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June 2008

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Robert Beck's Story



Robert Beck

Hammondsport Herald, October 10, 1917, Hammondsport, N.Y.

As It Looked Forty-one Years Ago and as It Looks Now

The writer of this article came to Hammondsport with the Knights of Honor from Corning, N. Y., August 15, 1876. It was the first time I ever saw Hammondsport or Lake Keuka. I was and had been a resident of Corning fourteen years. On landing at Bath we were put on board the Hammondsport train which looked like a toy train. It took all the cars the railroad company owned including flat cars and coal cars to carry our party. It was a narrow gauge road. On the trip down the first five miles was not very attractive, but when we struck Pleasant Valley the scenery became more attractive. And when we arrived nearer to Hammondsport and saw a glimpse of Lake Keuka and the vine-clad hills, I was charmed and overwhelmed with the beauty and grandeur of the beautiful picture before me; and my love and admiration for my dear and pleasant home, which has been my home for the last 41 years, was unsurpassed.

I will now describe Hammondsport just as it looked 41 years ago. Where the B. & H. train landed at Hammondsport there was no station; simply a wooden platform near the steamboat dock at the foot of Sheather street. The ground between the lake and what is now the Wadsworth Hotel was a log yard at low water time. What is now the Wadsworth Hotel was at that time a saw mill and grape box factory. The two-story building opposite the Wadsworth Hotel was a furniture store, which the writer purchased and did business [in] as a furniture dealer, undertaker and picture framer. At this time the bulk of the business was strung along the lake front. When I landed at the station, instead of taking the steamer down to Penn Yan, I stopped to look over the village of Hammondsport, that looked to me so pleasantly situated. I walked up Sheather Street as far as the Steuben Hotel, where I had dinner. After dinner I asked the landlord of the hotel all kinds of questions about the little town, all of which he answered readily. I asked him if he knew of any property for sale. He referred me to Mr. Drew, whose office was in the Bank of Hammondsport, just opposite the hotel. I walked across the park which was just planted to trees and a man was drawing water from the lake to make them grow. I entered the bank and was shown to Mr. Drew, who was a fine gentleman. I asked him if he knew of any property for sale. He said he had the selling of one very fine place on Lake Street. Told me how to find it. He also told of a furniture place that could be bought reasonable and if the right kind of man had it, thought he could make a good living. I thanked him and started in search of both of the places. I was delighted with my discovery; for one would make a good home and the other furnish a good living. All the men I conversed with were very pleasant and the town looked like a pleasant and orderly little town. I asked several citizens what the population was of the village and they differed as to the number, anywhere from five to six hundred. I think five hundred was the nearest correct.

Forty-one years ago there was not one foot of stone or brick sidewalk, and just a few kerosene street lamps; just a few sidewalks made of planks. All the store buildings were built of wood. There was a very small one-story building, used for a lock-up and the little hand fire engine was also stored in the same little shanty, when not occupied by some drunken man, which was not very often, for I must say that the men of Hammondsport were a very orderly and sober class of men. There were four churches at that time, all built of wood, and I must say they were all well attended every Sunday, which spoke well for the whole community. On the whole, the little village had an old look. The public school was just a common school district, one school trustee, one teacher in the summer and two in the winter. There were only two houses on Vine Street that stood on the east side of the street and all west of that was nothing but open country; not one house in sight. There were only three houses on Davis Avenue, just one house on Main Street below the cemetery and only two on the west side of Main Street below the cemetery. West from the corner of Main and Pulteney Streets there were four houses; west from the corner of Vine and Lake Streets there were but three houses. There was not one wine cellar in the corporation; only one hotel worthy of the name of hotel. That was the Steuben Hotel. No fire department, worthy of that name. The post office was kept in a store. There was a small printing office that printed a good weekly paper called the Hammondsport Herald, conducted by two ladies, one of them is still living. The printing was done on a small hand press.

I carefully looked over the little town, conversed with some of the business men and I was charmed with the beautiful location. The vine-clad hills and beautiful Lake Keuka. It all impressed me as a desirable location to live in and if I could secure the furniture business I was sure of a living for myself and family. All the men I conversed with seemed to be so friendly and good natured. I had a talk with the man that owned the furniture business and he told me the price which sounded reasonable. On my way back to Corning that evening I told some of my friends that I was quite in love with Hammondsport and they all agreed with me that it was a beautiful location.

Hammondsport Herald, December 5, 1917, Hammondsport, N.Y.

Hammondsport as It Looks in the Year of 1917

In my last article I described the town as it looked 41 years ago, and now will endeavor to describe it as it looks today, and how the changes were brought about. The first four years, that is between the years of 1876 and 1880, there were the B. & H. Railroad station and one dwelling house built and five flag stone sidewalks laid. The stone came from Pennsylvania and they were the first stone walks in this town. In 1880 grapes sold for a good price and up went the price of vineyards. More acres of land were planted to grapes. Land along the lake sold for high prices. Hammondsport and Lake Keuka became famous summer resorts. The older men of the town began to open their eyes. Some of the old houses were painted and new ones were built. A new line of steamers were put on the lake. The stone building on the corner of Water and Sheather Streets, used as a saw mill and box factory, was converted into a hotel, now called the Wadsworth Hotel, and a new brick hotel called the St. James Hotel [was built] next to the furniture store on Sheather street. In 1876 there was not one wine cellar in the town, now there are seven, all of them doing a fine business. All the merchants and other business men [are] all doing well. There are all kinds of mechanics and all have plenty of work to do. In the year 1885 the town was afflicted by a fire that completely destroyed nearly all the stores including two hotels, the St. James and the Eagle Hotels, all at the north end of Sheather Street. The village had no fire department worthy of the name. So the first thing the business men did was to levy a tax to purchase some kind of fire apparatus and construct cisterns for fire purposes which was speedily carried out and fire companies organized. New stores were rapidly built, more in the central part of the town around Pulteney Street and up Sheather Street. The next improvement was the enlarging of the school house. Some eight or ten men put their heads together. They were men of progressive ideas and could see that the children were not receiving the education that they were entitled to. They called a meeting of the taxpayers of the district and explained the situation and asked to elect a board of education to consist of seven members. The writer was elected as one of the seven. After the election the board met and organized and elected a president and clerk of the board. That was the beginning of the development of our present school. The next improvement was the water works. Our board of village trustees worked that out in fine shape and we are now blessed with a fine water system of good water and plenty of it. The next improvement was electric lights. That was brought about by just a few of our citizens who were up-to-date. Now we have our streets lighted as well as our houses and all public buildings. The next was the telephone. That was also projected by a few of the progressive men. Now we have all the modern improvements. All the streets have fine cement sidewalks and streets [are] kept clean. In short our town is up-to-date in every respect. We have a high school that is the pride of the town: A school that prepares the children for college. We are proud of our board of education and the teachers from the principal down to the primary. We must remember that a good school is one of the best and greatest institutions a town can have to train the young and create good useful citizens. Our town has grown in population in forty years from a little over five hundred to about two thousand five hundred.

Now how were all the improvements brought about? Don't think they came just by talking and wishing that some other fellows would come along and create them for us. No, not so, but we have bright and wide awake men in our midst and have had for forty years that knew how to produce the improvements that were necessary, who not only knew how but had the force. They are men of knowledge and progression. Nothing by way of public improvements comes by chance, but created by men of push. The citizens of our town should and I believe they do feel under great obligation to the promoters of all the improvements that we enjoy. We have four churches that are fine structures and four ministers of the gospel who teach the young how to live and the old how to keep their feet in that narrow way that leads to life everlasting. Our town certainly looks neat and tidy. Our streets are clean, the buildings are of a fine style of architecture and kept well painted. The lawns are well kept, an abundance of fine shade trees kept well trimmed. Everybody lives in peace and harmony. The children always look clean and well dressed and healthy which speaks well for the mothers. The ladies of our town always are neatly dressed on the streets or at public gatherings. Hammondsport is a delightful town to live in and also to do business in.

Index to Robert Beck's Story
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