Monday, June 24, 2013

Home on the Grange with the Patrons of Husbandry

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

The National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry was founded in 1867 in an effort to bring Northern and Southern farmers together.  The organization really took off in the 1870s when the National Grange sent paid agents out to form local chapters.  As fraternal organizations went, the Grange was unique in that encourage the active participation of both men and women and, in fact, most chapters required that four of the offices be female.  Throughout the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s), the Grange lobbied hard for pro-farm legislation including regulation of railroad shipping costs and grain warehouses, free rural mail delivery and the farm credit system as well as a range of social issues including prohibition and women’s suffrage.  While membership in the Grange has fallen sharply off in recent decades, they continue to work on issues regarding free trade and farm policies.  In many rural communities, the Grange Hall acts as a community center.

In addition to its more public activities, the Grange was also a secret society.  There were seven degrees of membership with a range of rituals and symbols borrowed from Freemasonry, Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible.   While the Grange no longer has secret meetings or practices many of the rituals, some vestiges of the practices still exist today.  

The Chemung Valley Grange, chapter No. 57, was found in 1885.  Other Chemung County Granges include the Ashland Grange No. 210, Big Flats No.  1106, Veteran No. 1108 and Horseheads No. 1118.  We recently acquired a collection of papers from the Horseheads and Veteran Granges.  A complete listing of the contents of those papers can be found here:  In the mean time, here is a selection of Grange-related items from our collections.
Ashland Grange dance program, ca. 1890s

Big Flats Grange By-Laws, 1907

Veteran Grange handbill, 1941

Certificate for Degree of Ceres, 1937

Monday, June 17, 2013

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team!

Do you remember the taste of your first ballpark frank? Remember the smell of the oil on your glove and the feel of the bat in your hand? Remember the crack of the ball on the bat and the roar of the crowd? For 150 years, people in Chemung County have shared these experiences. Join us on Saturday, June 22 at 1 pm to celebrate the history of baseball at the opening of our new exhibit, Root, Root, Root for the Home Team: Baseball in Chemung County.  This program is free and open to the public.

Although its origins are a mystery, baseball likely evolved from an older English game called rounders.  There were a number of regional variations but, in 1845, the New York Knickerbockers wrote the rules of the modern game.  By the 1850s, the Knickerbocker rules were used throughout New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  During the Civil War, soldiers from across the Union played ball and created a unified version of the game.  But baseball wasn’t just for players, spectators enjoyed it too.  Elmirans bought their first baseball tickets for a game between the Erastus Ransom Alerts and soldiers from the local garrison in 1866.  Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, Chemung County fans paid to watch semi-pro teams from across the Twin Tiers play in a regional league.

local baseball in the 1860s
To learn more about the history of baseball in Chemung County come see our new exhibit from June 22 through the end of September 2013.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Blacksmithing in Chemung County

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

As a craft, the history of blacksmithing dates back to the Iron Age, or about 1200 BCE.  At its most basic, smithing involves using fire and an assortment of tools to forge items from iron or steel.  Over the centuries, smiths have made everything from tools to weapons, horseshoes to art. 

Before the 20th Century, every town and village in America had at least one blacksmith.  In 1861, there were 7 smiths in Elmira; 4 in Big Flats; 3 in Breesport, Post Creek, Millport and Wellsburg; 2 in Horseheads and Van Etten; and 1 in Pine Valley, Seely Creek, Ashland, Chemung and Erin.  These local blacksmiths shod horses, made and repaired farming implements, pots and pans, wagon parts and a wide range of other things necessary for everyday life.       

Industrialization, however, greatly reduced the need for blacksmiths.  Machines could produce metal goods faster and more consistently than any human could.  The products produced by blacksmiths could vary widely from piece to piece, but a machine would make the same thing each time.  Towards the end of the 19th Century, most blacksmiths had moved away from making tools and hardware and were primarily involved in either shoeing horses or doing decorative work.  And then came the car.  In 1900, there were 25 smiths working in Elmira alone.  By 1920 there were 10 and by 1960 there was only one smith in the whole county. 

Nationally, the 1960s were the nadir of the blacksmithing trade.  Throughout the 20th Century, smiths transitioned to automotive repairs or retired and few people were interested in taking up the craft.  In the 1970s the Bicentennial led many to take an interest in traditional crafts from quilting to blacksmithing.  Today blacksmiths can be roughly divided into two groups; farriers (they just shoe horses) and artisans.  The Artisan Blacksmiths’ Association of North America has nearly 4000 members, many of whom make decorative pieces and/or provide demonstrations at museums and living history centers. 

On Saturday, June 15th, from 1pm to 3pm, one of these artisan smiths will be doing a demonstration of his craft right here in the CCHS parking lot.  Nathaniel Francisco, a recent Elmira College grad, has been working as a smith since high school and interned with the blacksmith at the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown.  Some of the products of his work will be available for sale.  Hope to see you there.