From History of the County of Schenectady, N. Y., from 1662 to 1886. Howell, George R. and John H. Munsell. New York: W.W. Munsell and Co., 1886, p. 147-149.
[Transcribed, all punctuation and capitalizations as in the original. This book is available as a free download in Google Books.]
The Manufactories and Industries of Schenectady.
Broom Corn.—For half a century Schenectady County produced more broom corn than any other in the State. The New York “Gazetteer,” of 1860 and 1872, states that one-half of the entire crop of the State was raised in the county. The introduction of Western corn has reduced the acreage of 1,500 acres, which it was up to 1880, to one-third that quantity. There will not be over 500 acres planted this year—1885. The soil has become somewhat exhausted by this long repeated work, and land that formerly gave 900 pounds to the acre will now produce only 550 pounds.
The history of this interest is a large factor to a proper commercial knowledge of our county. While the industry shows a marked decline from its former condition, it is yet one of the largest of its kind in the State.
As all old citizens will remember, the broom of former days was a rude device compared with that of to-day. It was simply a few round bunches of corn sewed on to a stick. George Canfield, who came here from Utica about fifty years ago, was the inventor of the improved “Shaker” broom, the flat broom we now use. Mr. Canfield also invented, about 1850, a seed planter, planting previously being done by hand. He also, ten years later, made a horse planter, which is yet in general use. Mr. Canfield never protecting his contrivances by patent, met with the usual result of inventors, and died a poor man.
The Pioneer.—The very first grower in the county was Otis Smith, who came here from Connecticut over fifty years ago. A Mr. Willard, who owned a farm at the west end of the town, had planted two acres on the island. This was the first land ever planted to broom corn on the Mohawk River. After preparing his land, Mr. Willard, not himself a practical corn grower, sent for Mr. Smith to superintend the crop. Smith purchased land until he owned about 125 acres, and raised and manufactured corn until his death in about 1870.
The following list gives the best information attainable of the pioneers in this industry, beginning on the north side of the Mohawk River at Schenectady, and running thence to Hoffman’s Ferry, a distance of ten miles.
North Side of the River.—David F. Reese, fifty years ago, owned the islands a mile from the city, known as the Hook Islands. He had 200 to 250 acres, and up to about 1865, the year of his death, was a grower and manufacturer. After his decease, his son Frederick continued the business until his death, some seven or eight years later, when the farm was divided. Mrs. Frederick Reese now owns the Big Island, Hook Island belonging to the Collins family.
Next west to the Reese farm, in Scotia, was that of Charles P. and Edward P. Sanders, who, forty-five years ago, owned 700 acres there, seventy-five of which were devoted to corn. They also manufactured and continued until about 1870, when they retired, though they still grow some corn. They belong to one of the old families of the county.
The next farm on the west was that of 100 acres, owned by Col. Abraham Toll. He raised and manufactured from about 1840 up to about 1965, when his brother, Charles H., bought it and continued the business for ten years. He then gave it up and became a general farmer.
Next west to the Toll place was seventy-five to eighty acres owned by Reuben Ellwood, who, from about 1845 to 1855, grew and manufactured corn. He then removed to Illinois, selling his property to Wm. Cramer, who, up to his death about fifteen years ago, as has his family since, remained in the same business.
Cornelius and Nicholas Velie had fifty acres, next west to Ellwood, forty-five years ago. Up to about 1860 they grew and manufactured, when they died, Wm. Haslow becoming owner of the farm. He has continued the business ever since.
Next west of the Velie property was that of Nicholas Brooks, who, forty-five years ago, owned sixty acres there. He grew and manufactured corn for about five years, when David F. Reese rented the farm. In about 1855 Harvey Vedder leased it, and in 1865 Christian F. Seeley bought it. Through all these changes the corn business was kept up. The homestead is now owned by James Wyatt and the balance of the farm by Frederick Larbey. No corn is grown now.
Garrett Barhydt owned fifteen to twenty acres, next west to Brooks’, thirty years ago, and from that time to date has grown corn.
West of Barhydt’s, Wm. Rector began, in about 1845, with thirty-five to forty acres. Has never manufactured, but continues the raising of broom corn.
For thirty years, ending in 1884 Adam H. Swart grew corn upon fifteen acres situate next west to the Rector farm.
Next west to Swart’s are forty acres owned by John S. Barhydt, who, fifty years ago, was a grower and manufacturer there. Mr. Barhydt died in 1854, since then his son John has run the farm. He has a manufactory in the city.
Forty years ago Aaron Swart raised corn upon 20 acres next west of Barhydt’s. He made a few brooms at first, but soon gave it up. Mr. Swart sold out to Latin Johnson in 1866, and moved to Illinois. Mr. Johnson raised corn until 1884.
Next west to Aaron Swart’s is the estate of Philip Vedder, who owned it a century ago. In 1845, Albert H. Vedder began growing corn upon from 40 to 50 acres of the original 150-acre farm. In 1863 he sold 80 acres to Nicholas H. Swart, including the land he had been working. Mr. Swart remained there until 1866, when he sold to Cornelius Van Patten, a grower. Mr. Van Patten died in 1883, leaving the property to his daughter, who shortly afterwards sold it to Bartholomew Clute. No corn is raised there now.
We have traced every farm within the territory specified upon which broom corn was cultivated or brooms made. Next following is given a history of the farms along the ten-mile strip and through the town of Rotterdam on the
South Side of the River.—Beginning at Schenectady, on the south side of the river, are the Watervliet Shakers, who, when Otis Smith harvested the first two acres above described, were making preparations to cultivate and manufacture corn in this county. They came here from New Lebanon, and were the first to make brooms for the Schenectady trade. They leased the Tomilson farm of 90 acres. They already owned—and still do—60 acres two miles up the river, making, with the Tomilson property, 150 acres, which they planted to corn. Nicholas I. Schermerhorn was their superintendent from 1835 for forty years. In 1850 the Tomilson portion was sold to John Myers, who grew and manufactured up to the year of his death, about 1870. He was a large operator. After his death his family rented the land and manufacturing was stopped. The 60-acre piece was recently leased to John Van Epps.
Nicholas I. Schermerhorn, from about 1840 to 1880, had 90 acres where the Jones Car Company is now located. Mr. Schermerhorn was a large grower, manufacturer and dealer. He bought for years about all the corn grown in Schoharie Valley.
Next west to the Schermerhorn property, fifty years ago, John, Alexander and Jacob Van Epps had 200 acres of land and grew and manufactured. In about 1860 the Van Epps’ sold a part of the farm to John Veeder. John Myers subsequently bought out Mr. Veeder, and after the death of Mr. Myers his family continued to grow corn, but no longer manufactured. Jacob Van Epps died about 1860, and John Van Epps, 1868. Alexander now lives in the city and still raises corn upon the homestead, though no brooms have been made there since 1863.
Two brothers, John and Simon Schermerhorn, fifty years ago owned 50 acres next west to the Van Epps’ home, and from that time to date have grown corn and made brooms.
Fifty years ago, Nicholas Vrooman and Josiah Van Patten owned 150 acres next west to the Schermerhorns, upon which corn was grown. Forty-five years ago, Nicholas also owned 25 acres there, upon which he grew corn and made brooms until 1880, when his son succeeded to the business. Josiah sold his land to Lewis Clement in about 1873, and is now living in the city. Mr. Clement grows corn. Vrooman Van Patten is yet living on his farm, his son, Abram, growing corn and making brooms there.
Next west to Van Patten’s, forty years ago, Anthony H. Van Slyke owned 50 acres. He died in about 1865. Corn was cultivated and a few brooms made. His sons, John and Harmon Van Slyke, own the farm, and until 1882 grew some corn. In that year they leased the land, upon which corn is still cultivated.
Abram A. Bradt, next west to Van Slyke’s, in 1845 cultivated 25 acres; he also made brooms. After his death, in about 1882, Harvey Bradt took possession and in 1883-4 corn was grown. From 1870 to 1883, Harvey Bradt had quite an extensive manufactory in the city.
In 1835, Simon Maybee, next west to Bradt’s, cultivated 15 to 20 acres, continuing until about 1870, the year of his death. Jacob Maybee then grew corn there for about five years.
In 1845, Aaron Bradt cultivated 30 acres next west to Maybee’s. He died about 1860, and Francis Bradt grew corn and made a few brooms.
Next west was the 35-acre piece of Abram N. Bradt, who, in 1835, grew corn there. He died in about 1880. And was succeded by his son, Simon Bradt, who continued intil 1883, the year of his death. The property was bequeathed to his nephew, Abram. A. Bradt, who now lives there and grows some corn.
Nicholas Bradt has cultivated twenty acres next west for fifty years, and is yet living there.
John M. Veeder raised corn upon thirty acres next west, from 1857 to 1882. He also made a few brooms, but is now out of the corn business.
Next west to Veeder’s farm, and the last on the ten-mile track, is the thirty-acre farm of John Byce, who began raising corn there twenty years ago. He also makde a few brooms, but in 1883 retired from the business. The farm is still his home.
City Dealers and Manufacturers.—Among the prominent dealers and manufacturers of broom corn doing business in the city, are the following:
Nicholas H. Swart has been a buyer and seller since 1835, and since that time has dealt with nearly every prominent grower in this section. Mr. Swart shipped the first load of broom corn ever brought from any Western State to this city. This load was from Illinois, in the year 1852.
We are indebted to Mr. Swart for a recital of many of the facts given in this araticle, and to his remarkably clear memory any credit due to its accuracy should be given.
H.J. Ansicker, Water street, corner Washington avenue, house 3, Ferry, continued; John Barhydt, 21 Washington avenue; Henry Bradt, broom handles, Mill lane; H. S. DeForest, 100 Centre street; Charles Horstman & Co., 6 River; D. F. Rankins & Co., 121 Front street; Henry Whitmyre, 19 North street; Chas. L. Whitmyre, 12 and 14 Washington avenue; Christopher Van Slyck, 7 Pine and 57 Centre street; James A. Flinn, John street.