Summer 1998

 
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Muttonville

My Hometown

by

Joan K. Hayward

I've always enjoyed the reaction of people as I respond to their question, "Where are you from?" with my answer, "Muttonville." As the name indicates, the place where I was raised was known for its sheep, but that was more than 100 years ago.

The hamlet was founded in the early 1800's and is located in Ontario County, Town of Bristol. The first settlers, of Scottish descent, arrived from Bristol, Connecticut, in the late 1700s. In 1797 there were twenty-one flocks of sheep registered. By 1830, fifty-thousand sheep grazed on the surrounding hills, and two-hundred earmarks were registered. Muttonville was named in 1845, when a man named Asahel Gooding came there and built a tallow chandlery. What would now be missed by a blink of your eyes on a trip south on NY Route 64, once was a prosperous center of Merino sheep raising and slaughtering.

Flocks from miles around were driven to the slaughter pens, which covered a square mile of the valley floor. As many as thirty thousand animals were killed during a season. The roads leading into the area were clogged by the droves.

Mutton hams sold for 30 a pound, the offal was fed to pigs, the remainder of the carcass was boiled and the resulting fat produced the tallow from which the candles were made. The hides were tanned. Pelts literally lined the fences for as far as the eye could see, curing and steaming in the sun. According to all reports, it was a gory, grizzly scene, permeated by a horrible odor.

Prosperity brought to the valley a group of men that could kill and skin up to a hundred sheep a day for piece-work pay. Three inns were built to accommodate this robustious gathering. My grandmother's house was a former tavern and inn. The house in which I was raised and which my mother still owns was built in the arena that once witnessed all the slaughter.

Not much remains in the hamlet to remind us of this once thriving business, because in 1892 most of Muttonville was destroyed by fire. Many records were lost, including what happened to Mr. Gooding. However, it is known that with the advent of kerosene came the demise of candles, cotton replaced much of the wool, and leather took the place of sheepskin. So, even without the fire, I'm afraid Muttonville would soon have died a natural death.

About this time the name of Vincent was bestowed on the hamlet in memory of Dr. Thomas Vincent, the first pioneer physician to settle there. I presume the name change was brought about by the fact the the residents did not aspire to the connotation wrought by the name Muttonville.

Then at the turn of the century, the community boomed once again with the arrival of hop seedlings from England. Until 1921, probably no other crop brought such profit from such small acreage. In conversations with Miss Lucretia Schaefer, a former teacher in the area, and only surviving descendant of Dr. Vincent, and my grandmother, I am able to relive the rowdy season of 'hop picking time.'

Hops were used in beer brewing, medicines and yeast making. The speculative crop required quite an investment from the grower. There must be a drying house where the flowers cured, and there were imported poles to buy for the vines to climb. In the spring the roots were planted and cultivated through the summer until early fall—then harvest time!

An influx of workers invaded the land to pick and bale the blossoms. The town grew again as barracks were built for the migrants, and a skating rink and dance halls were provided for their entertainment. The atmosphere was one of hurried toil during the day and reveling through the night. The festive air was enhanced by the wheeling and dealing between grower and buyer.

But, within fifteen years, first came the snout-moth pest, then the hop aphid and fly, next a strangling weed, and finally doom in the form of blue mould. No more fragrant hop yards. Because of the sheep and the hops, most of the valley surrounding Vincent now lay fallow. The two commercial enterprises had actually worn out the soil.

In my era, the peaceful hamlet is perhaps best known by fall foliage viewers as the entrance to the tranquil and beautiful Bristol Valley. I remember it as a lovely spot in which to spend childhood years. No hustle or bustle, just a one-room schoolhouse and nearby church as centers of activity. I wonder if children of today are missing something by not growing up in this sort of environment. Will they wonder the same thing about their home place when they are older?

1998, Joan K. Hayward
 
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