McCollum Orchards & Gardens is a historic 100-acre farm located in the City of Lockport, NY. The farm’s history follows the history of Lockport and the Niagara frontier. It was established in the 1820s by one of Lockport’s founding fathers, Joel McCollum. For over 190 years, it has gone through many evolutions, but always remained in the family, and has been passed down through six generations.
A First Farm in Lockport
For much of the 1800’s, Lockport was a main port for travelers and goods along the Erie Canal. The ‘Flight of Five’ locks brought barges up and down the 100-foot cliff, called the Niagara Escarpment, the same geological feature that Niagara Falls flows over a few miles west.
The first property deed was given to Joel McCollum by the Holland Land Company in April 1827. The large canal-stone house that is the farm’s striking landmark was built later in 1832. Joel moved to the area in the 1820s when the Erie Canal was constructed. He was an early land developer of the east side of Lockport, in partnership with Washington Hunt, who would become governor. Joel was active in the town’s early development as owner of several businesses and the first judge of Niagara County. In the 1860s, he followed the construction of the transcontinental railroad westward to Michigan. He is buried in Cold Springs Cemetery in Lockport.
In 1861, the farm was purchased by one of Joel’s 10 younger siblings, his brother, Hiram McCollum. Hiram began his career in New York City as a ticket and insurance agent for barges on the Erie Canal. Hiram grew the farm into a larger enterprise known as McCollum & Sons Vegetable Gardens and Fruit Farm. By the time of Hiram’s death in 1877, it was the largest strawberry farm in New York State. The property has passed through Hiram’s direct descendants ever since.
Apples and Ice
The farm flourished under Hiram’s son, Silas Wright McCollum. He expanded the fruit orchards and an ice business from the ice pond on the property and the nearby Erie Canal to ship to places along the East Coast. He was known for taking meticulous care of the orchards. Silas’ wife, Ella Kate, was a teacher at the Lockport Union School. They had eight children.
“I have seen the best pear orchard in the State since I have been in
Lockport. I refer to S. Wright McCollum’s orchard.”
George T. Powell, head of the New York State Agricultural Society, 1904
During Silas’ time, the farm became better known. Silas corresponded with Western New Yorkers who had risen in national politics. In the 1890s, Silas was appointed the postmaster general of Lockport by President Grover Cleveland. Family records include letters from President Grover Cleveland as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, thanking Silas McCollum for apples and pears.
For two generations, the farm passed through women in the family. In the mid-1930s, two daughters of Silas and Ella K., Camille McCollum Geary and Josephine McCollum Carveth, renovated the house. Camille, who lived here for over a decade, replaced the federal-style wood porch with ornate stone columns and facades and added a sun room. Josephine later enlarged the interior rooms and added ornate fences, frescoes and fountains. Many of the artistic touches were re-purposed locally from the Lockport Union School and the Hodge Opera House.
Josephine McCollum Carveth, was known locally as a generous person. She continued to oversee the the orchards. Many Lockport residents still remember the property as the Carveth estate. Her husband, Hector Russell Carveth, was a prosperous chemist and vintner who established Chateau Gay Winery. It was once a prominent Niagara winery located near Lewiston. The Carveths mainly lived in Niagara Falls and also had places on Locust Street in Lockport and in Annisquam, Massachusetts. They had six children. In 1948, Hector had an fatal accident while pressure-testing a wine cask. Josephine lived here in the family home until her passing in 1964. The Josephine Carveth Packett Park on Market and Exchange streets and the Josephine Carveth Violet Patch in the Gulf Wilderness Park in Lockport are both dedicated in her memory.
The house was then occupied on and off by some of the Carveth children and the orchards and farm were maintained by a farm manager. Beginning in the late 1970’s, Josephine Carveth’s daughter, Marie Josephine “Josie” Carveth Woodbridge, moved here from Princeton, New Jersey. Josie was involved in local tourism efforts. She organized a Lowertown Festival and seasonal events on the farm. She kept the farm house as her mother had it and compiled family history. Until her passing in 2009, Josie let most of farmland, aside from the orchards, go fallow to encourage native wildflowers.
A New Chapter
It is time for the farm to evolve again. In 2011, Josie’s grandson, Rich Woodbridge, and his wife Bree, moved to Lockport with the goal of preserving the home and restarting the farm. Rich is the great-great-great grandson of Hiram McCollum. They established McCollum Orchards, LLC, in partnership with Rich’s father. Their mission is to revitalize the property as a healthy and profitable farm that honors its history and can be passed to the next generation with pride.