Sunday, August 15, 2010

From 1850: Correspondence of the Era. Valley of the Connecticut

This article is from exactly 160 years ago today, published in The National Era on August 15, 1850.

The National Era was an abolitionist newspaper published by Gamaliel Bailey, and mailed to its subscribers every Friday. Although slavery was a major topic in the newspaper, it also published short stories, correspondence, poems, and excerpts from other newspapers. The National Era is most famous for first publishing Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, as a serial.

The top image is from a volume called Picturesque America, published in 1872, the bottom is a postcard showing Middletown in the 1820s.
FRIEND BAILEY: The rich alluvial meadows, scattered at short intervals from Haverhill, N.H., to Middletown, Connecticut., are always covered with unmistakable evidences of the original richness of the soil, as well as of the generous and wisely directed
cultivation of its owners. An instance of the productiveness of these meadows has just occurred beneath my own observation, in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Henry W. Clapp, Esq.,
President of the Bank, has just cut from a lot of seven acres a little more than twenty-eight tons of hay. This hay was mowed, and dried three days in the open air, and the carefully weighed by disinterested persons. Mr. C. will take from the same lot a second crop about the
first of September, which, if the season is favorable, will be nearly as large as the first. Thus
he raises on seven acres at least forty-nine tons of hay - an amount which, taking into
account the size of the lot, and especially the quality of the hay, you may safely challenge
the world to beat.

Every foot of land is crowded with vegetation. The grass never larger. The corn, though a few days behind its ordinary forwardness, is luxuriant; and the same may be said of every
crop now upon the ground, and it may be remarked that nowhere in the United States is the variety of agricultural productions greater or richer than here. Immense fields of tobacco, maize, broom-corn, rye, wheat, oats, buckwheat, potatoes, hops, carrots, sugar-beets, millet,
and others that require the annual plough, together with the whole family of grasses, and an
almost endless variety of fruit trees in gardens and orchards, diversify the beauty of the
landscape, and ravish the mind of the beholder. The shade and forest trees are now in all
their glory, and nature seems to have been exerting all her ingenuity to display upon the
branches the greatest possible amount of the most gorgeous foliage. To many minds, this
season displays the beauties of this valley to the best advantage. But, I am frank to confess,
that I have been more delighted by the scenes which are revealed in October and early in
November. The woods and trees are then "gleaming in purple and gold," the meadows are
still green as spring, and vast herds of cows and fatted oxen and sheep are quietly feeding or
reclining upon them. These herds are pastured in summer upon the hills that enclose the
valley, and are brought down upon the meadows after the annual crops are harvested, to feed
upon the rich grass that springs so green, so tender, and so abundant, after the second
mowing. Herds of cattle and sheep, feeding or in repose, are the crowning beauty of a rural
landscape; and when these meadows are almost covered with the noble animals, which the
farmers here breed with the utmost care, nothing that I have ever seen in America, North,
West, or South, can afford pictures so delightful and enrapturing.

But the agricultural industry is not the only source of the wealth of this delightful valley.
The Connecticut river and its numerous branches, on its right and left banks, areemphatically laboring streams. At Windsor, Connecticut, the whole river may be used for manufacturing purposes, and a part of it is thus used at Holyoke, Massachusetts. There is a dam across the entire river, where it is proposed to sue the water several times over. At Turner's Fall in Montague, Massachusetts, and at Bellows Falls, Vermont, the same may occur. Thus, in at least four different places the entire water of the magnificent Connecticut may be employed in turning machinery. Here is a power equal to millions of men in one single river. the its branches, very near to its bank, afford still more power than the river. The Farmington river and a nameless stream on the opposite side, at Enfield, Connecticut, afford the motive power for carrying the carpet factories of Tariffville and Thomsonville - the best conducted and most profitable establishments in America. At these mills the rich and elegant carpets which adorn the President's House and Capitol, at Washington, were woven. Ten miles farther north, the Agawam from the west, and the Chicopee from the east enter, each furnishing an untold power. At Greenfield are the Deerfield and Miller's rivers, and all along through New Hampshire and Vermont are Ashuelot, Ascutney, Sugar, White, wells, Amonoosuc, and twenty more rapid streams, with abundant water and advantageous factory locations. Add to these opportunities for cheap water-power the advantage of an excellent railroad - running the whole length of this valley - so unexampled for health, beauty, and fertility, and no human mind can foretell how vast a population may yet congregate here, nor what an untold amount of skill and talent may here be developed.

A fact, which I came in possession of a couple of years ago, may illustrate the character of the New Englanders, and reveal the origin of some branches of their most profitable business. S.W. was the son of a country clergyman, and was accustomed to laboring on a farm in summer, and keeping school in winter. He was moral, industrious, and frugal, and took a wife possessing the same qualities, together with a shrewd propensity to calculate the cost of all articles of living. One day her husband brought home the cloth and trimmings for a new coat. The wife inquired the price of the buttons, which she noticed were made of cloth called "lasting," or, more fully, "everlasting," covered on to wooden button-moulds. She thought she could afford as good a button, made by hand, for less money. The next day like the true daughter of a Yankee, she "tried the thing out." She bought the cloth by the yard, and the moulds by the dozen; and in a week she had better buttons, at a less price, in the market. The thing would pay. S.W. soon left farming and school-keeping, bought the cloth, which his wife cut into button-covers, and button moulds, hired the women and girls of the neighboring towns to make them up, and sold them at great profits. Soon another entered into partnership with him, and invented machinery to do the work. Then the plain lasting was changed to figured velvet, and satin, and twist. Improvement on improvement in machinery was made, till they equalled the best English, or French, or German buttons. S.W. now owns one of the sweetest villages in the Connecticut valley, and almost supplies the United States with buttons for coats and overcoats. He has endowed an academy munificently; has contributed like a prince to the funds of a highly distinguished and useful female seminary, and has rescued a noble college from embarrassment. so much for the carefulness of a prudent wife; and so much for a disposition to earn an honest living in some way, rather than thrive in idleness on the hard and too often unrequited toil of others.


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