Friday, January 29, 2010

Wit? Wine? Whatever!

© 2007 David Minor / Eagles Byte

English traveler John Fowler had come to New York in 1830 with the express purpose of evaluating prospects for his fellow countrymen who might be considering farming in the New World. Since his arrival, as he’s made his way across New York by steamboat and stage and written down his impressions. A western Long Island farm was, “in a high state of cultivation . . . however, wanting of wood, which greatly detracts from its value.” He was a lot less impressed when he detoured away from the Hudson River steamer into the Catskills. The cattle were inferior, the sheep common, the pigs “hideous”, the land very uninviting. The past few days he’s passed through countryside that’s been largely uncultivated but showing great promise.

As his stage approaches Canandaigua he exults, “. . . I passed over one of the finest farming districts I have yet seen in the State of New York. The land is agreeably undulated, of excellent quality, well fenced . . . and in a superior state of cultivation.” It’s late August, so the grain has already been gathered in, but his experienced eye gazes at the off-road stubble which tells him that crops have been plentiful. He’s told that several of the area farms are over 1,000 acres in size.

Fowler has obviously done his homework, having read Horatio Gates Spafford’s 1824 edition of Guide for New York Travellers covering this area, which he uses for the purpose of comparison. Spafford – “. . . in 1797 I found it but feeble, contending with innumerable embarrassments and difficulties . . . mud knee deep, musquetoes and gnats so thick you could hardly breathe without swallowing them [Fowler could certainly sympathize here] rattle-snakes and ten thousand discouragements.” It’s to be hoped that by the time he published his travelers’ guide 27 years later, his impressions were much more favorable. Probably closer to Fowler’s.

But now, at the close of August 24th, 1830, somewhere between eight and nine in the evening, Fowler’s long day – remember, he’d toured Auburn Prison at 6 o’clock this morning – nears it’s end as the coach makes its way uphill, along Main Street to Blossom's Hotel. The brick structure with its peaked roofs, multiple chimneys, and archway (through which vehicles passed into an interior coach yard), had been built back in 1815 by “Old Line” proprietor Belah D. Coe, and purchased in 1824 by William Blossom. As Richard Palmer has reported, a bell atop the building regulated most of the village’s affairs.

The scene there this evening is extremely lively. Fowler reports that the landlord – presumably William Blossom – had jut returned from an excursion to the western Great Lakes and Ohio, and many of his friends had gathered to welcome him home. “. . . the house was in a tolerable state of confusion, for the remainder of the evening,—the bar, of course, being the only general room of resort.” He makes an attempt at writing in his journal amidst all the uproar but soon gives it up and asks for a room, reporting he was, “glad to effect my escape, and leave them to feast on their wit and wine, which though abundant, were neither of first rate quality, as much and as long as they liked.”

The next morning, after a so-so night’s rest, he sets off for a quick tour of Canandaigua’s sights. We’ll tag along. Next time.

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