Nov 09, 2009 Steve McMahon Uncategorized
If old photographs are windows into the past, then old letters are doorways. I was fortunate enough a few years ago to find one old letter that opened a door. It was written by a young man who was somewhat homesick for his family and perhaps, a bit anxious about the future. He was probably wondering whether he had made the right decision to leave his home and parents for such an unforgiving place so far away. He never came right out and said so in his letter, but one can read between the lines. I was intrigued by the letter and wanted to know more. So, I decided to dig a bit deeper and discover whatever I could about the letter-writer and the land he described in 1843. I especially wanted to locate this particular plot of land. His letter home follows below.
Onondaga Co., N.Y.
Otsego Cy., N.Y.
I now employ a few moments by writing to you to let you know that we are well at present. I have had the ague (malarial fever) about two weeks this spring but at present my health is as good as usual. I have neglected writing before on account of the winter being so uncommon hard. I thought that I would wait and see if we could live through. We have had a verry (sic) severe winter since I returned from the east. Hay is from $8 to $10 per ton, corn 50 cts., oats 20, potatoes 25, wheat 88 cts., butter 10 cts. Although produce is low it is verry (sic) scarce. Their (sic) never has been so hard a time from people that have to buy their living as the present since I have lived here. As for money it is about as well to pay, we have none. I have expected about $500 this spring and have received fifty. There is no use in trying to collect a debt here at present. If I should I shall (sic) have to bid off the property myself and the more property a man has the worse it is for him, especially any kind of stock. My cows would not sell for ready money enough to pay for their wintering. Wheat on the ground is verry (sic) much injured by the snow lieing on so late. The snow was two feet & a half deep here the tenth of this month and ther (sic) is some banks as deep now to be seen. Our cattle can now live in their pastures and we are verry (sic) glad for we have had a hard struggle (sic) to get them through the winter. People have generally commenced plowing although the ground is quite wet. I wish you to write to me soon & let me know where Samuel is and how he is doing. I want to know what luck Josiah had getting home. I feel anxious to know how you get along with your affairs. Also I should like to know the general opinion of the people respecting the debate that was going on when I was there. George Resseguie’s wife is not expected to live but a short time. This from your son with respect.
April 30th, 1843
P.S. You can buy good land in this country for $25 per acre.”
My research revealed that B. Chase was none other than Bradford Chase. Samuel and Josiah were his younger brothers, Samuel Thompson and Josiah Goddard Chase. Bradford was born on Dec. 29, 1809, in Otsego County, to John and Roxanna Thompson Chase. John Chase was among the earliest settlers of Otsego County, emigrating from Worcester County, MA, in 1791. John’s clan was the namesake of tiny Chaseville, located in the town of Worcester near the Delaware County line. In fact, John and his brother, Seth, were Worcester Town officers for 10 of the 25 years between 1806 and 1831. By 1829, however, Bradford Chase had left Chaseville for the town of Van Buren, where he first met Gabriel Tappan.
According to the 50th anniversary edition of the Baldwinsville Gazette & Farmers’ Journal in 1896, “Col. Gabriel Tappan was born in Morristown, New Jersey, June 20, 1783, and expired at his residence in Syracuse August 4, 1865 .He early emigrated to Onondaga county and was one of the first pioneer settlers in the county, having lived seventy-two years within its limits. He was the first supervisor of the town of Van Buren .He was appointed Commissioner (1829) to set off the town of Van Buren from the then large town of Camillus .He did, perhaps, more than any other man in building up the interest and improving the condition of the now thriving village of Baldwinsville. He was foremost in securing the valuable water privileges which we now enjoy, having constructed the dam across the Seneca here at a very early period, with the assistance of John McHarrie and Mr. (Jonas) Baldwin. With his own axe he opened nearly fifty miles of road through a dense wilderness, overcoming swamps and other obstacles.” Gabriel Tappan owned hundreds of acres on the south side of the Seneca River, and had real and personal property valued at $25,000 in 1850. His twelve children included daughter Emeline, born June 12, 1818.
Bradford Chase married well, uniting with Emeline Tappan in 1836. They obtained 50 acres from her father in 1846. By 1850, Bradford and Emeline Chase had three children, including Gabriel T. (Tappan), John M., and Lavantia E. Bradford was a politically active and technologically progressive farmer. According to the Syracuse Evening Chronicle in 1854, “A delegated Convention of the Free Democracy of the First Assembly District of Onondaga county, was held at Canton on Thursday, 21st of September, 1854, when Bradford Chase, of Van Buren, was called to the Chair ” The Onondaga Gazette reported in 1855 under the heading “Improvements and Inventions” that, “Mr. John Boley, of this village, has invented a horse rake which combines three new mechanical principles or ideas .For these three very important principles, he claims a patent. The rake has been tried and works very well .It has been tried on the farm of Mr. Bradford Chase.”
By 1860, Bradford Chase had real and personal property valued at over $10,000. Still, the 1860’s were a hard decade for him. Within a span of only five years, he lost his beloved wife, Emeline Tappan (December 1862), his father, John Chase (June 1867), and his second wife, Phoebe Fink (December 1867). But, Bradford Chase persevered. By 1868, he had expanded his holdings to 62 acres, including a lot purchased for $200 at 3 Marble St. where the Chamber of Commerce office stands today. He sold it eight years later to Payn Bigelow for $1,200. In 1872, Bradford Chase married his third wife, Caroline Augusta Wilson, nearly 15 years his junior.
Within 10 years, Bradford Chase was again recognized by his peers for his advanced approaches to common problems. The Baldwinsville Gazette called “especial attention” in 1879 under the heading “Suggestions about Public Roads” to the “practicability of using stone for roads by referring to a piece of highway opposite to the farm of Bradford Chase in the town of Van Buren, included now in the corporation of Baldwinsville, built some twenty-five years ago (1854) by Mr. Chase and neighbors. Everyone who was at all familiar with that bit of road twenty-five years ago was aware how very bad it then was .It was quite common for the farmers to hitch horses on the west end of the road, leaving them there until the owner had done his business or trading in the village; then he would return on foot to take possession of his horses and wagon. But an idea occurred to Mr. Chase that by digging a trench one foot deep and twelve feet wide, throwing out the dirt on either side of the same, then filling it with large stones at the bottom, with smaller and smaller ones as the top of the trench was reached, pounding them down smooth with a stone hammer, that such a plan thoroughly carried out might make a good and durable road. The experiment did not disappoint his or his neighbors .The result has been that this road has stood firm and solid, not yielding in the least to the effects of the frost for a quarter of a century, and those who now travel over it will discover that in fall or spring, winter or summer, it is one of the most permanent roads we have in Van Buren. It should be universally adopted where road beds are similar to this one before it was put in its present permanent condition.”
Soon after, Bradford Chase was once again singled out as a representative farmer of the area, albeit a frank and humble one. In 1881, the Baldwinsville Gazette & Farmers’ Journal quoted him in an article entitled “Farmers’ Club,” as stating that, “I am always particular about a rotation of crops. I think in that case you do not need to change the seed. I do not sew wheat in the same field, or in fact any crop, only once in six years .I have always been an advocate of changing seed. Don’t know why I should be. Someone probably told me so and I followed it up. Don’t think it helps any. I have raised the same corn twenty years and the crop I got this year was the best.”
Bradford Chase lost his oldest child, Gabriel Tappan Chase, in 1892. Gabriel had worked in the Washington, DC, brokerage office of Baldwinsville businessman, Otis Bigelow. Less than one year later, on March 30, 1893, Bradford Chase died in Baldwinsville, after spending the last 50 years of his life on his 50-acre farm. He was survived by his wife, Caroline, a son, John M. Chase of Phelps, Ontario County, and a daughter, Lavantia (Mrs. Martin) Molby, of Reading, Michigan. Later that year, Caroline Chase sold the 50-acre farm to a Byron Kelly for $5,000. Byron sold it a short time later to Willis Cornell, who didn’t keep it very long either. As a result, the farm would be known for years as the “Chase Farm,” until another family came to stay for 67 years.
Next week, read the conclusion of the story, “The Provenance of a 50-Acre Plot of Land.” Looking Backward will appear in the Messenger every other week or so, as long as there are stories to tell and the spirit moves me to tell them. If you have questions about this story or suggestions for future ones, including any local historical images or information, please contact me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bradford Chase’s homestead as it looked circa 1955, more than 60 years after his death. I will reveal the identity of the girl on the front steps in Part two of the story.