January 1989

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Incidents in the Early Settlement of Pulteney

Selections on Grape Growing


J. W. Prentiss

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Part 1

The Hammondsport Herald, August 9, 1876

Along Crooked Lake there was a breadth of land that was at that time of little value for farming purposes, hardly worth the taxes. From some knowledge of grape growing in the old country, gathered from reading, it was the most natural thing in the world to suggest grapes for our side hills. No sooner thought of than adopted.

At this time there was no one in this country who had grapes on the brain but Longworth, of Ohio, and Dr. Underhill, who had made some progress at Croton Point, North River. There had been a vineyard started at Ve-Vay, Indiana, by a company of Swiss, but the location was unfavorable, and had been abandoned. Richard Sheffield, who kept, I think, the first tavern in Hammondsport, on the corner where Waterous grocery now stands, brought the first grape roots from Wm. R. Prime, Long Island, to Hammondsport. Rev. W. W. Bostwick, being something of a horticulturist and gardener, propagated from these roots and supplied any who wanted for grape arbors.

Terrace Garden, or as now called Lake View Terrace, was commenced, ornamental arbors made, the ground set out to grapes by Wm. Hastings, the business and society founder of Hammondsport, whose name should be cherished by the good people of the place. Before his day, Pleasant Valley was inhabited by a class of well-to-do farmers, who were remarkably liberal in their habits and opinions. Not particularly choice in their moral propriety, the Sabbath was generally devoted to hunting, fishing and kindred amusements. But from the business commencement of Hammondsport there was a change and without much opposition from those who claimed proprietorship of the place. Much might be said, but it belongs to others to give the present inhabitants their early history. Wm. Hastings' terrace garden suggested the idea of a vineyard to the writer.

In 1838 four grape roots were bought of W. W. Bostwick for $1.00, more money then than ten today. Two of these roots were Isabella, one Catawba and one Sweetwater. They were planted for a summer house, 8' x 10'. The Sweetwater proved too tender for our winters and was only kept for variety; protection in winter was found necessary. Isabella and Catawba soon covered the summer house. The Isabella grew and flourished, producing magnificent fruit, the location being above the now established grape line, nearly two miles from the lake. The Catawba was a more shy grower and bearer, seldom maturing its fruit, although then supposed ripe, yet they lacked the sweetness of our lake Catawbas.

As soon as cuttings were grown they were planted to produce roots for sale. Some were given away but never one to this day sold. As fast as roots were grown they were put out in rows 14' apart. The stakes to which wooden trellis were nailed, were 9' above the ground. These vines were trained after the summer house plan (was) adopted, which consisted in letting the old wood remain to the top of the trellis. One foot would produce from 50 to 100 pounds. The training was what we now call the spur system. All wood not wanted was cut out, the bearing wood left from four to six eyes. If too many were left they were broken out accordingly as they grew, much or little.

My plan was, for I had no one to go by, to so trim that but little growth of wood was made through the summer. If vines were inclined to grow more than 2' or 3' beyond the fruit, extend the old wood next year. Although this mode proved very unscientific, I still think it the way to grow Isabella grapes. Catawba will produce better wine grapes by cutting back more; but cutting back or pruning may have something to do with the rot. The grape rot is not understood, but it does not come without some cause.

When fowls run comparatively wild over the farm, cholera, gaps and other diseases among them were unknown. Before we had "herd books" and twenty thousand dollar cows, Rinderpest and epidemics were unheard of. Some suppose this to be providential, or perhaps a change in climate. But it will evidently be found in the unnatural and forced condition of their treatment. Nature's laws cannot be violated with impunity.

I do not claim to a knowledge of the grape rot, but have no doubt it is in some measure owing to the great departure from its natural requirements. Experiments and investigations on this order are in order.

The Hammondsport Herald, October 4, 1876

The next step in the history of grape growing: Andrew Reisinger, a German and cooper by trade, who had the theory of grape growing, his father being a vine dresser from the Rhine . . . came to America . . . hearing there was a vineyard in town, took the first opportunity to visit one, to learn what could be done in grape growing and wine making.

My vineyard had been in bearing several years, and to the unscientific it was a sight to delight the eye. Imagine a trellis nine feet high, covered with vines, and fruit from the lower trellis to the top of the stakes. The grapes were so thick you could hardly get a hat through without disturbing clusters.

Mr. Reisinger thought if the grape would grow in that wild unscientific manner, it would be safe to undertake the business. Accordingly, Reisinger made a contract with Samuel Wagner to set out three acres on the Wagner farm at the lake—Wagner to fund everything, Reisinger to do the work, and divide the profits equally.

One acre was at once prepared and set out mostly with Catawba cuttings with some roots obtained from Ohio. They were planted four feet apart each way, with stake and trellis four feet high. The stakes had two notches on one side to form a shoulder for the wooden trellis to rest on when tied with willow wythe, no nails being used. Round this ground a fence of the trellis form was made, and no man, woman, or dog, was allowed inside unless by invitation as a special favor. The ground was dug over with a two pronged hoe, eight inches deep three times a year.

The next year two more acres were planted, three acres being as much as one man could properly care for. The second year the first acre had two or three hundred pounds of grapes, the third year there was at least three times that amount, but so great was the growth of vine that they did not ripen. Reisinger had not calculated on the great growth of vines which grew some five feet above the trellis. At a given day with his pruning knife all the vines were cut even with the top of the trellis, the trimmings carried out and dried like grass for hay.

A stack of these trimmings equal in size to a two ton (stack) of hay was made, and kept for the cow for winter food. Thus with what his "vrow" gathered in her apron around fences, actually supplied the cow through the winter. I mention the stack of fodder to show the industry and frugality of our German neighbors.

Although there had been a vineyard in bearing several years, the Wagner vineyard may be said to be the first scientific effort at grape growing, for wine, in the Crooked Lake district. About this time, Judge Larrowe, Pleasant Valley, contracted with Reisinger to plant one acre, which was prepared after the German method of planting vineyards.

From this small beginning how great the present business: How soon land suitable for grape growing ran up from twenty-five to five hundred dollars per acre; even good farmers who were doing well on their farms must have a vineyard—doctors, lawyers, merchants, clergymen, mechanics, in fact a perfect stampede among every class to get a vineyard; and now like everything else, the Yankees undertake to run, it has run into the ground, and as those who expected to get rich in a few years and didn't, drop out of the business, (t)hose who are contented with reasonable remuneration for their labor will continue.

Those who are contented with reasonable remuneration for their labor will continue, and as we go on, new varieties "to the manor born" will be introduced, hardly less liable to the rot and kindred diseases. Much is yet to be first learned when we shall be in condition to understand more and better what is required to perfect the cultivation of this choice addition to fruit growing in this country.

We will not stop now to ask whether the "coming man" will drink wine or not. This may come up hereafter but (we) may safely calculate that this branch of the fruit business is only in its infancy. The most sanguine will hardly anticipate the future realities of this addition to the not only luxuries for the appetite, but as a healthful substitute for the disgusting pork that corrupts the system and prepares it for putrid diseases.

There has been two hundred new varities of grapes produced from seed within the past twenty years. Most of these are considered valuable acquisitions to our present stock. Much has been learned in these experiments of originating new varieties of fruit, and we may rest assured that no live Yankees will rest until we have as good, at least, if not better than yet known in this or any other country.

There are many doubts in regard to the good or evil in the introduction of the grapes in this country. There may be evil arise from it, but it must be remembered that evil is necessary or it would not have been allowed. In the first place if evil did not exist there would be no virtue in a right choice. Our problem here is to choose and enjoy the good and resist evil. Good men are striving to better the condidtion of the human race, and to do so try to vanish evilů

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
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