The American Telephone and Telegraph Company
To regard this early edition of AT&T’s National Telephone Directory as quaint, from our cell phone-crazy vantage 130 years later, is to discount the significance of the technology at the time. But still, it is pretty cute, starting with the iconic blue bell on the cover and the introductory General Information, which includes some very useful instructions for those millions who didn’t know how to handle the horn back in 1894. One needed to “give the bell crank one sharp turn” to get the operator’s attention, take the hand telephone from the hook and “place it firmly against the ear,” then “speak into the transmitter, with lips as close as possible to the mouthpiece.” We smart (phone) alecs may be thinking “Well, duh!,” but 19th-century early adopters probably struggled as hard to master that pesky crank as we do one-handed texting.
When this directory was published, a little less than 20 years after the invention of the telephone, long distance service extended from New York City as far west as Wisconsin, south to Washington DC, and north through coastal Maine. A map on the back cover depicts the network in a web of red lines, many of which end abruptly, suggesting that a single call may require some pretty fancy routing by the operators staffing the switchboards. No wonder AT&T bragged that “long distance telephone is instantaneous … 1000 miles and return in 5 minutes!” Don’t laugh – satellites were a long way off then.
That a national phone directory can be contained in 336 pages (including index) shows how few telephones there were at the close of the 19th century, especially in residences. Who were these folks with telephones in their homes – were they the technophiles of their day? Status seekers? Or ordinary folks just trying to stay connected in a modern way with far-flung family and friends? The great majority of listings are commercial, very often simply the name of an individual followed by his line of business (preserving house, picture shipper, tallow grease broker, …). What fun to see a city or town this way, and what interesting possibilities for amateur cartographers and genealogists!
The Jackson Sanatorium: The Best Appointed Health Institution in America. Built of Brick and Iron and Absolutely Fire Proof.
James H. Jackson M.D., Kate J. Jackson M.D., and Walter E. Gregory M.D.
The Jackson Sanatorium, dedicated to the “scientific treatment of chronic invalids,” was one of several names given over the years to the famous health resort which operated in Dansville, NY, from 1854 through 1971. It can still be seen high on the hill just east of the village. This undated brochure was aimed to entice overworked, nervous, and exhausted persons with the curative promise of Dansville’s mountain spring water, regular lectures on health, lessons of hygiene, and opportunities for social and religious interaction. The Sanatorium, directed by Dr. James H. Jackson at the time of printing, used non-pharmaceutical treatments, focusing on careful regulation of daily life, including diet, exercise, rest, and proper dress. This last must have been of great interest to the trussed up, bejeweled 19th- and early 20th-century women, as the brochure suggests that simple dress will insure “better health, a wider scope for unused powers, and a far greater degree of happiness.” In an early example of celebrity endorsement, a quote from Clara Barton appears in the back of the brochure.
Warner's Safe Yeast Company
Published by the H.H. Warner Company, a noted Rochester-based safe (and later patent medicine) manufacturing company, this large cookbook is teeming with hundreds of recipes for everything ranging from mustard pickles to pepper mangoes and venison pie. Apart from the recipes themselves, the extensive descriptions of culinary technique and numerous illustrations of cooking equipment present a lucid portrait of late 19th century American cookery. The advertisements for patent medicine comprising the final 30 or so pages of this volume are of interest as well.
(summary written by Joe Easterly)
This slim little volume of eight poems by Gershom Wiborn of Victor, NY, bears no imprint regarding publisher or place, just a date (1886), which seems to be long after at least some of the verses were penned . A couple of the poems had been previously published in the Pontiac Jacksonian and Street and Smiths Weekly.
Why Rural Poems? In several, one can hear the longing in Wiborn's voice for the agrarian life of yore, before the great American forests were felled, before the natives were pushed out. In the poem "The Aged Indian of the Genesee," the speaker compares the white man to a vine that overtook the tall, rugged pine that was the Indian nation. "Where's our rich hunting grounds? When this query we've pressd, / The white man has answered, and re-answered "West."
The author seems of two minds regarding the progress of the age, celebrating and lamenting it by turns. "Modern Inventions" is a wide-eyed paean to the marvels of steam transportation, yet Wiborn manages to put this human accomplishment in its place beside the once-wondrous inventions of the ancients.
The value of Rural Poems lies in its strength as a primary source, embodying contemporary reflection on a transitional period in our nation's history. In these poems, Wiborn attempts to link his age with past ages, declaring that theres nothing new, really, under the sun. Human endeavor, war (three of the eight poems deal with American Civil War, still being fought at time of their writing), and invention are as much a part of Nature as is the physical world—a world he seems to love deeply.
(summary written by Liz Argentieri)
William Cullen Bryant
The Valley of the Genesee is a short essay, part of the two-volume set entitled Picturesque America, edited by the famous poet William Cullen Bryant and including engravings by famous nineteenth-century landscape painters such as John Frederick Kensett, James McDougal Hart and William Hamilton Gibson. The Valley of the Genesee features illustrations by John Douglas Woodward, one of several artists commissioned for his work on the Picturesque America series.
“There is said to be a mountain-peak in Potter County, Pennsylvania, standing upon which the observer may mark the fountain-head of two rivers. Though flowing through adjacent gorges, their courses are soon divided, the one tending southward, while the other marks out a winding way to the harbor at Charlotte, there losing itself in the waters of Lake Ontario.” So begins the essay on The Valley of the Genesee, a short description and guide to the river, landscape and history of the Genesee River Valley. The river, originating from northern Pennsylvania and flowing northward into Lake Ontario at Rochester, New York, is described as not particularly beautiful, until it is, “…the falls at Portage are reached that the river asserts its claim to recognition as one of the most beautiful and picturesque of all our Eastern streams." This recognition of the beauty of Genesee River waterfalls (located in both Livingston and Monroe Counties) is also the recognition of the power which the Genesee River generates, the essay concisely describing the historical significance of Rochester’s use of the Genesee River for harnessing hydro-power to run the many mills and factories located along the banks of the Genesee River at the Upper Falls, giving rise to Rochester’s nickname of “Flour City." The essay also traces the physical route of the Genesee River from its source, to the falls south of Mount Morris, through the gorges of what is now Letchworth State Park, and northward to the mouth at Rochester, emptying into one of the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario. The essay also details the history of the region, including the history of the Seneca and Iroquois, the mills of Rochester and the settling of the towns along the way.
(summary written by Katherine Pitcher)
William Henry Cuyler Hosmer
William Henry Cuyler Hosmer (1814-1877) was a fairly accomplished lawyer, author, and poet, born to the prominent pioneering Hosmer family of Avon, N.Y. He authored several books in his lifetime, ranging from histories to verse, sometimes combining the two into one. His Later Lays and Lyrics is a potpourri of poems dealing largely but not entirely with local historical themes. "The Markham Elm," for example, eulogizes a noble, ancient tree that long stood near the Rush-Avon town border. In a footnote regarding its fate, Hosmer writes: "Some wretch, who little regards what is venerable and historic, kindled a fire in its hollow boll. May the curse of the poet, and the malediction of God, rest on him forevermore!" He could be passionate.
The poems contained in Later Lays and Lyrics are divided into five sections, including "War Lyrics" (primarily Hosmer's impressions in the recent aftermath of the American Civil War), "Bitter Memories" (personal, themes of loss), and "Cypress Leaves" (death, writ both small and large). As a whole, however, Hosmer's poetry is informed by his family's history of settling Avon, his love for the land, and his reverence for the natives and their lore. He wrote these verses from the vantage point of late life, having witnessed America's 19th-century genocidal first half, through slavery and the Civil War, and into ascendant industrialization.
Later Lays and Lyrics casts the history and places of this region in a uniquely lyrical, impactful form. Indeed, in the opening "Sonnet Dedicatory" Hosmer writes: "Love for the Valley of the Genesee, / Of old the red mans favorite domain / Inspired in youth a high heroic strain..." That inspiration endured, it seems, throughout Hosmer's life and writings.
(summary written by Liz Argentieri)
John G. Stearns
An Inquiry Into the Nature And Tendency of Speculative Freemasonry, the first person account by former mason John G. Sterns, was written to provide a historical account of Free Masonry and to warn the reader about its dangers. “Free Masonry is an imposture, that is founded in error, and opposed to the Christian religion and the free institutions of our country.” The author accuses Masonry of taking verses from the Bible and transforming them to fit their needs, with direct examples. According to Sterns, masons are under no obligation to help anyone who is not a mason. If a criminal, who is also a mason, is brought to trial and gives the signal of distress and the judge or members of the jury are masons, by oath they are to risk their lives to save the criminal. Through multiple examples, Sterns states that masons have no authority to administer oaths, much less to administer them under the penalty of death (as in the case of William Morgan of Batavia, NY). Reader, heed the author’s words with caution: “There is wrong in those who administer the oaths; they know that the candidate is ignorant of the solemn vows which he is about to make; and they have good reason to believe, that if he were not, he would never consent to make them.”
Cobb’s Toys: Third Series, Stories about the Bear, Zebra, Lynx, Wild Boar, Walrus, Sloth and Anteater.
Lyman Cobb’s Toys is a collection of tiny books for tiny people. Priced at three cents and consisting of only sixteen pages, these children’s works are slight enough to fit in even the smallest of pockets. In the third volume of the third series, Cobb describes animals both common and exotic to an audience he lovingly refers to as his “young friends,” taking great care not to use words with more than three syllables. But what the booklet lacks in size (and syllables), it makes up for in personality. Cobb’s descriptions of animals like the bear, zebra, and anteater are fun and meandering if not occasionally poetic, and the accompanying engravings are not without their charm either. After a few short pages, it becomes readily apparent why Cobb’s works were so popular in the 1800s.
(summary written by Daniel Ross
S. H. Long
After reading Road from Washington City to Buffalo, anyone driving along U.S. Route 15 or another old north-south route through New York State, Pennsylvania, and Maryland can better appreciate the formidable engineering task of road building in that region during the early days of the nation. This slim volume, originally published in 1827, is a rich source of information (including place names) of the Washington-Buffalo “corridor” in the 1820s.
The report begins with a very helpful index (more like a table of contents) that corresponds to the 77 numbered paragraphs comprising the main text, in which is described not only the area’s terrain in terms of the proposed highway construction, but also its current state of agriculture, industry, and settlement. The report could also serve as a catalog for future development (mineral deposits, timber, creeks & rivers, etc.) For example, paragraph 51 (“Soil”) begins “A very large proportion of this district (48) is possessed of a soil well adapted to cultivation. That of the valleys is generally argillaceous, containing much vegetable mould. The flats within the principal valleys, especially those connected with the valley of the Genesee, are endued with extraordinary fecundity.” And so on.
The five tables are extremely illuminating in breaking down all the particulars of the four grand routes proposed (Eastern, Western, Painted Post, and Pine Creek), including alternate subordinate routes between each place, cost estimates, and price analyses. Table 1 is particularly informative, listing the geographical coordinates for each part of the route, the distance between each preceding place (with a running tally of miles from Washington), general “Characters of the Routes” (from “waving, seldom winding” to “very winding, serpentine”), grades, length of bridges necessary, and details such as Aspect, Soil, Rocks, Natural growth, and Products. Table 3 analyzes the populations surrounding each grand route and its possible variations, perhaps as a way to measure costs vs. benefits. A map referenced as accompanying material “C” in Macomb’s prefatory letter is not included in this binding, but can be viewed at http://www.raremaps.com/gallery/enlarge/33381.
The report was completed by Major S.H. Long, Topographical Engineer, and submitted to Congress by Major General Alex. Macomb, United States’ Chief Engineer (War Dept.)
The titles in the Genesee Valley Historical Reprints series are titles from Milne Library’s Genesee Valley Historical Collection, which are scarce and have not yet been digitized. This series preserves these titles of local significance and provides free online access to the full text.
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