The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2005

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Mendon — The Early Years

The Dibble Seed House


John G. Sheret

Cover of 1930 Catalog, Dibble Seed Company. Photograph by John G. Sheret.

In a 1956 letter to his customers, Harwood Martin, President of Edward F. Dibble Seedgrower, wrote: "For 65 years we have been growing and supplying the best in farm seeds to the farmers in the Northeast, and our motto has always been: ''FARM SEEDS AND FARM SEEDS ONLY: ONE GRADE AND THAT THE BEST OBTAINABLE AT THE LOWEST PRICE CONSISTENT WITH THE HIGHEST QUALITY.'"

The Dibble Seed House of Honeoye Falls was founded in 1891 by Edward Franklin Dibble of the town of Lima, New York State. On August 16, 1894, the business was incorporated under the name, "Edward F. Dibble Seed Company of Honeoye Falls," with Edward F. Dibble, President; Frank P. Jobes, Secretary and Treasurer. Directors of the new company were Mr. Dibble; Frank P. Jobes, a prominent local grain and produce dealer with a warehouse on Lehigh Street; and Alexander M. Holden, President of the Holden Bank in Honeoye Falls.

Under this arrangement the seed business, started a few years earlier by Edward F. Dibble, was consolidated with the produce business established in 1883 by Mr. Jobes. By November 1, 1894, the new warehouse for the Dibble Seed Company on High Street was ready for business and the owners were looking forward to a switch (siding) from the newly arrived Lehigh Valley Railroad in order to load freight cars for the shipment of their products.

The first business office was located at 10 West Main Street in the building now housing the Hair Designers Beauty Shop. The main seed processing plant was at 17 High Street at the intersection of Railroad Avenue (now Norton Street), the location of the present Cranmer's Feed & Farm Store. The corn drying and cleaning operation was handled in the "Central" building, named for its proximity to the former New York Central facilities on Railroad Avenue.

The "Central" building on Railroad Avenue used for processing
seed corn.
Photograph by John G. Sheret

Mr. Dibble owned many acres of land in the Town of Lima that provided the seed material for the enterprise. In October 1902 he purchased the beautiful house, known as "Hillcrest," just west of the four corners in the Village of Lima built in the Greek Revival style by Erastus Clark in 1838.

"Hillcrest" home of Edward F. Dibble in Village of Lima.
Photograph from Dibble Company catalog.

An 1896 advertisement proclaimed that the Dibble Company was:

The Largest Growers of Strictly Farm Seed in the World

Over 600 acres of Potatoes and between 2,000 and 3,000 acres of Beans and Grain was the area devoted to seed crops in 1895.

Good, careful, thorough-going farmers within ten miles of Honeoye Falls, who wish to grow strictly first class crops for seed purposes can find a contract waiting for them, that will be both pleasant and profitable, at the offices of the Edward F. Dibble Seed Co.

If you have good land, rich and free from weeds, call at the office during the winter and we will give you something that will line your pockets with dollars.

On August 1, 1902, the company, formed in 1894, was dissolved and the name changed from the "Edward F. Dibble Seed Company" to "Edward F. Dibble Seedgrower" with 150 shares of capital stock worth $15,000. Mr. Dibble, as President, was assigned 90 shares; Alfred B. Neal, Treasurer, 30 shares; and F. A. Neal, Secretary, 30 shares. The latter two individuals were the owners of a strawboard mill that they had built on Paper Mill Street in Honeoye Falls in 1898.

In the same year a publication, entitled the Honeoye Falls Commercial, Business, and Professional Review, printed these words about the Dibble Company: "Of all the many business enterprises of which we are proud and which we have chosen for commendation, we refer to none with more enthusiasm than this one.

"Truly the Dibble Seed House fills a want, for which hundreds of farmers, had hitherto sought in vain. By its means the benefits of practical and successful farming is enhanced and real profit is brought to it, in its ordinary pursuits by producers being able to obtain seeds which produce the greatest and most important results, in noted variety.

"Mr. E. F. Dibble is of great energy, tact and discretion in this particular business, and his seeds of enterprise and much value are scattered throughout the Union, bringing not only to the country, but to him, unprecedented and good returns."

The following information appeared in an undated newspaper article: "Mr. Edward F. Dibble graduated from the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in 1883. Mr. Dibble is a gentleman of high intelligence and originality. For several years he was one of the associated editors of the Rural New Yorker of New York City, one of the state fertilizer inspectors appointed under the new law, and a lecturer on the Farmers' Institute Corps. For two years Mr. Dibble served as president of the New York Farmers' Alliance and is an active worker in any measure that will benefit the working classes. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church of Honeoye Falls and superintendent of the Sunday school."

At the time Mr. Dibble started selling farm seeds, he was living on the 150-acre home farm, located on the Livonia Center Road in the Town of Lima, and merely intended to dispose of the products of his own farm direct to the consumer. However, the demand was so great that his farm could not begin to produce enough to satisfy the demand and he added other farms from time to time. By 1916 the Dibble seed farms comprised 1035 acres in addition to four farms belonging to his nephews containing 685 acres. Seed shipments to farm customers ranged from 4000 to 5000 tons annually.

The Dibble Seed Company was an extremely successful organization primarily due to the marketing skills of its founder, Edward F. Dibble. In addition to an annual catalog, Mr. Dibble each year published numerous price lists that reflected the extremely volatile farm seed market as well as helpful information about the various products sold by his company.

1929 advertisement for Dibble's Seed Potatoes

The March 2, 1931, Price List contained a page addressed to MR. SEED BUYER and read as follows:

It is sensible to be thrifty, and a thrifty man is a wise man. To buy whenever you can buy the best goods for the least money is just good, plain common sense, and in buying Farm Seeds you are always sure when buying Dibble's of getting only the best money will buy, and usually at lower prices than the same quality can be purchased elsewhere.

We do an enormous volume of business. One year we sold over 110,000 bushels of Seed Potatoes; another season over 100,000 bushels of Seed Corn, and one spring, 60,000 bushels of Seed Oats.

You can readily see that if we handle twenty to thirty cars of Alfalfa, Clover, and Grass Seeds in two to three months, we can afford to give you the benefit of carload prices.

We are satisfied if we can make 5 to 10 per cent on our volume of business, and thousands of farmers save many dollars in buying their Farm Seeds from us annually. Why not you?

Hundreds of farmers have saved from $1 a bushel on Timothy seed to $2, $3, $4, and even $5 a bushel on Alfalfa and Clover seed. Our recleaned Timothy and Alsike Natural Mixture, 20 per cent Alsike, is the seeding bargain on this year at $6 a bushel.

Seed Oats of good quality are in plentiful supply this year, and of splendid quality. In fact we have thousands of bushels, weighing from 40 to 44 pounds per bushel, thoroughly recleaned and graded at 80 cents a bushel. Bags free, of course. Some other seedsmen price Seed Oats in their catalog or through agents, certainly no better than ours, and perhaps not so good, at $1.00, $1.50, and up to $2.-per Bushel. A DOLLAR SAVED IS A DOLLAR EARNED.

Edward F. Dibble with bushel of seed potatoes.
This photograph appeared in every Dibble Seed Company catalog.
Photograph courtesy of George Martin

The Dibble Company also mailed hundreds of penny postcards to it farm customers stating that they could receive samples of the company's products, such as clover, peas, corn, oats, etc,., by filling out the back of the card and returning it with their request. On the front of the card was an attractive photograph, taken from a rear window of the West Main Street office, of the Falls at Honeoye Falls with the New York Central Railroad bridge and the York Foundry in the background.

In an advertisement, dated March 21, 1919, with the title "Headquarters for Farm Seeds" Edward F. Dibble made the following claim: "Warehouses 400 Feet in Length: capacity, 100 carloads."

The largest stock of all kinds of strictly Farm Seeds between New York and Chicago. We do a Mail Order Farm Seed Business regularly, the largest of the kind, but last year, owing to the Seed Corn famine, we opened our warehouse to direct customers and sold thousands of bushels to Western New York farmers who came in automobiles and took the corn at our shipping platforms. This year there is the greatest scarcity of clover seed ever known. Many dealers have no stock at all and some others, according to the papers, are performing at the expense of the farmer. Pay no fancy prices. Good roads lead to Honeoye Falls from all directions. Come in your car and take your seed home with you.

Come to headquarters for your Farm Seeds and save money.

Dibble's Certified Seeds are analyzed in our laboratory by a graduate seed analyst and every bag has a tag showing Purity and Germination test.

Printing on a Dibble Company seed bag
Photograph by John G. Sheret

Florence Semmel Dreisbach recalls, as a young girl, on Saturday mornings riding to the Dibble warehouse in Honeoye Falls with her father, Albert Semmel, to buy seeds for the family farm. In the early years the trip was made in a Model T Ford that was stored in a barn in the wintertime and a horse drawn sleigh used for transportation. The Model T was later replaced with an Essex automobile for trips to Honeoye Falls.

For much of the information about the company I am indebted to my friend and Mendon neighbor, George H. Martin, whose grandfather Dean Garfield Martin on February 3, 1908, acquired the 60 shares of the original company stock purchased by Albert and F. A. Neal in 1902.

He then became associated with the company serving as treasurer and warehouse manager. In the latter capacity he was in charge of the warehouses and also responsible for the recleaning, handling, packing, and shipping of all the seeds that were processed by the plant.

Mr. Martin was born June 20th, 1865, the youngest son of Amasa and Julia Ann Garfield Martin. His ancestors for three generations resided in the Town of Lima and were prominently identified with town affairs. He resided in the large circa 1848 house built by is father on the 165-acre Bragg Street farm.

Dean Martin became treasurer of the E.F. Dibble Seed Company in 1908.
Photograph from Dibble Seed company catalog.

The addition of the Martin land to the acreage already owned by E. F. Dibble brought the total worked by the Company for seed growing purposes to almost 1900 acres. In addition to the combined Dibble and Martin interests, the company also contracted for growing seeds on many hundreds of acres of land owned by other farmers.

Dean G. Martin died December 16, 1918, at the age of fifty four, a victim of the influenza epidemic that swept the country in that year. His obituary in the Honeoye Falls Times read as follows: "A man of tireless energy, of thoroughgoing business qualifications and sterling integrity, he naturally won the confidence and esteem of all with who he came in contact. In public affairs his many admirable qualities won for him the friendship and confidence of his associates and he was called upon in various activities to the limit of his time, and was always found faithful to every duty. He will be greatly missed in the community."

Harwood Martin, son of Dean G. and Martha Martin, was born October 3, 1893. After his graduation from Cornell University in 1916 he joined his father in the seed business in Honeoye Falls.

Harold E. Dibble, son of Edward F. Dibble, entered the business in 1913, as a seed analyst in charge of the company's seed laboratory. He held a B.S. degree from Cornell University and an M.A. degree from the University of Wisconsin, specializing in plant breeding, seed testing, and plant pathology. Harold E. Dibble had been vice president of the company for seven years when he died August 23, 1929, as the result of a tragic automobile accident near his Conesus Lake cottage.

His father, Edward F. Dibble, died four years later. This obituary appeared on the front page of the December 28, 1933, issue of the Honeoye Falls Times:

"Edward F. Dibble, founder and president of Edward F. Dibble Seedgrower, passed away at his West Palm Beach, Florida, home Monday, December 25, following an illness of many months.

"Mr. and Mrs. Dibble spent the summer at their place on Canandaigua Lake and in November went to Florida as has been their custom. Mr. Dibble was ill at that time and Dr. A. G. Hinman of Honeoye Falls, his physician, accompanied him to West Palm Beach, where it was hoped there might be some improvement in his health.

"He is survived by his wife, Dorothy Shuart Dibble; a son Edward F. Dibble, Jr.; and two granddaughters, Jane and Jacquelin Dibble, of Rochester. The remains will be brought to Honeoye Falls. Funeral services will be held at Nau's chapel Friday at 2 p.m.

"Mr. Dibble established the concern here which bears his name forty three years ago,. Operating in a limited way, at first, he lived to be the head of what is said to be the largest strictly farm seed mail order house in this country.

"A man of great enterprise, Mr. Dibble was a a business man of high order, and a liberal contributor to every worthy cause. Socially, he was an ideal companion. Mr. Dibble's death marks a tremendous loss for this community."

Edward Franklin Dibble was laid to rest in Oakridge Cemetery, located on the Livonia Center road in the Town of Lima, just a short distance from the family farm where he started his seed business.

Apparently Mr. Dibble had already sold "Hillcrest," his home in the Village of Lima, when he signed his Last Will and Testament in 1931 specifying that the majority of his estate be left to his wife, Dorothy Shuart Dibble. The only two residences mentioned in the will are "The Willows" on Canandaigua Lake and the home in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he passed away in December 1933.

Mrs. Dibble also received title to her husband's boathouse located at the foot of Main Street in the City of Canandaigua, New York, and his cruiser, The Idler.

The Dibble Seed Company office building on West Main Street in the Village of Honeoye Falls was also left to Mrs. Dibble. (Note: This building was not actually owned by the company but by Edward F. Dibble personally and leased to the company under an agreement whereby the latter paid the former $300.00 per annum and was responsible for all taxes and maintenance.)

Mr. Dibble's will established two trusts with the Lincoln Alliance Bank & Trust Company (now Chase Manhattan Bank) as Trustee. The first trust provided a sum of $20,000, the income from which was to be paid to his wife during her lifetime.

The second trust authorized the use of the income from $50,000 of his estate, under the direction of his wife, to be used for the care, maintenance, and education of his son, Edward Franklin Dibble, Jr., who was age seven when the will was drafted in 1931. Any income, not required for this purpose, would be paid to his wife Dorothy S. Dibble.

Mrs. Dibble was also bequeathed the 430-acre farm on the Heath-Markham Road in the Town of Lima. The fact that the 150-acre "home" farm, where he started his seed business, is not mentioned in his will would suggest that Edward F. Dibble never actually owned the property or that it was owned by some other member of the Dibble family.

She also received 80 shares of the 90 shares of stock that were assigned to Edward F. Dibble when the Company was organized in 1902. The remaining 10 shares had already been transferred February 3, 1908, to Mr. Dibble's first wife, Grace D. Dibble.

A final provision of the will read as follows: "Without placing legal obligations upon my executors, I nevertheless take this opportunity to advise them that Harwood Martin, of Honeoye Falls, New York, has been Treasurer of my company, Edward F. Dibble Seedgrower, for many years, and that I have implicit confidence in his integrity, his knowledge of my business affairs, and his business judgment, and that I recommend to my executors that his employment be continued and his advice in connection with my business be duly considered."

The 80 shares of stock willed by Mr. Dibble to his wife, Dorothy S. Dibble, gave her controlling interest in the company and she became president after his death.

On September 24, 1936, Dorothy S. Dibble, following her marriage to Clair L. Morey, a Canandaigua attorney, requested that 75 shares of the Edward F. Dibble Company stock she had inherited, be transferred to her new husband.

On August 10, 1939, the Honeoye Falls Times reported that on the previous day, a fire of undetermined origin caused heavy damage to the main warehouse and elevator of Edward F. Dibble Seedgrower with damage in excess of $15,000.

An account of the fire reads as follows: "Discovered at approximately three o'clock by Miss Marguerite Appleton of Railroad Avenue, the alarm was sounded by her father, Chester Appleton, and the local department quickly responded. Hooking up to a Railroad Avenue hydrant, the pumper was soon forcing powerful streams on the flames which had gained furious headway. A call for help was put through to Lima and the department of that village reached the scene in record time. The neighboring firemen with their pumper are credited with very substantial aid in bringing the flames under control and preventing spread of the blaze.

"Some 2,000 bushels of wheat, together with other grains, were stored in the building, which contained grain cleaning machinery and other devices used by the Dibble concern in preparing seed for its trade throughout the United States.

"Officials of Edward F. Dibble Seedgrower say they are already prepared to furnish a compete line of grass seeds, indicating quick action on their part.

"Harking back to old times, some ladies of the village banded together and served coffee and fried cakes to the firemen.

"Again members of the two departments, Lima and Honeoye Falls, demonstrated their ability to successfully fight the flames against heavy odds."

1894 Dibble Seed Company warehouse and seed processing plant.
Destroyed by fire in August 1939. Photograph courtesy of
Anne Bullock, Honeoye Falls Village Historian.

An article in the January 25, 1940, issue of the Honeoye Falls Times mentioned that: "By February 1 cleaning equipment and machinery will be installed in the new building of Edward F. Dibble Seedgrower to replace the building destroyed by fire in August of last year.

"The new building completed December 29, was constructed by Swartout & Rowley, Rochester contractors, and is of hollow tile with supporting structure of steel. It has a frost-proof potato storage basement and the building will house the most modern seed cleaning equipment, thus placing the Dibble concern in better position than ever to satisfactorily serve the farmers of this territory and those of adjoining states.

"At the time of the August 9 fire, the cement block warehouse adjoining the main building in the rear was partially destroyed and the laboratory in the front, as well as the potato storage at the side, was slightly damaged.

"Principal seeds handled by the company are potatoes, certified oats, barley, hybrid corn, soy beans, buckwheat, alfalfa, clovers, and grass seeds. The certified and hybrid seeds were developed by the Plant Breeding Department, College of Agriculture at Cornell University, with which Mr. Martin had a close relationship.

"Edward F. Dibble was the active head of the company until his death in 1933. Under his dynamic leadership one of the largest strictly mail order farm seed businesses in America was built up."

As recommended by Edward F. Dibble in his 1931 will, Harwood Martin remained active in the management of the company as vice president and treasurer. On October 24, 1951, Mr. Martin purchased the shares of the stock owned by Dorothy D. Morey and became president and owner of Edward F. Dibble Seedgrower. In a 1956 advertisement, his son, Dean G. Martin, is listed as vice-president and another son, Ralph E. Martin, as secretary.

Harwood and Edith Martin with dog Roxy outside their Bragg Street home.
Photograph, courtesy of George Martin.

Harwood Martin passed away on August 4, 1963, at the age of sixty nine leaving three sons, Dean, George, and Ralph. His wife Edith Shrader Martin predeceased him on February 4, 1960.

As executor of the estate of Harwood Martin, his son, George H. Martin, acted as the liquidating agent for the buildings and other assets of the Dibble Seed Company.

The seed warehouse on High Street and the Central building on Railroad Avenue were sold to business partners, Glenn Morse and Rent Cranmer, who also owned the former Beam Milling Company on Lehigh Street. As mentioned previously, the seed warehouse is now occupied by Cranmer's Feed and Farm store and managed by Larry Cranmer, son of Rent Cranmer.

Dibble Seed Company warehouse built to replace building destroyed
by fire in August 1939. Photograph by John G. Sheret.

The Central building is owned by the Mattstone Company which has done extensive development work in the North Main Street and Norton Street area and may convert the building into rental apartments.

George Martin, again acting as the liquidating agent for the Dibble Company, sold the inventory and mailing lists to the Robeson Seed Company of Hall, New York, thus bringing to an end a company that in 1896, was proclaimed by Edward Franklin Dibble to be the "largest growers of strictly farm seed in the world."

Sources of Information

George H. Martin, Martin family papers, Honeoye Falls Times, Various Dibble Company advertisements, Ann Bullock, Honeoye Falls Village Historian, John C. Aldridge, David "Josh" Canfield, Sally Gilbert, Cranmer Feed & Farm Store

© 2005, John G. Sheret
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