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Grapes and an unusual grape container

September 24, 2015
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

Ahhh!!! The smell of Concord Grapes is in the air! Driving anywhere around the area is becoming "interesting" as all manner of grape equipment can be found any time of day or night, rumbling down the highways and byways. And already there are those huge trucks loaded with huge boxes of ripe grapes on their way to processing plants and railway loading docks as well.

On top of that, what was the only remaining building that was once Westfield's Paper Company Warehouse is crumbling down the cliffs above the Little League fields west of the viaduct, while yellow and orange tapes and barriers bar curious folk from the Portage Inn, which is awaiting the death knell of the wrecking ball!

So what does an old paper mill warehouse have to do with grapes anyway? It all started back in 2007, while researching information for my second story for BeeLines that became a series of articles about Dexter Morse's Basket Factory, which was located at the corner of Spring and Third streets in the early 1900s. In the Patterson Library manuscript files was a large tan envelope containing those three by five index cards that were used to gather notes for research papers. These happened to be cards written by the late Emma Piehl, Librarian at the Patterson in the first half of the 20th century, while preparing for a talk about early industries and particularly the old mills of Westfield. Among these were cards listing source documents regarding the old paper mill, which referenced The Centennial History of Chautauqua County (ed. Obed Edson, 1904) and the History of Chautauqua County (Obed Edson, 1894). Edson, as a young person, had actually worked in the paper factory, in addition to which he kept many diaries throughout his life, to which he referred as he later wrote these history books.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
This example of a grape box is almost 150 years old.

According to the Edson history book, page 581, in the section on Westfield, the site of the then still-operating Westfield Paper Mill had been deeded to Judge T. B. Campbell in 1823 by the Holland Land Company. It passed through a series of owners, among who were those who built log dams, sawmills, and grist mills, changing hands and functions until in 1865 it was purchased by Allen Wright. Wright organized the Westfield Paper Co. and built an "elaborate" paper mill to make the first high-quality rag "news" paper in Western New York.

Demand for paper was not great in those days, so the mill was often idle. Edson writes, "In 1866 arose a demand for a cheap package for the large amount of Isabella grapes then grown, and the mill was changed into a factory to make the round three and five pound paper boxes." This information was highly interesting, since on July 3, 2009, the same day that your historian opened her Parkview Ice Cream Parlor, she received an email from John Slater, a client who was researching and writing a history of the Concord Grape Belt along Lake Erie. The subject line was "Vintage Grape Box" with an attached photo of one of these round paper boxes and the request for information regarding where they were made.

AHA!!! The Centennial History, page 1117, has a detailed description of the boxes and what transpired, from the first hand experience of the writer who was employed to help make the boxes. "The factory was unable to supply the demand of the first season. This encouraged the owners to put in new machinery and make enough boxes to supply anticipated demand for the next yearthousands were made crowding all obtainable storage room." But misfortune struck, from two sources; first the Climax grape baskets made from wood were introduced in 1867, and second, the paper boxes were easily damaged, so by the end of the second season, many were unsold and later cut up for paper stock to be made over into other products.

Considering the short duration of the manufacture and use of the round grape boxes, their fragile nature, and the destruction of the unused boxes, it is amazing that any still remain. Please enjoy the attached photo of a truly unusual grape box, now approaching the ripe old age of 150 years.



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