in the Civil War, as well as a grandfather clock, made about 1800.)

[Note from Scott Hart: "You asked why the town is called East Schuyler. The areas in the TOWNSHIP of Herkimer were variously named, before incorporation into the Village of Herkimer. The Baum Homestead was on a road known both as The Old Steuben Hill Road and later as Baum Road, located on Steuben Hill."]

Continue on to Part 2

Back to Town of Herkimer Section

Back to Meet Your Ancestors Section

Back to Herkimer/Montgomery Counties NYGenWeb

Back to New York State GenWeb

Created 6/2/00
Copyright © 1952 Paul Draheim & Utica Observer-Dispatch
Copyright © 2000 Scott Hart
All Rights Reserved.