Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
The Trades Our People Followed
Chemung County NY

The Blacksmith has been replaced by the Tire Stores

Article: The Trades Our People Followed
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Article by Helen Mac Dougall Samson (1909-1995) 1976
Sent in by Walt Samson
Retyped by Debbie Hansen
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CHEMUNG VALLEY REPORTER, THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1976

The Trades Our People Followed

By Helen M. Samson

Early directories list professions and businesses not practiced today. No one in 1860 was an astronaut or an atomic scientist. But, not a person today could be listed as a grain cradle maker or a dealer in stone pumps. Times change and from 1876 to 1976, so do the jobs people do.

In an 1868 directory, doctors were listed variously. Some were physician surgeons, but many were plain physicians. One was a botanic physician and he may have had something in common with the Indian doctor. His name was Tillson and he "boarded" and did not own a house. He may have changed towns too rapidly for that. If you had an aching tooth there were specialists in those days too, and a dental surgeon could remove it for you. He didn’t use novocaine but it was rumored that a good shot of whiskey helped to numb the pain. One Mr. Butcher, who was located on Water Street in Elmira, was listed as a practical phrenologist and he came from London to touch the bumps on the local heads and advise the proper conduct of affairs in light of the information the contour of the head gave him.

The Feminist movement had not been whispered in 1868 but many women were forced or preferred to earn their livings. The perennial unmarried school teacher was present and any number of other "Misses" were listed as dressmakers and millinery stores. Not many vocations were open to women but a girl with some education might open a day and boarding school as the Misses Gallatian did on the south side of Elmira. Another woman advertised a "select school." This term meant a private school for which the parents paid a tuition fee and the child, usually a girl, might learn French and music and fancy embroidery stitches in addition to necessary reading and number courses. Real ladies were not expected to be too learned.

Seamstresses made the best dresses of the women of the town. These were worn to every dress up occasion for several years and then were not retired. Good material could be ripped apart, turned and made up again. The well known serge suit often received this treatment. Hats were hats in those days. A "shape" was loaded with fruit and flowers and they could be replaced the next summer with a whole new look. A more expensive hat might have had feathers and sometimes, the entire skin of a bird – complete with beak and wings. The Egret in Florida nearly reached extinction through the high style of women’s millinery.

Many businesses were listed, complete with names of the firm’s members and often the brand name of the product. The Wychoff Brothers made wooden water pipes and their large pipes are still being dug up in the streets of Elmira and still in good condition. Mr. Greener was making his famous pianos, a collector’s item today. In Horseheads, Benjamin Westlake was making bricks and several small businesses were engaged in making carriages and wagons. The smaller towns also had their thriving industries. A firm made bricks in Breesport at one time and sash and blind factory in Millport gave employment to a few workers. They also made canal boats there when the canal was in its prime and from time to time, tiny factories made things needed by the basically rural population. One advertised axe and pick and adz handles. An iron bridge over a stream in Schuyler County bore the inscription, "made in Millport." An early directory lists an enterprise in Horseheads that was making the ornamental ironwork so popular on store fronts and public buildings.

Outside of Elmira most names are listed as "farmer," owns or works specific number of acres. Surprisingly enough, a man on Sullivan Street in Elmira was a market gardner on only one acre of land and Hoffman Street had much farm land.

And then there were many other forms of employment, not heard of today. There was a dealer in human hair and a wig maker. Several were coopers and one firm was a "puller and tanner of sheep pelts." A firm made candles on a large scale in earlier times and a putty factory made this needed commodity. There were dealers in beeswax and hides. Nothing went to waste on the farm and there was a sale for most things considered by-products.

There were government employees in those days, too. An inspector of coal oil and distilled spirits was listed, a poormaster, the captain of the night watch and even a collector of internal revenue. (And you thought income taxes were new?) However, this collector must have had a different duty than the ones of today.

There was the leader of the cornet band and no other occupation was given. An amazing job was that of "head outer." This one didn’t work a guillotine but was the top man in the clothing store and tailoring business of J. and R. Mosher’s place in Horseheads.

There was the owner of a pile driver, a man who made horse rakes and a specialist who called himself an "Artesian well" driller. The manufacturer of soda water preceded the bottled soft drink makers of the present. There were many who were listed simply as "saloon" with no fancy names at all.

It was hard working era, a hundred and more years ago. Muscles counted for more than earning and most men turned to the land for a living. And, these were the people from whom we sprung