Robert Beck's Story
January 2nd, 1901
Home for a vacation. Had a very pleasant Christmas and a happy New Year. My health is good and my whole family are at home and all in excellent health. Spent New Year at my daughter Helen's house, which is three miles out of town, had a very pleasant time. Last evening took my youngest daughter, Emma, to a New Year's dance. Did not dance myself but enjoyed the evening very much seeing others dance and listening to the sweet music. Weather is clear and cold with a light snow on the ground.
July 7th, 1901
Home again for my summer vacation. Am in good health and past the 63rd milestone of my age. Have not yet mentioned that my business is and has been the past eight years, a traveling salesman for the Columbia Wine Co. After the death of my wife, I became very restless as I was out of business and [had] no steady occupation, and not wishing to engage in a business, I conceived the idea to become a traveling salesman. I tried to get a situation with some furniture manufacturer as a salesman as I understood that line better than anything else, but did not find anything in that line, so took the next best that offered itself, which was selling wine.
John Frey of the Germania Wine Cellars was the first man to offer me a situation. Of course, 1 had to commence at the bottom round as I knew nothing about wine or how to sell. My pay was small but I was determined to learn and work up a line of customers that would be worth money to my employers and myself. I made three long trips for the Germania Wine Co. but the route they gave me was too long and not very pleasant. So I engaged myself to the Columbia Wine Co., who gave me better pay and a very pleasant route which is in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and New York City, and a few towns in [the] western part of Pennsylvania. I make four trips a year which takes about nine weeks each trip, and the balance of the year, I have for vacation. But my pay goes on the year round which is good.
[I] will now begin my history from 1884 which was the year of the great fire of which I have already spoken. As I said before after that fire the stores all moved up town around Pulteney Square.
So in 1886 I built me a new store building on the north side of [the] square where it stands now, and continued the furniture and undertaking.
In 1887 I was elected Village President. I was also a member of the Board of Education on which I served eleven years. The last three years I was President of the Board. I was elected a member of the Board of Health, of which I was President. Was also elected inspector of election for the town of which I served.
In 1883 I received the nomination on the Democratic ticket for supervisor but was beaten by Adsit Baily, the Republican candidate. In 1888 I received the nomination for justice of the peace but declined to run. I never asked for any public office. Was also vestryman of St. James church. Was also registrar of vital statistics for the town of Urbana for a number of years. But the only office I every took any delight in was member of the Board of Education, as I felt a great, and had a deep interest in school matters and labored hard to bring our school to a high state [of] excellency [in] which I am happy to say I succeeded to a great extent.
On March 31, 1881, my youngest and last child was born, Emma R[ose] Beck, and on the same date my father was buried. He died in South Livonia but was buried in Rochester by the side of my mother. My mother died December 2, 1879, at Rochester in the same house that my father's family moved into when we first landed in America in 1847.
In the winter of 1891 I bought what is known as the Evans Vineyard for $2200 cash which was considered a cheap property at that time. On April 1st, 1891, I sold out my furniture and undertaking stock to my son-in-law, Fred C. Fawcett. He wanted to engage in business and I wanted to get out of the store. He was young and active and more up to the times, and I was getting old and needed outdoor exercise. My plan was to work on my vineyard in the summer, and in the winter I could pick up odd jobs and work when I felt like it. My two boys were large enough to help me during the long summer vacation, and with the little offices I had which gave me employment part of the time I thought [that] would be all the employment I wanted.
My plans were all very good but it was a complete change from my former life. I tried to work on the vineyard the first year but it was no go, as it was not nor never had been my kind of work. I never had worked in [the] ground before. So the vineyard work was a disappointment to me, and my boys had no relish for it either. So I found myself with an elephant on my hands for I soon discovered that as a vineyardist I was a total failure and my fine plans were no good. I tried to play retired gentleman, but that was also a failure and [I] soon got tired of doing nothing.
In March, 1892, my greatest misfortune befell me. About the middle of March my brother-in-law, W. E. Clark of Corning, who was a particular friend of ours, died. I was laid up with a broken leg at the time and could not go to the funeral. But my wife went. And the weather was very cold and she contracted a heavy cold at the grave. She came home the next day after the funeral feeling badly but thought it was simply a bad cold and would soon pass off. About the 24th of March she went to bed. The doctor was called but it was too late, for that dreadful disease pneumonia did its work and she died the morning of March 28th, 1892.
She was a good Christian woman, a good mother and a good wife as ever lived, always good natured, never spoke ill of anyone, strictly honest, and always looked after the interests of her children, and loved them dearly. As good a wife and mother as any man was ever blessed with, she was a model Christian, and if ever a wife and mother deserved Heaven she certainly does, and I firmly believe is happy in Heaven with her blessed Lord and the Angels.
She is a great loss to me but [I] firmly believe she is at rest and we remember all her good precepts and good acts and hope to meet her in a better world. I was left with five children at home. My second daughter was then 23 years old, a good loving daughter. She was very affectionate and did all she could to make our home cheerful and pleasant. The household went on but we all missed the dear mother who had always been the guiding star in all things about the household.
My daughters Bertha and Helen were now my mainstay and hope and the light of the household, and I can say they did well. They were very affectionate sisters and each did their part well. Bertha, being the oldest, was the leader of the house until she married which was on April 12th, 1898. Then Helen was installed as mistress of the house but in one short year she also was married, which left me without a housekeeper as my youngest daughter was too young to keep house alone. But the daughters had matters all fixed for me; and that was for me to rent my house to my oldest daughter, Lillian, and myself and Emma [to] board with them, which was the best I could do, and the only thing I could do as I am and have been a traveling salesman and away from home nine months in a year.
In the winter of 1895 my son, C. Anthony, who was at that time a clerk in D. Rose and Sons' dry goods store, wrote me a very nice letter stating that he would like to go to college and study to be a doctor if I would furnish him the money. The letter pleased me very much and I replied without delay that if he was in earnest and would apply himself I was more than willing to furnish the means to pay his way. He promised me he would apply himself, and he did. He went to University of Maryland at Baltimore, Maryland, took a four years' course and after graduating received the appointment of resident physician in the University hospital, but is now at this writing located at Wilmington, Delaware, as a practicing physician.
My oldest son, Hubert, learned the jeweler's trade and opened up a jeweler's repair shop at Hammondsport, but he was not a success because he could not confine himself to his workbench and also lacked business experience. He sold out his stock and tools and went into a machine shop to learn the machinist's trade which is more to his liking. He is a good mechanic and a good-hearted young man but will never be a success as a business man. He is now working regular and getting fair wages.
After the death of my wife I was very restless, as I was out of business and had a family on my hands to support and my income was rather limited. That summer I made a trip to Colorado to spend a few weeks in the Rocky Mountain, .s, which I think did me some good. On my return I began to look for business. I did not want a business at Hammondsport, for the furniture and cabinet business or carpenter work was the only thing I had any experience in. So [I] conceived the idea that I would like to be a traveling salesman. So I corresponded with different furniture manufacturers to sell for them. But nothing developed in that line that was to my satisfaction.
John Frey of the Germania Wine Cellar offered me a situation as a traveling salesman to sell wine, of which I knew simply nothing. As I am not a wine drinker myself I was no judge of the goods I was trying to sell. But as I was getting desperate and restless for something to do, I accepted the offer and started on my maiden trip about the first of February, 1892. It was a long trip as he sent me through part of New York State, New Jersey, part of Pennsylvania, Maryland, City of Washington, D. C., Virginia, West Virginia, and part of Ohio, and West Pa., and West N.Y. I returned in May thoroughly disgusted with the business and myself, for I discovered that selling goods in a store is one thing and selling goods on the road is quite another trade, that as a traveling salesman I was at the bottom round of the ladder and to get to the top round was a hard job, for it is top-round fellows that get the fruit. I learned that it takes years of hard work to become a successful salesman.
The outlook was dark but Mr. Frey insisted on my trying another trip. I started out on my second trip and had a little better success but my commission was very small for the hard work and suffering I had to endure. The third trip they paid me a small salary which encouraged me somewhat.
In the fall of 1893 the Columbia Wine Co. made me a satisfactory offer to travel for them which I accepted. And at this writing, 1901, [I] am still with the same company but have had my salary raised four different times. I have a fine route and a fine line of customers and a fine acquaintance and must say that I enjoy being a traveling salesman as my pay is good.
Selling wine is not as easy as one would think that never tried it. The competition is sharp, and there [are] so many different locations where wine is produced and some wine is [so] very poor that the public are suspicious of anything called wine. But I must say the H[ammonds]port cellars all produce good wines. In fact, I believe it to be the best produced in America, and Lake Keuka is becoming noted for fine grapes and wine. I think it is only a question of time when all the grapes growing on the banks of Lake Keuka will be made into wine.
Sunday, August 25th, 1901
My summer vacation is about ended and I start out in the morning for a two months' trip. My vacation was a mixture of work, play, and sightseeing. During the absence of my employer, Mr. ]. S. Hubbs, [who went] to California, I superintended the building of an addition to the Columbia Wine Cellar. After his return myself and my daughter, Emma, went to Buffalo and to the Pan-American Exposition. We enjoyed our trip and sightseeing very much as the building and grounds of the Exposition were very fine. Also all things on display were of the finest the two Americas could produce. We also did some visiting at my daughter, Helen Vroom's, who lives two miles out of town, and enjoyed it very much as Mr. Vroom and family are very fine people and have a faculty of making life pleasant and happy.
Home for my winter vacation. A nice coat of snow on the ground. Good sleighing but not cold. My health is very good and [I] am having a very pleasant Xmas. [I] am invited to dinner at my daughter Bertha Bauder's. Received several nice little presents from my children and grandchildren. My family are all in good health and all are in Hammondsport except my son, C. A. Beck, M.D. who is now located at Wilmington, Delaware, as a practicing physician and is doing fairly well for a new beginner, as he just commenced to practice last July, 1901.
Sunday morning, January 5th, 1902
This is a beautiful morning. About 8 inches of snow on the ground and fine sleighing.
August 6th, 1902
Home for my summer vacation which I am enjoying immensely as I am in good health. Returned home June 22nd and on the 12th of July myself, my daughter Emma, my daughter Bertha and Arthur Bauder, her husband, went on a 10 days' outing and sight-seeing [trip]. We went to Philadelphia where we spent two days. From there went to Wilmington, Del., and were the guests of my son, Dr. C. A. Beck.
From Wilmington [we went] to Cape May where we spent the day breathing sea air and enjoyed ourselves immensely. But poor Emma became very sea sick on the passage.
August 23rd, 1902
My summer vacation is about wound up as I start Monday morning on my first fall trip. This has been one of the pleasantest summer vacations I ever spent as the weather has been unusually cool. This season up to date has been noted for heavy rains and hailstorms and floods. In this part [it was] very bad for farmers and vineyardists. We are about to make a change in our household arrangements, as my daughter Lillian and her family are about to move into their own house.
July 12th, 1903
Returned from my trip June 20th and am enjoying a summer vacation. There is quite a change in my household affairs within the past year. My oldest daughter has moved into a house of her own on William Street, and my daughter Helen and family have moved from the farm to my house, and myself and Emma are now boarding with them, [the] same as we did with Lillian.
We have made some improvements in the old home. We now have electric lights throughout the house, and hot and cold water, and bath and toilet rooms. House newly papered and painted throughout, and parlor and halls newly carpeted. Today is Communion Sunday and Confirmation. Bishop Walker is here and confirmed a class of sixteen. My granddaughter Bertha was confirmed today, July 12, 1903.
June 20th, 1904
Just returned home from a 2 1/2 half months' trip, tired out and very glad to get home to my dear old H. Port, which is to me the dearest place on earth. And [I] am looking forward with great expectation for a two months' rest and quiet which I need badly. I am now in my 67th year but in good health and am able to earn $1500 a year for nine months' work including living expenses.
December 19th, 1904
Home for my winter vacation. Rounded up the year in middling good shape. Business the past year was good, and my health is very good for a man nearly 67 years old. My dear old friend John Dimon was buried yesterday, December 20th. I will miss him very much as we had been on very friendly and social terms for 28 years. This fall and December is noted for extremely dry weather. December has been very cold to date and very little snow. My family are all well except Bertha who has a bad cold. My neighbor, Dr. O. H. Babcock was very sick, nearly unto death, but is now getting better.
July 18th, 1905
Returned home June 23rd for my summer vacation. Am now in my 68th year and enjoying good health, thanks to my Maker for what I have, which is a good home and good health. Today it is too hot to write so will put this book on the shelf until a cooler day.
Today it is cool and very pleasant. But [I'm ] in a bad frame of mind for writing. My daughter, Emma, has been sick for a month or over and today she is in bed. Hope it is not a relapse.