Monday, November 28, 2011

Flash Back - Cobwebs in the Attic

A dusty box of papers in the attic revealed some amazing insights about life on this family farm back in the late 1800's. For years, dozens of post-Civil War Era receipts and contracts from my great-great-grandfather, Silas Wright McCollum, and local businesses sat collecting cobwebs. It wasn't until our "Big Clean" that some of these documents came to light. They give us a rare glimpse at the business of the historic farm. They also paint a vivid picture of this bustling town on the banks of the Erie Canal.

An invoice for seeds dated February 1883 from James Vick (of Rochester, NY) show what my family planned to plant and sell that year. It also gives a hint at what grew best on the farm and what produce was in highest demand during that time. Beans, peas, potatoes, cabbages and onions were among the many vegetables ordered. Near the bottom, you'll see an order for a plant called Salsify, an oyster-flavored root vegetable. I guess our tastes have changed.

With the farm being situated next to the Erie Canal and a railway, it is possible this produce was shipped out West, along the Atlantic Seaboard and even out of the county.

A Memorandum of Agreement dated March 1884 was signed between my great-great-grandfather and the Niagara Preserving Company. In this, S. W. McCollum agreed to plant fifteen acres of "the best variety of tomatoes" and sell them only to the Niagara Preserving Company in exchange for a pre-negotiated selling price of $8 dollars per ton.

Besides needing to feed his own family, Silas also had to feed his workers and care for a wide range of farm animals. This bill from Arnold & Little, merchants from a Lockport city mill, shows a balance of $180.89 for the purchases of flour, feed & grain between October 1883 and March 1884.

Just like today, advertising your products and services is a key part of doing business. At a time before radio, television and the internet, printed word was your best option to reach the masses. In this receipt from October, 1884, Silas paid $23.50 in advertising expenses to the Union Printing and Publishing Co., owners of the Lockport Daily Union and the Niagara Democrat, the "best advertising mediums in Western New York." In that spirit, we want to say, "Silas, welcome to Google."


  1. I just love that you found this and treasure it the way it should be treasured. You're carrying on the history too, so leave good records for the future.

  2. Thanks, Linda! In this day of e-mail and online bill pay, it makes me wonder what modern records will be available for future generations. I'll have to think on this. Perhaps printing and binding some of the blog posts and major receipts will give future generations a nice snapshot of farm life early in this century.

  3. I love it love it love it! Please keep posting your treasures. It must feel so special to live and work in a place that has so much meaning to you both. We must get out there to visit this magical land.

  4. My family has been neighbors of the McCullum Estate since my grandparents moved here form Europe in 1919. I grew up running around the orchards out back. I fondly remember a horse and sleigh ride through the orchards followed by cider and doughnuts in the house during a holiday party hosted by Josie many years ago. My family still lives in that same home today and we are so very happy to see the house and properties being restored. Best of luck to you!

    1. Theresa, Thank you for your post and for sharing those fond memories! There are many things we love about our new home, but one of the best is the longevity and the history of the neighborhood. Our vision is a U-Pick farm where people can come experience the farm and learn about the history in fun ways like Grandma Josie envisioned.