Portville As It Was In 1892
by Smith Parish
My memory goes back to before 1892 to the time when my grandfather, Smith Parish, had a store on
the sight of the present Townsend building. Later, my father built and operated a grocery now
owned by C. E. Chaffee and Son. This gives us a line of merchants in Portville for three
generations. My grandfather brought in his goods by wagon and the Genesee Valley Canal, while I
used the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Shawmut Railroad, which was a narrow gauge in 1892.
The population of the Village has not varied much since 1892. If an industry was lost, another took
its place. Portville’s business section was about the same as it is now. The dry goods store next to
mine was owned by H. J. Crandall, who was assisted by Harry Holcomb. All the stores carried a
good stock of merchandise and were well managed. We had dirt roads with dust in the summer and
deep mud in the winter. In front of all the stores were hitching posts for tying the horses. Instead of
garages, there were two well-equipped blacksmith and wood-working shops, and one large livery
stable, where horses were rented out.
Horses were used in drawing our freight and delivering our store merchandise. For many years, the
freight was drawn from the depots to the stores by Henry Ludden, Sr., grandfather of Clair Ludden.
The Town was furnished with gas by the Producers Gas Company, and was sold at a very modest
flat rate. No electricity was then in use. There were only a few telephones in Portville and they were
in the business places. If you wished to telephone, you went to the central station. When you had an
out-of-town call, someone would call you to a store where a telephone was located.
The leading industry of 1892 was the large Dusenbury and Wheeler Tannery located on Temple
Street, and employing over one hundred men and boys. This made a market for a large amount of
bark, which was brought in from the Oswayo Valley. The Mersereau sawmill at the junction of
Oswayo Creek and the Allegheny River, and the Gordons Mills were large well-equipped sawmills
and made a good market for logs, which were floated down the Oswayo Creek and the River to the
In 1892, only a few Portville homes had running water. Many families used large round tin bathtubs,
or ordinary wash tubs, which were brought into the kitchen on Saturday nights.
A very satisfactory change occurred in 1895, and this is how it happened. There were several severe
fire losses previous to 1890, and in 1894, the Presbyterian Church was struck by lightning and
burned. That was the climax, and the voters decided to incorporate the village and seek fire
protection. Three trustees were elected, and my father, David L. Parish, was one of them. They
established the reservoir on Typnahdi and the water works system. The water pressure and supply
proved adequate for all purposes, and the Portville Fire Company was organized in 1895.
Modern plumbing was soon installed in many local homes. I had the first contract for tapping water
mains. From 1895 to 1905, my plumbing business was quite large and we installed many bathrooms
and kitchen sinks.
My store building was only sixty feet long in 1892. It extended back to the wall where the steps now
lead to the offices. The entire second floor was occupied by the Masonic Lodge and there was a
large iron stairway at the rear of the store for the use of the Lodge members.
All stores kept open every weekday evening until none o’clock in 1892. The average laborer worked
ten hours per day, six days a week, for $1.50 per day. All staple groceries and farm produce were
very cheap. Farmers sometimes sold their eggs for ten cents per dozen. Rents were reasonable and
taxes low. There was no village organization nor village taxes. Cement was nonexistent and each
property owner laid his own stone or wood walk. A few gas street lights were erected and
maintained by individual property owners. There were three local doctors in 1892 and they were
very busy, as they spent so much time on the road with their horses.
Indians were occasionally seen on our streets, as they would come from the Salamanca Reservation
at the time of the annual spring floods to pilot rafts of lumber down the Allegheny to the Ohio River.
These Indians would often stay over night in my grandfather’s home, which is now the Portville
Library. They would sleep on the living room floor in front of the fireplace, with their feet toward
Although I would not go back to the rather primitive conditions and long working hours of 1892, still
there were some advantages in living at that time. There was a more leisurely pace. People were
better acquainted with each other and there were more intimate and loyal friendships. Business
competition was not severe and loud, excessive advertising was unusual. Business men were not
rushed at their work and felt free to take time off for recreation when they wished. No one objected
if the store owner locked the front door during the business hours and went home for a short time.
Whatever success this store has attained is largely due to the loyal support of its customers. Some
who traded with us in 1892 are still active purchasers. I wish to thank the people of the Village and
surrounding territory for the volume of business they have brought us throughout these fifty years.
It is truly appreciated.
Signed, Smith Parish
|The Portville Historical and Preservation Society
|17 Maple Avenue
Portville, NY 14770
Portville, New York
The Family of Smith Parish:
(L to R) Ruth Francis Parish (later Scutt), David Watson Parish, Fanny Bell Parish,
Mary Isabel Parish, Robert Bell Parish, Smith Parish, and Earl Parish
Smith Parish Hardware. His wife, Fanny Bell Parish, wrote a similar article about the social life in
1892. Read her article here.