The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2004

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The Letters of Mary Bond

Mendon: The Early Years


John G. Sheret

The author of this article recently acquired twenty-six letters written by Mary Bond, granddaughter of Mendon pioneer,Zebedee Bond, to her cousin, Rhoda Thomas, who lived in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. The letters covering a thirteen-year period from March of 1898 until September, 1911, provide a detailed account of the everyday life of a young woman living and working in rural Mendon in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.

Mary Bond was born June 19, 1871, on the Mendon Centre Road farm of her parents, Theodore and Barbara Senn Bond. The farmhouse, at the northeast corner of the intersection of that road with Clover Street, was demolished many years ago and a newer house now stands on the site.

Map of Mendon showing Bond family farms

Her father, Theodore, was the son of Zebedee Bond who, in 1806, came at the age of ten to Mendon from New Jersey with his parents, Abner and Mary Elizabeth Bond. Abner purchased and cleared land for a farm at what is now the intersection of Chamberlain Road and the Cheese Factory Road.

On January 14, 1819, Zebedee married Amy Gardner of Pittsford and settled on a small farm at the intersection of the present Quaker Meetinghouse and Semmel Roads.

Zebedee and Amy Bond, grandparents of Mary Bond
fron 1877 History of Monroe County by W.H. McIntosh

On April 1, 1828, Zebedee sold that farm and moved his family to a house he had built that still stands on the north side of the Mendon Centre Road just west of Clover Street.

Lithograph of Farm of Zebedee Bond
fron 1877 History of Monroe County by W.H. McIntosh

Upon the death of Zebedee Bond on January 16, 1884, his older brother, Lyman Bond, purchased the farm and the proceeds were divided among the heirs named in Zebedee's will.

The first letter written by Mary Bond to her cousin is dated March 3, 1898, and was mailed from the Post Office located in the General Store at Mendon Centre. Established in 1841, this Post Office operated until January 1, 1902, when the Rural Free Delivery mail service was inaugurated in Mendon and the office was moved to Terry's Hotel in Rochester Junction.

In this letter, as in many subsequent letters, Mary mentions the never-ending work and that "there is always something else to do." In another letter she states that "I get so tired sometimes I feel as if I would like to run anywhere I could rest." Included in her "job description" were such tasks as, on cold winter mornings, rising before the rest of the family and starting fires in two wood stoves. Mary also cared for the chickens and the pigs located in the cobblestone hog barn behind the house and every year planted and tended a large vegetable garden as well as assisting the men of the family in the field work. Her mother was in failing health due to cancer and required much of Mary's attention. In one letter she writes that her mother cannot walk and is so heavy that it takes two or three people to move her from her bed to her chair.

In February, 1900, Mary's father gave her a calf to raise which she traded with Mr. Kimball for a steer. "Mr. Kimball" was Louis Kimball who lived on a small farm in Mendon Centre and was the descendent of another pioneer family who had arrived in Mendon in the early 1800's. Area residents may remember his son, Marvin, who for many years operated a truck farm bordering Quaker Pond in Mendon Ponds Park. He sold his produce in a stand that can still be seen on Clover Street just north of the Mendon Centre Road.

Mary bought the material to make all of her dresses and shirtwaists; two of the letters contained swatches of dress material so that she could show her cousin her current dressmaking project. In one letter she tells her cousin that she had grown so fat that she cannot wear any of her old shirtwaists. She also saves discarded clothing and in her "spare" time makes rag rugs for the house.

Another task that fell Mary's way was the annual spring house cleaning, a tradition that existed among housekeepers until well into the 20th Century and possibly still exists in some areas today. In every letter with an April date, Mary asks her cousin if she has finished her spring house cleaning. The author of this article vividly remembers when this annual ritual was performed by his mother and various family members every spring. Every room in the house from cellar to attic was scrubbed. My older brother and I were assigned the job of taking down the wooden storm windows, washing all the windows on the outside, and then replacing them with screens. We also had the job of carrying all of the rugs to the clothes lines in the back yard and with a special rug beating tool removing every bit of dirt from them. My sister assisted my mother with the interior work of washing all the woodwork, floors, and curtains. All dishes, along with the pots and pans, were removed from cupboards and washed before being returned. I also remember that the huge wood-burning cook stove would be shutdown by the time house cleaning was finished and a 4-burner kerosene stove moved from the woodshed into the kitchen for summer cooking. A happy moment in my mother's life occurred in the late 1930's when an electric stove was installed in her kitchen and the older stoves ascended to stove heaven.

One job that Mary enjoyed was skimming cream from milk for churning into butter. She stated that she could sell all the butter she made for twenty-five cents a pound. She also had a modest income from her chickens by selling eggs for twenty-two cents a dozen.

In one letter she wrote that her younger brother Raymond had the "grippe" and had been out of school for two weeks, her mother had had it twice, and her father was just getting over the illness. The doctor told her that he "guessed they were trying to keep the bed warm." In the early 1900's doctors in Mendon received seventy-five cents for office visits and an additional fifty cents if they had to make a house call. Over the years covered by Mary's letters, their doctor made numerous trips to the house to attend to different members of the family for their various ailments.

Another brother, Milton Bond, four years younger than Mary, married Cora Webster, December 9, 1897, and the couple set up housekeeping in the two front rooms of the house. The young couple lived there for two years before moving in with his aunt Mrs. Lyman Bond on the farm north of his father's farm.

Mary mentions that Cora had taken the train to Rochester to buy dishes and other items for their own use. In 1892, the Lehigh Valley Railroad completed the double-track main line between Geneva and Buffalo with a single-track branch line running from Rochester Junction to the station in downtown Rochester. In subsequent letters Mary frequently refers to herself and other members of her family taking the train to the city, traveling the 13.2 miles from the Junction to Rochester in less than thirty minutes. In 1900 there were ten trains a day running to the city and local residents used the Lehigh Valley to get to their places of employment or to shop in downtown Rochester. In another letter she mentioned that her father was on jury duty in Rochester and that she had to hitch up the horse every morning to take him to the Junction and every evening to bring him home again.

In a letter, dated May 28, 1898, Mary wrote "the men have taken a collection to buy a large flag and that everything is red, white, and blue since the war started." This reference is to the state of war and the severing of diplomatic relations with Spain declared by Congress on April 25, 1898. Proving that some things never change, we witnessed the same display of patriotism many years later with the 9/11 terrorist situation.

All of Mary's letters to her cousin contain a reference or mention of the weather, particularly in relation to its impact on the farm crops during the spring planting, the summer growing or the fall harvest season. She also mentions that at times the snow drifts were so high that her father could barely make it across the road to the barn less than a hundred feet from their house. Other letters tell of winter storms so severe that the roads were impassable and the residents had to drive their sleighs through the open spots in the fields. In another letter she describes a violent August wind and thunder storm that uprooted five of their trees and took roofs off barns and the cider mill in Mendon Centre.

On January 12, 1903, Mary wrote that her father, Theodore Bond, had passed away December 29th leaving everything to her mother and that there would be no auction. Her brother, Milton, who, as previously mentioned, lived on his aunt's thirty-two acre farm north of their place, agreed to continue working the home place as he had done with his father in the past.

Mary's mother, Barbara, died June 26, 1905, naming Mary as executrix of her estate. On Thursday, November 30, 1905, she placed the following ad in the Honeoye Falls Times:

The farm of the late Theodore Bond,
Three and one-half miles north of
Honeoye Falls, is offered for sale.
Sandy soil, place watered with springs
and well; 20 acres of timber. Buildings in
fair condition. Address: Mary N. Bond,
Rochester Junction, NY., R.F.D.

Upon the sale of the farm in early April, 1906, to John Yorks of the town of Avon, Livingston County, Mary and her younger brother, Raymond, rented a ten-room house on the Mendon-Ionia Road, south of the hamlet of Mendon. In her letters from Mendon the reader can detect a feeling of relief and that she is enjoying her new life as she describes the fruit trees and large garden on the property. She states that she and Raymond are not homesick at all and she only misses the telephone and Rural Free Delivery. However, she writes that the neighbors across the street have a telephone that she is allowed to use and that she likes to walk to the hamlet to pick up her mail at the Post Office and to go to church.

A telephone had been installed in the Bond farmhouse after the Mendon Center Telephone Company was organized on May 4, 1900. Cedar trees from the woods of the Bond farm were used for telephone poles to carry the wires down Mendon Centre Road.

In a letter to her cousin, dated December 30, 1906, Mary writes that she "has to do something next year to earn some money." By early March, 1907, she found a job in Rochester "taking care of an old lady" for which she received her board and $5.00 a week. She was allowed one afternoon and evening off each week and every other Sunday. In subsequent letters she mentions that she likes the city better than she thought she would and that she especially enjoys the flowers in Highland Park.

In many of her letters over the years she tells her cousin that she would like to come to Illinois to visit her but that she does not have sufficient money for the trip. However, her fortunes must have improved because in a June 19, 1911, letter she tells her cousin to expect her and another cousin, Fannie Senn, to arrive in Illinois by train the following week.

In the final letter of this series, written September 18, 1911, she mentions that she expects to leave for the "sunny south" the first week in October with no further explanation about this trip.

Mary Bond never married and apparently lived in Rochester for the remainder of her life. A death notice in the August 12, 1943, Honeoye Falls Times, states that she died suddenly at her home in Rondell Park, Rochester, the previous Saturday. Funeral services were held in the Honeoye Falls Methodist Church and burial was in the Honeoye Falls Cemetery.

Shortly before his death on December 4, 1958, John Yorks sold the farm to James A. Clark who used the farmhouse as a summer residence and leased the land to a neighboring farmer. Mr. Clark eventually built a new house on the steep hill at the western edge of the farm and became a full-time resident of the town of Mendon. The house, built by Zebedee Bond over 170 years ago and greatly altered from its original classic Greek Revival style still stands, and is today used as a rental property.

2004, John G. Sheret

Sources of Information

Letters of Mary Bond
Honeoye Falls Times
1877 History of Monroe County by W. H. McIntosh
A History of the Farm by W. E. Morrison, Sr.
Illustrations supplied by the author.

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