January 2012 has been one of those months when photos, questions and ongoing research have coalesced into a new history mystery story to resolve. First, Diner Historian Mike Engle requested help locating an heirloom grape, the Pocklington - a white relative of the Concord grape - that he hopes a local old-time grape farm just might have still growing in an ancient family grape arbor garden. Sadly, so far there have been no responses to this request.
Jay Stratton shared Medlar fruit from among his heirloom plants, which became the topic for a recent BeeLines story. Later, he asked for the name of the last local factory that processed currants, and asked when it closed, sounding the death knell for the local currant farmers.
Currants and local fruit processors led off into three separate searches - for Elton Tubbs and his electromechanical currant picker and for the names of the local factories that did process red currants, as well as information about why black currants ceased to be grown locally well before times most of us living here now can remember. Most of these searches culminated in another BeeLines article.
A postcard up for auction on eBay shows Welch’s factories in Westfield before the Portage Street bridge was built.
Next, another old photo showing the Welch factory no. 2 from the perspective of the south east end of Welch factory no. 1, shortly after Welch factory no. 2 was built, appeared in email. The photo was accompanied with several questions and another fairly recent photo of Welch factory no. 1 from the south end of the North Portage bridge over the Nickel Plate tracks. Welch factory no. 1 is red brick and on the east side of North Portage, and Welch factory no. 2 is on the west side of North Portage and was built of almost white colored blocks.
The email read, "Marybelle ... I found this post card on eBay ... it looks as if it was taken from the side of the building that is now surrounded by all that brush, looking across Portage Street before there was a bridge there ... am I right? I also found the bottom shot in my files ... this has got to be the building that is on the right in the black and white top photo ... what year did that bridge go in?"
Those two photos of the Welch factories triggered a guess about the date of the bridge, which was wrong by almost 10 years too early, and a commentary about the Welch factory no. 1 having some additions or expansions to it prior to the building of the Welch factory no. 2. The recent color photo of Welch factory no. 1 clearly shows different the colored bricks of some changes and additions. Research in the Westfield Republican microfilm archives, and in William Chazanof's book about Welch's Grape Juice, 1977, provided answers to the emailed questions and photos.
Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 - inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment.
Beigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).
Recalling that when the Hungerford Place was purchased by Dr. C. E. Welch to become the Ajax Flexible Coupling Factory, a description of the property at the time the mansion was built in 1851, three years before the first railroad tracks, and 30 years before the Nickel Plate, was located in a late 1920 Westfield Republican.
"The advent of the Lake Shore Railroad didn't seem to hurt the place overly much but adding the Nickel Plate shut it in and quite spoiled its beauty and desirableness as a residence; then the Portage Street overhead in 1907 completed the depreciation of this once most attractive place."
The January 2, 1907 paper announced the decision to construct the Overhead Crossing, which was completed later that year.
In the Chazanof history of Welch's Grape Juice, on page 62 is the same photo that was used for the post card photo sent by email recently. The caption states, "Adding two extensions to Factory No. 1 by 1903, six years after completing the original construction Welch almost quadrupled its area construction on Factory No. 2 (background) began in April 1906, and the first Concord grapes were pressed there on October 17. Photo 1907."
The text describes the building of factory no. 1, breaking ground on July 28, 1897, and pressing the first grapes on Oct. 22, 1897. In two years, the increase in grapes to be pressed exceeded the available facilities, so factory no. 1 was extended east to double the capacity. In 1903, a second extension was added along the full length of the south side, doubling the width of the original building to make the quadrupled area.
This second addition is what can be seen when one looks carefully at the front of the old building. In addition to the different color of the bricks if you count the windows across the top floor starting on the left, you count four windows, with the plaque reading "Welch 1897" in the center between two sets of two windows. Then four more windows, to the right can be counted in the differently colored brick section. Probably the stepped roofline was added in 1903 as well.
Stay tuned for further BeeLines regarding the fruit processing factories in Westfield.