Oral HIstory of Skerry and Bowen Mill ca. 1900

Descriptions of water powered lumber mills mid 19th cetury in northern New York. Description of L. Cass Bowen Mill in Skerry, NY late 19th early 20th Century. Logging in Brandon NY, Katherine V. Blowen writes about herl life in Skerry and the the Bowen Mill ca. 1900

Skerry, N.Y.

13/05/2012

 

Portrait of L. Cass Bowen painted by his son-Pierre Bowen's 2nd wife-Evelyn

 

SKERRY, NY       

 

                                                     
Skerry, named for James Skerry, was an older settlement than Reynoldston, and bordered Reynoldston on the east. Being older than Reynoldston, it appears to have had a higher proportion of New England settlers. While Reynoldston had one large milling and logging operation, that run by the Reynolds family, Skerry had several mills on the Deer River, none of which ever reached the size or complexity of the Reynolds operation.

The Bowen Mill The largest and longest lasting of these mills was that run by Cass Bowen, which Reynolds Brothers ultimately bought after it suffered severe flood damage. Skerry was less of a company town than Reynoldston; more of its people made their living by farming. Unlike Reynoldston, Skerry had two Protestant churches, one of which was the Holiness Church as described in detail by Lillian Barber French .

The community of Skerry still exists as a collection of homes, while Reynoldston is “essentially gone.”  


 The Bowen Mill in Skerry, New York

 

L. C. Bowen Mill & Pond, Skerry NY 1908

 

 

L. C. Bowen Mill Steam Engine room, Skerry NY 1914

Recollections of Life in Skerry, New York

CA. 1900 by Katherine V. Bowen, a sister of of Cass Bowen, the owner of the Bowen Mill in Skerry, who spent her early years in Skerry.

*From a letter sent to Mr. Langlois and Mr. McGowan in 1970


  
                 The moccasin factory at Bombay, N. Y., near the St Lawrence River , came to the Bowen Lumber Mill for building materials : one time Mr. William Shield the factory owner gave me a silver dollar. I heard you could cut it into four parts, my brother Lewis Cass, not using a knife as I had expected , took the dollar and handed me four quarters which I would not accept, so got my dollar back; the irony was when I came to Rome, who should live around the corner from me, Mr. Will Shields sister.
          The lumber piles were three cornered with a hollow space in the center just right for a playhouse; using the ends of boards for stairs I climbed in with my doll, cat and a lunch for us both; all settled in I heard a voice call “this pile is sold move out” so out I went to find a new apartment.
          Life within the family was close at home, in evening the table was cleared, the hanging oil lamp pulled low, and games were brought out. While playing, popcorn hot from the popper was passed along with a dish of russet apples brought up from a barrel in the cold, cellar; no movies, T.V. or radio to turn on or go to then.
          A row of oil lamps stood on the kitchen shelf all polished and filled to light the downstairs, and carry to the bed room at bed time.The wood box was filled with wood ready to be put into the stove to get breakfast. 
          A quarter of beef hung in the wood shed in winter where delicious steaks could be cut off and cooked over bright red wood coals, the smell was something out of this world, and the taste long remembered.
          Bread was baked twice a week, no bread sold in stores then, I’ll never forgot my mother cutting a heel off a fresh loaf from the oven, spreading it with fresh butter she had churned, I took my turn with the dasher also, and giving it to me, the smell and taste lingers on, now I love hot bread.
          Instead of packaged food in the country store, large wooden barrels stood around filled with rice, beans, peanuts, Boston crackers, etc. The reeper used different sized scoupes to dish up, weigh and bag for the customer, potatoes, squash, turnips etc. Were kept in a cool back room brought out weighed and bagged as asked. 
          The big spittoon was centrally located in the store with plenty of chair benches nail kegs seats for the farmers’ who brought their milk to the factory next door, then to gather in the store, compare crops growth, talk politics, spin yarns, chew tobacco, and buy groceries, there were no dinner clubs back then in Skerry.  
          The church was on a corner, and families all congregated there Sundays; with sheds for the horses. All came from the smallest to the oldest and sat together, lunch was brought by parents to pass when the little ones were restless; and many little children and deaf oldsters slept through the sermon.
          The organ was pumped by the player’s feet, the choir was all volunteer with no paid soloists. Fire hazards were not in vogue at church; at Christmas a huge tree was decorated with strings of popcorn, popcorn balls and apples and thousands of real lighted candles, and all the presents for the families in town. We received in my stocking oranges and a Canadian dime, the real gifts I got at church given out by the fattest, jolliest farmer Santa Claus to be found;  with all the trees owned by my father, I never had one until growing up, I bought it myself.
          July 4th in Skerry was exciting, gaily decorated hay racks filled with children dressed in their best, singing, paraded through town, ending with an ice cream festival in the Mill using the long planer for the table, and boards placed on nail kegs for benches; custards made of eggs, milk and cream were made by the ladies and frozen by the men in hand freezers packed in the ice cut from the pond in winter, and stored in ice house to be used in summer. What did the kids do? Stand about I was one to get the dashers from the freezers when the ice cream was done. At night a big fire- works took place next to our yard. 
          Oyster stew suppers were held in the winter in a home having the most eating space. 
          Church picnics for anyone who wanted to go were held in Joy’s woods. The ladies swapped recipes, hen whittled, chewed, and swapped yarns or played ball, swings made of ropes were fixed for the kids to trees.         
          As to the little Red school house you walked, no buses, you brought your lunch, no hot lunch program, no classes, bath rooms, a two holer a distance back of the school worked for all. The iron stove was kept going by the teacher who in winter went early to get it going; the water bucket was in a corner of the room with one dipper for all, boys took turns keeping the bucket filled from a nearby brook, no visiting nurse. The girls tried to outdo each other on fancy pencil boxes, one day I tried a girl’s fancy comb and took home a head full of lice, and for some time I smelled of kerosene and vinegar.  
          Carl Gueer was our hired man who took care of the cow, horses, barns, and did odd jobs. Carl lived at our house got drunk twice a year Christmas and Easter. When drunk he called my mother Aunt Laura and my father Uncle Nason, other times Mr. And Mrs. Bowen. Carl always took milk and crackers to his room and remained there until sober; my father knowing Carl was a good steady honest workman excused the two bouts. So Carl would not drink up all his pay my father put part of Carl’s pay in the bank each week so when he was too old to work he had enough to buy a little home and care for himself as long as he lives.  
          Skerry was a busy place in early spring when sap was rising in the sugar maples trees; many of these trees growing together was called a sugar bush; in the bush was a small house or shack where the sap, when collected, was put in iron kettles or vats and boiled; a spout was pounded into each tree which included a hoot upon which a bucket or pail was hung to collect the sap; a stone boat like a think plank was pulled by a horse around the bush, and into a big barrel or tank was emptied the sap from the many buckets on the trees; then the sap was boiled in the big kettle or vat until it turned golden yellow and was light weight or heavy syrup according to the farmers wish, then put in tin cans and sealed. The rest of the syrup was cooked until it turned thick and became maple sugar, some of which was put in pails; sometimes the farmer used muffin tins or cupcake tins and got small cakes of sugar, the farmer sold the maple products he didn’t wish for home use; one of the highlights of a sugar bush was to get a group all bringing a tin pie tin to the bush, all scooped up a tine of snow upon which the farmer drizzled hot syrup, this hardened and was called jack wax it was delicious, but look out for your teeth, good pullers. It was fun to stand in the sugar house and watch the steam rise from the kettles and vats like clouds, but what sweet smelling clouds, making syrup and sugar was a long hard job for the amount the farmer got from millions of gallons of sap collected.  
          Time never hung heavy with wood boxes to fill, eggs to gather, berries to pick and can pickles to put down in large crocks, etc. I had to take a pail of milk along with fresh hot doughnuts down to the Mill for the helps lunch mid morning.  
          Living nine miles away from Malone and the public library, required a trip every two weeks to bring home reading. They brought me The Pepper Books, “Little Women” and Mother Goose besides the “Baby Twins”, I’ve always been thankful to parents who gave me my taste for good books early.  
          To have started my early years in a small town like Skerry, New York I feel was a privilege, a great deal I learned early I have used in my adult life.  
          These are some of my early experiences and observations I remember during my time, when my father Nason Cass Bowen, the first Mill owner, was alive in Skerry, New York. 

Katherine V. Bowen

Neighbors near and about making up Skerry, New York:  Lane:  King:  McNamars:  Bump:  Smith:  MacLaughlin:  Le May:  Davis:  McNasser:  Joy:  Stevens:  Tarbell:  Hutchens: Weller:  Bowen:   Skerry – Mostly farmers or Mill workers. 

Note: I hope some of this will help the students. It is what I remember and saw growing up in Skerry, New York.   

Thank you,

Katherine Bowen 1970 

Interviews – life in Skerry:


Miss Alice H. Bowen or Mrs. Barry Crooks
1901-1989

 


Lillian (French) Barber
1896-1992

Cllick on link for transcript:

Lillian Barber

TAPE 1 – Description of Holiness Church in Skerry, church building, services, attitudes and beliefs

TAPE 2 – Holiness Church, dress, hierarchy, funerals and burial customs, Christmas, children’s games, entertainment

TAPE 3 – Everyday life, household chores, social customs, childbirth, canning and food, family and farming

TAPE 4 – Pack peddlers, household interiors, food preservation, and home remedies

 

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