The New City: What Jamestown Was Like In 1886

Wood, Metal, Textile Industries Brought Prosperity

Public Transportation Flourished Before the Automobile

Ebersole, Helen G. “The New City: What Jamestown Was Like In 1886,” Jamestown (NY) Post-Journal, 29 March 1986, Tempo, p.11T The Post-Journal website:

Jamestown 1886

The New City: What Jamestown Was Like In 1886
By Helen G. Ebersole

When the first board of alderman of the city of Jamestown met in mid-April 1886, they knew that they were faced with many problems of municipal development. The new city had boundaries that reached well beyond the spread of its population. (The lines that were drawn 100 years ago have not substantially changed.) The greatest part of the city area was not even plotted into streets. Jamestown still retained much of the aspect of a village, both in the nearby unpopulated open fields and wooded hillsides and in the lack of citizen services within the settled area. The newly elected officials were obliged to assume a strong leadership role.

A first concern was the protection of citizens and their property. The volunteer fire department was made up of independent hose companies. Support of these companies had been almost the sole municipal concern during early village days. Water for fire-fighting had been collected in reservoirs situated throughout the village. In 1884 Alonzo Kent had funded the digging of 12 wells near the Boatlanding to provide a more adequate water supply. This project included the laying of 12 miles of water mains under the city streets that were populated. Hydrants were placed at intersections. A large steam pump pressurized the mains. The system was not strong enough to provide a more widely distributed service, so outlying residences still relied on the reservoirs and hand pumps.

Police protection was minimal. The new charter provided for the appointment of at least two and not more than five policemen.

The aldermen were faced with a decision on street lighting. The gaslights which had been in place since the 1860’s were the subject of citizen complaints. Repairs and service from the Pennsylvania Gas Company were slow and unsatisfactory. The few electric street lights placed around Brooklyn Square by Thomas Henry Smith were powered by the dynamo in his cotton-knitting mill. They were bright and dependable but to use such lights entirely would require that the city find some independent source of power production.

Other public improvement projects involved the health and convenience of the citizens. Paved streets did not exist. While the swampy tree-stump-marked streets of the early village had been improved, they were still a mixture of dirt and gravel which ran with mud and water during wet weather, and lay deep with dust in drier times. Pedestrians at least had the comfort of board sidewalks and crossings at intersections. The call for gravel fill was never-ending. On East Second Street, where a particularly deep ravine had run in early days, the buildings stood six feet above the street level because of the constantly sinking fill.

The city fathers became aware that closer housing and increased population made health menaces of backyard privies and the usual disposal of washing water into the streets. A study of sewer construction was soon upon the agenda.

As protectors of public health, the group also asked to consider the establishment of a hospital. There were 21 physicians in the city. They performed medical treatment in their offices and, lacking a hospital, they often kept patients overnight in their homes. Otherwise, they spent hours traveling over country roads to keep vigils at a patients’ bedside.

Almost the only sign of change on the city streets was the presence of trolley tracks, set right into the dirt and gravel. In 1884, Jamestown’s first mass transit had been started. The Jamestown Street Railway Company, a private corporation headed by leading citizens, provided for the building of four miles of track starting and finishing at the Boatlanding. The tracks swung around the hill to Third and Second streets, to Brooklyn Square, Allen and Winsor streets, and back on Second and Third. The project was well funded, utilizing 13 four-wheel cars and 42 horses. This transit system was one of the earliest signs of city modernization. In spite of that, for many years Jamestown remained a horse-oriented community. There were 13 livery stables in the city and numerous related places of business.

Telephone service had been introduced into Jamestown when D.C. Breed, dean of furniture manufacturers, had one installed in his home in 1877. His only complaint was that he had no one to talk to! The American Bell Telephone Exchange made the service available to the public in 1880. In 1886 there were 250 subscribers.

Although Jamestown was slow to develop municipally supported services, small-scale commercial enterprises increased steadily. They gave indication of the solid economic base of the city. The business district extended along Main Street north from Brooklyn Square to Fourth Street with both Second and Third streets lined with places of trade. Brooklyn Square with its wide open feeling and rows of low wooden shops retained the essence of an earlier time. The multi-story Humphrey House on the east side of Main Street between Taylor and Harrison streets was a focal point of the square. It was a southern point of the Jamestown Street Railway cars and provided convenient accommodations for train travelers coming in on the Erie line.

The shopping area north of the railroad offered a contrasting character. The brick buildings stood at least three stories high. Architecturally they drew on styles current in large cities – mansard roofs, bracketed eaves, arched windows with ornamental moldings. Colorful awnings stretched out over the sidewalks on hot summer days. Large office buildings called blocks were distinctive features of this commercial district.

Another mark of city prosperity was the wide variety of goods and services available. Book sellers, blacksmiths, cigar dealers, confectioners, florists, leather workers and photographers offered their wares along with the grocers, butchers, druggists and hardware merchants. Shoe stores and men’s clothing stores were prevalent. Women’s clothing was still made in the homes by itinerant seamstresses. However, women could find many shopping opportunities in the numerous millinery shops, jeweler, and fur departments advertised in the dry goods stores.

Adding to the general liveliness and bustle of this four block area was the presence of the Gokey Shoe factory along the north side of West Third Street. Several hundred workers were employed there.

Three dignified and solid banking buildings anchored important commercial corners. The veteran First National stood on the southeast corner of Third and Main streets. The Chautauqua County National Bank stood at the northwest corner of Main and Second streets, and on the southeast corner of Main and Second streets the City National Bank had its headquarters.

Flanking the district to the west stood the imposing Presbyterian Church at the northwest corner of Cherry and Third streets; to the east, the just completed Methodist Episcopal Church at the juncture of Second and Third streets, a close neighbor of the Congregational Church on East Third; and to the north, St. Luke’s Episcopal at Main and Fourth. These churches were all magnificent examples of the highest in church-building art in the 19th century.

Other congregations of diverse persuasions had places of worship along the residential streets. SS. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church stood at Cherry and Sixth overlooking the Old Cemetery, which stretched westward to Washington Street. The Baptists met in a sturdy stone church on East Fourth. East of the new Methodist Episcopal Church, an independent congregation had recently organized and begun meeting in the original Methodist church building at Second and Chandler. Stretching east on Chandler were three Swedish congregations – Lutheran, Mission and Methodist Episcopal – giving evidence of the predominant nationality of the newest immigrants.

There was an obvious feeling of well-being and prosperity in the life of Jamestown in 1886. The very diversity of activity in the business section gave every indication that Jamestown was on the move, ready for modernization in the years ahead.

The foundations for change had to be economic. Fortunes had been made in Jamestown in the early days from the natural resources – lumber, land and water power. In a very direct way, these fortunes were now being harnessed to the technologies of the late 19th century.

The embodiment of those fortunes and the men who built them could be observed on the hills just south of Brooklyn Square.

On the hill to the right stood the comfortable home of William Hall. Built in the 1840’s, it was a notable example of Greek Revival architecture and reflected its owner’s secure and venerable standing. In the early village days Mr. Hall had been involved in the buildings of hotels and business blocks. He was among the leaders who secured the railroad for the city. At the age of 79 in 1873, settled into comfortable senior citizen status, he agreed to provide the major financing to establish a worsted knitting mill in the city. This operation used large-scale machine-operated production methods that were still relatively unknown in the United States.

Thompson, Dolores B. “Wood, Metal, Textile Industries Brought Prosperity,” Jamestown (NY) Post-Journal, 29 March 1986, Tempo, p.21T
The Post-Journal website:

Wood, Metal, Textile Industries Brought Prosperity

By B. Dolores Thompson
Historian, City of Jamestown

In 1886, Jamestown was leaving behind forever its beginnings as a lumbering community and heading with full steam into the industrial world. An economic base is vital to the survival of any city and 100 years ago industry in Jamestown was in diverse stages of development.

The wood furniture industry, for which Jamestown had been renowned for at least 150 years, was in its teens. Established in 1816 when Royal Keyes opened a woodworking shop, the manufacture of wood furniture was a logical adjunct to the lumbering industry. Its gradual growth in production and in esteem through the mid 1800s was only a prelude to the quantum leap it would take with the influx of masses of Swedish immigrants, beginning in the late 1860s. Jamestown’s fame as second in the United States in the manufacture of wood furniture endured for roughly seven decades. The decline began in the 1920s and 1930s, largely due to the advances in technology used in the production of furniture, which required large amounts of capital for investment and which eliminated the need for large numbers of skilled artisans. Despite the decline, the industry remains a vital part of today’s economic scene.

Another major industry, metal manufacturing, had not yet been born in 1886. It was not until 1888 that group of Jamestown business men set up the Fenton Metallic Manufacturing Company, which later became known as Art Metal Construction Company. Although Art Metal is no longer operating in the area, other companies have assumed the role it began as a leader in the industrial community.

Another primary industry in Jamestown for a number of years also began in 1888. American Aristotype, manufacturer of an emulsion-ready photographic paper, first in the world, claimed George Eastmen as president of its board. It eventually became part of Eastman Kodak, based in Rochester. Is there any chance it could have been based in Jamestown? City fathers had missed a golden opportunity when they refused to back B. F. Goodrich in his attempt to establish a rubber industry.

The Jamestown Labor Management Council, which has achieved international fame, stands as a testament to the determination of both sides of industry and city government to work together for the benefit of the community. Earlier unions and management organizations had polarized the working segments, producing ill will and causing hardship in various sectors. The work of the council has been vital to the economic stability of the city.

History is not just a chronicle of events; it is primarily the biographies – individually and collectively – of people. The early English/Scotch/Irish settlers have been augmented over the years by people of every racial and ethnic background. This cultural mix has given Jamestown one of its greatest assets. For many years, the Swedes predominated among the newcomers, later challenged by the Italians. Also making its presence strongly felt has been the Albanian community, the first Albanian settlement in the United States, after many of them fled political prosecution in their native land. Many of the ethnic groups formed their own churches and social organizations, which at first isolated them from the mainstream of the community, but which over the years have preserved their ethnic identity.

The early settlers’ strong belief in the education of children has been reflected in the excellence of Jamestown’s public school system. The establishment of Jamestown Community College, the first community college in the New York State University system, further exemplified the value Jamestown’s residents place on an educated citizenry, providing opportunities for intellectual growth for both the young and the more mature student.

To fill their leisure hours, Jamestown’s residents have had a wide variety of activities available. The many churches have fulfilled not only the spiritual needs of the people but also provided many social activities. Cultural organizations have enjoyed high visibility, from the road company fare presented at Allen’s Opera House, built in the early 1880s, to the diversity of theater and music offered today by Little Theatre, Jamestown Community College and the Palace Civic Center, to the more private and smaller groups which explore music and literature.

Jamestown can be very proud of its fine library, built in 1891, the bequest of its founder’s grandson and namesake. Over the years, the city has established a strong park system which provides sports and recreational activities year round. A host of private clubs and organizations adds to the diversity of leisure activities available. The proximity of a beautiful lake has, without question, been a primary factor in the leisure life of Jamestown’s residents during the past 100 years, particularly during the summer months.

It has been noted that Jamestown has an unusually large number of human service organizations. Beginning with the Gustavus Adolphus orphans’ home opened by the Swedes in 1886, Jamestown residents displayed their compassion for humanity and their concern for the less fortunate in numerous ways. Financial support is provided by private individuals, private foundations and government agencies. More important, however, are the many dedicated individuals who provide support by volunteering countless hours to the work of these organizations, thereby contributing to the betterment of Jamestown.

The glue holding all of this together is City Hall. The leadership provided by the elected and appointed officials who have inhabited its august halls over the years has inspired the growth and development of the high quality of life Jamestown residents enjoy today. Outstanding among these men (and a handful of women) was Samuel Carlson, mayor for 26 years, whose name became synonymous with “Mayor of Jamestown.” Today’s residents reap the benefits of Mayor Carlson’s visions for the rapidly growing community in the first decades of this century. The municipal utility systems he instituted remain unique today as they were then. Over the years, the elected and appointed officials have displayed a concern with and a commitment to improving the quality of life in Jamestown, regardless of political affiliation.

As we look back over the past 100 years with pride in the accomplishments of our forefathers, we should also look to the future and ponder the impact that we today will have on Jamestown’s residents of 2086. Let’s make them equally proud of Jamestown!

Public Transportation Flourished Before the Automobile

Lisciandro, Judy. “Public Transportation Flourished Before the Automobile,” Jamestown (NY) Post-Journal, 29 March 1986, Tempo, p.22T.
The Post-Journal website:

By Judy Lisciandro

There were disadvantages to life in the 1880s. Clocks had to be wound to tell the time of day. Water had to be heated on the stove for bathing. Coal and wood had to be fed to most home fires used for cooking and heating.

Yet, in retrospect, 1886 homelife in Jamestown had its color and appeal, both indoors and out.

Research by Helen Ebersole, president of Fenton Historical Society, indicates that in 1886, 250 residents had telephones.

And people had a number of ways to travel without today’s necessary standby, the automobile.

Steamboats traveled Chautauqua Lake and other waterways, and railroad trains with pullman cars transported passengers from Jamestown to cities as far away as New York, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Kansas City, to name a few.

Local public transportation was by the city street railway, whose tracks were embedded in the dirt and gravel of unpaved streets. A prosperous citizen might drive a horse and buggy or sleigh.

Carriages and rigs were owned by the moderately wealthy or really rich, their breed and appearance indicating the social and economic status of the family. A less affluent person could hire a horse and carriage at reasonable rates, according to the ads in Jamestown’s 1886 Evening Journal.

Like the automobile service stations today, veterinary establishments were readily available in town to take care of lame horses.

Where did city people keep their horses? According to Mrs. Ebersole, many had small barns in their backyards.

Because of horse droppings and barns, the city was often infested with flies, especially in warm weather.

As the houses became closer together, warm weather caused fly problems in the outhouse areas, too,” she noted.

Central waterworks and sewers came into being in the 1890s.

Water was provided in 1886 by local cisterns and wells near Chautauqua Lake. Hydrants were used to fill the horse-drawn fire engines, but little running water service was available to homes at that time, so most residents depended on reservoirs and hand pumps.

With the onset of centralized heating, bathrooms were sprouting up in some homes, and the tub was moved from the warm kitchen to a separate room.

Electricity became readily available in the 1890s, thanks to Mayor Eleazer Green, who made electricity and water more available to the general public, according to the book, Illustrated Jamestown, by Vernelle A. Hatch.

Heat, once supplied by the kitchen stove and fireplaces in other rooms became rooted in the cellar, as coal furnaces came into being.

Seasoned wood was advertised in the Evening Journal for $2 per cord. Coal was cheap, too.

Most residents had gaslights. Gas ranges were available for cooking, but wood and coal-burning cooking stoves were still common.

Gas was utilized mainly for lighting at that time. For close work such as hand sewing, kerosene and oil lamps were common.

With no electricity, ironing was done by heating cast-iron implements on the stove, while laundry was done by soaking clothing overnight in buckets of hot water and cleaning agents, such as soft soap, borax and sal-soda, then pounding or scrubbing them on a scrub board. Clever women constructed apparatus to help with chores such as laundering lace curtains, which were stretched on a wood frame to dry without ironing.

Almost every home had a treadle sewing machine and women used them to make their own and their daughters’ clothes. The newspaper carried advertisements for repairs and trade-ins on the sewing machines.

The downtown boasted a number of men’s clothing stores.

Pendleton and Marble Hall’s on Main St. was selling men’s suits for $5- $12 (they were formerly $18), overcoats at $7-$16, and children’s coats for $1.50- $5. All were made from such materials as cashmere, chinchilla and melton. Men’s and women’s winter underwear sold for 50 cents to $1; socks, 25 cents, handkerchiefs, 1 cent; shoes, $3; grand pianos, $100 to $200. Spinning wheels were offered for sale in stores, so women could obtain cloth for their sewing, while men’s suits could be purchased ready-made or ordered from a tailor.

Fresh fish and meat, along with milk, cheese, dried apples in season, and whatever else the grocer might but from local sources – were available. Locally grown fresh vegetables were available during the summer.

With little means of preserving food, it spoiled quickly.

The small grocery store was common, and the housewife or housemaid went shopping almost every day. Canning was almost necessary, and apples were dried in Autumn either at home or at a commercial establishment The apples were used in pies during the winter.

In the late 1880s, the YWCA offered a “pantry” shop, where housekeepers could obtain canned and baked goods for their mistresses’ pantries.

Refrigerators or ice boxes to keep food cold in the summertime used ice harvested from Chautauqua Lake.

In winter time, the cellar or an outside space was used for refrigeration of food.

Some women made extra money selling grocery stores necessary items, such as dried apples.

According to a local historian, one woman who dried apples and sold them herself was very proud of herself. “She made enough money to buy herself a horse. In those days it wasn’t common for a woman to travel on her own horse to visit friends and relatives.”

Everyone took pride in the house and everyone had chores to do. Boys learned carpentry by making necessary items such as stools or shutters for their rooms. Girls learned how to cook and sew.

A local historian said she remembers her grandfather talking about the children pitching in to do housework. The boys had to polish steak knives with ashes. “He said the whole family worked at ripping seams of worn clothing to use for making rugs,” she said.

There was also time for recreation, especially reading.

As Julia McNair Wright noted in her book titled, The Household, “Not many homes were without books, attractive for the whole family, including servants. A home without books is like a garden without flowers…Out of bookless homes go the majority of criminals, paupers, vagrants, maniacs and chronic invalids.”

For those philanthropists and patriots who could afford it, a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty was available as a means of raising funds to complete the pedestal and erection of the statue when it was put in place 100 years ago. Depending on the size and the plating, the statues sold for $1, $5, and $10 delivered.

A home at that time might contain a bicycle, common at that time both for recreation and transportation.

Clinics were available for poor people who needed medical attention. They were taken care of by physicians specially appointed by the superintendent of the poor, according to an 1886 Evening Journal. Physicians made home visits in those days, and a lot of high, and sometimes with one wings on one or both sides. Other home remedies were available for those who wished to try them. Patent medicine remedies for diseases of the liver and kidney, hay fever, intestinal complaints, kidney diseases, allergies, stomach disorders, fits and headaches- some endorsed by physicians, so their ads said – filled medicine cabinets.

Even at this early period, residents complained about city taxes. The population was approximately 16,000 in 1900.

Houses built in Western New York during this period were sometimes Greek revival style, with classic porticos and columns, usually two stories high, and sometimes with one story wings on one or both sides. Other popular styles were post-colonial, Gothic revival, Italianate, and Victorian.

Wood was plentiful, and bricks were molded in several establishments in the county. Furniture could be purchased from local manufacturers, as could mattresses and springs.

Women usually planted vegetables and flowers.

Landscaping could be elaborate. Shrubs were strategically spaced around homes. Some homes had Italian gardens, with formal effects such as gateposts and terraces geometrical in design. Flower beds, winding walks, lawn swings, chairs and benches, ornaments, urns of ceramic, iron or clay planted with trailing vines and flowers, sundials and birdbaths were admired. Large estates made much of outdoor games such as lawn tennis, bowling and croquet. Ponds and garden pools were popular, with well landscaped walks leading to them and perhaps to a summerhouse at the edge of the water. Arbors were used everywhere for vines, roses, and grapes.

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