Recollections of the Grape Business
as told to
John McMath lived from 1883 to 1959 and was in the business of buying grapes for shipment until 1932 around the northern end of Lake Keuka. His father Samuel McMath lived from 1842 to 1918. Frank Swann was a former Yates County Historian. Virginia Gibbs, the present Yates County Historian, supplied the manuscript for reprinting here.
It was in 1897 that the trolley road between Penn Yan and Branchport via Keuka College started. It was in operation for 30 years until 1927. This was a great convenience not only to the people of Branchport but to everyone who lived along the line or within a short distance of it.
The reason I remember the first day the trolley opened for business is that I ran away from school and rode to Branchport on my bicycle on that day. I was just a young lad going to the Lake Street school. I knew it would be a gala event and I made up my mind I was going to see it.
One of the events was the catching of a greased pig. I remember looking at the pig and seeing how much grease he had on and thinking how hard it would be to hold onto him. I decided before I made any effort to catch him I would let some of the others get some of the grease off him. I also thought that if he was able to survive and got tired enough that he would make for the box he was let out of.
So I waited close by the box and sure enough, that is just what did happen. He was a tired little pig and pretty well cleaned of grease by the time he got there. I made one lunge for him and caught him by the hind legs. It wasn't long before that pig was right where he started from and I was sitting on the box. He was my pig!
Then the thought came to me, "Oh-0h! What am I going to have as an excuse for skipping school? What am I going to do with the pig?" Necessity is the mother of invention so I got a wheelbarrow and wheeled him down to Philo Lee's barn and asked him is he would please bring him down on the Cricket the next day. When I got home, I asked William Costigan, who was one of my dad's grocery deliverymen, if he would get the pig and take him home with him as they owned pigs.
As soon as I got to school the next morning, the boys told me the teacher, Miss Mary Bridgman, wanted to see me. She said to me, "John, where were you yesterday afternoon?" I said, "I ran away from school to see the opening of the trolley road at Branchport." I noticed she was looking me over pretty carefully and finally she said, "John, I don't see any grease on your clothes." I knew then that she knew what I had been up to.
When I got home at noon my father said, "Well, young man, what are you going to do with that pig and where is it?" So I told him. My mother said, "Why don't you bring him home and put him under the coalhouse?" I was glad of this as I really liked that little pig. That was what I did with him and my mother named him "Branchport Jack."
Little did I realize that day how much the trolley road would mean to me in years to come because I spent the best years of my life shipping grapes over the trolley line from Branchport and Kinney's Corners. Not only was this trolley road valuable for its passenger service, it also made it easier for the growers living at Branchport and vicinity and Kinney's Corners or Bluff Point to draw the grapes there instead of the long haul to Penn Yan, in all kinds of weather and roads.
The trolley company had a freight motor called a jack that would come to Penn Yan and draw the empty refrigerated cars, in the amount ordered by the grape shippers, to Branchport and Kinney's Corners where they were loaded and brought to Penn Yan. Here they were switched onto the Pennsylvania Railroad and taken to their destination.
The amount of grapes being shipped over this trolley soon grew into such proportions that it was necessary to build a large icehouse here to ice these cars. This icehouse was owned and operated by Henry and Sidney Short. As soon as the cars were loaded they were drawn to this icehouse where they were iced to full capacity, about 5000 lbs. This icehouse burned down and was never rebuilt. The cars then received their first icing in Elmira. At that time the various railroads had icehouses along their routes, and cars carrying fruit of all kinds were iced in transit to southern cities. These cars were billed as "Stated Refrigeration" which meant the receiver of grapes was sure that ice was kept in the bunkers all the way. The grapes arrived in good condition which was a saving even at a cost of $60. This went on for a number of years. Markets and customers were established and things were somewhat routine for quite a long time.