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.”