Deerfield — Industrial Pursuits

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      Agriculture has always been the leading industry of our population. The first settlers cultivated successfully wheat, Indian corn, barley, rye, and oats. Flax was a crop essential to a livelihood, contributing largely to clothing and household stuff. Sheep-husbandry was equally necessary for the same ends. Both continued indispensable so long as cloth-making was a home industry. For more than a century barley-malt was an article of traffic, and home-brewed beer a daily beverage. Tobacco was raised as early as 1694, and as a field crop about 1790. For about twenty-five years this weed has been the staple crop. In 1869 our town produced nearly 400 tons.
      Previous to the reign of tobacco, beef was king for several generations in the valley of the Connecticut. A man of standing was largely estimated by the number, and especially by the quality, of his fat oxen. Under this dynasty Deerfield held many "lords of the valley" and a few princes of the realm. These were well known to the epicures of New York and Boston.
      In the early days every man's house was a factory, and the family all operatives; the men made their plows, yokes, carts, drags, shovels, scythe-snaths, rakes, forks, flails, mortars, bowls, plates, household furniture, flax-brakes, corn-fans, and sometimes spinning-wheels; the women carded, spun, wove, and made up their garments of linen, tow, linsey-woolsey, flannel, and fulled cloth. "Arbs" furnished tea, and the maple their sugar. The people lived off the land; the blacksmith made the plowshares, cart-irons, chains, axes, hoes, and scythes; the tanner furnished the leather; and the shoemaker made shoes, slippers, moccasins, and horse-tackling. A few articles of prime necessity, like rum, iron, steel, brass, and pewter utensils, were imported. A division of labor obtained after a while, and a century ago we had handicraft-men in abundance, which increase with our growth,—bakers, barbers, button-makers, blacksmiths, bookbinders, brick-makers, cabinet-makers, carpenters, distillers, gunsmiths, gravestone-cutters, hatters, jewelers, joiners, saddlers, shoemakers, tailors,, tanners, wagon-makers, weavers, wig-makers.
      Lumber was at first sawed in "saw-pits," corn pounded in mortars, or taken horseback to Hatfield mill. In 1690 mills were established here. From time to time mills have been built in different parts of the town to supply its needs.' Little lumber or grain had been manufactured for exportation. Fifty years ago a large number of brooms were made from broom-corn, with which our meadows were wellnigh covered; the brooms were sold about the country by peddlers, and later sent to New York and Boston for a market.
      Considerable business was done, 1745-95, by Joseph Stebbins and Zadock Hawks, who owned tanneries on adjoining lots. Much of their stock was worked up by them into shoes, tump-lines,1 and soldiers' accoutrements. The Hawks establishment was carried on by Zenas Hawks a generation longer. At Bloody Brook, Samuel D. Billings carried on the business of tanning until his works were burned, about 1873.
      Pocket-books of every variety have been manufactured for forty years at this village. In 1869, Charles Arms employed 75 hands, and produced a value of $92,000; Pease & Rudduck, 24 hands, with a product of $222,000; L. L. Eaton turned out $4000; North & Mishow, $1000; Hamilton & Co., with 26 hands, produced a value of $40,000. In lumber and grain, D. L. Goddard produced $35,000. In two shops carriages to the amount of $8000 were manufactured the same year.
      At the Mill village R. N. Porter produced $35,000 manufacturing lumber, grain, and husks, and W. W. Porter about $5000 in grain. Robert Childs, in lumber and grain, on Fort Hill, handled a value of $25,000. John J. Greenough, in the same locality, made cider and vinegar, with sales of $1500. He has since manufactured pickles. From the lumber-mills of C. C. Bates and Smith & Phelps $7000 worth was turned out. Wm. P. Allen made shingles to the amount of $3000.
      The John Russell Cutlery Works, the pioneer in America, established about forty years ago, had, in 1869, a capital of $520,000. It produced in that year knives to the value of $721,000, employing 500 men and consuming $85,000 worth of stock.2
      Before the advent of railroads, Cheapside, being at the head of "fall boat" navigation on the Pocomptuck, was a place of considerable trade. Goods were hauled by teams from here to Greenfield and the towns to the north and west. A cooper-shop, an establishment for barreling beef, and a cabinet-shop were located here, and other industries.

1 A strip or line to put across the forehead, to enable one to
    carry a pack.
2 Now at Turner's Falls.

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03 Aug 2005