Life in Pleasant Valley - During the Month of September 1890-1910
September was a busy month for harvesting in Pleasant Valley. In the 1890s, when the Titusville tomato canning factory was operating, there was always great concern for the quality of the tomato crop. The year 1889 was one of the bad years and the tomato crop was only about half of what it normally yielded. According to the Hopewell Herald, “The bad weather blasted the bloom, and later in the season caused them to rot, and for some time back the cool, cloudy weather has prevented them from ripening.” It was noted that the canning factory often quit work early but, on one of those days when closing early looked likely, the paper noted that the workers became excited when a local farmer was seen “driving up to the factory with a fine team of mules, and, of course, a load of tomatoes.” The excitement was cut short when it was discovered that the load was only 36 pounds, not nearly enough to keep the factory going the full day. However, the editor went on to say, “But what these tomatoes lacked in quantity they made up in quality. The English language fails us in our attempt to express our admiration of the sample shown us; so beautifully variegated in color – green and white, with an occasional small spot of red. Whew! But weren’t they beauties, though.” The editor went so far as to suggest the farmer should keep his tomatoes and save them for seed this was such a wonderful new variety. Later in the 1890s the crops were more plentiful and the factory did a thriving business. It also expanded to can pears and other fruit, especially in times when the tomatoes were coming in slowly. Pleasant Valley farmers took their tomatoes to Titusville and some people in the Valley worked for the factory at times.
Fruit was a major crop in Pleasant Valley during the 1890s. Peaches were especially favored and looked forward to but the farmers also grew apples and pears. Rachel Williamson lamented the passing of the peach season in 1892 when she wrote for the September 7 edition of the Hopewell Herald that, “the height of the peach crop for this season in this vicinity was here last week we are sorry to say.” Mrs. Williamson frequently lauded the quality of area fruit and certainly enjoyed it herself. In 1899 she noted in her column for September 6, “Our fruit basket has been bountifully supplied for the past two weeks with apples and peaches from neighbor Parkhill, also some Bartlett pears from Mrs. J. Thompson. Thanks.”
In addition to tomatoes and fruit, the corn crop was normally harvested in September. Every year the weather was a big concern to farmers regarding all their crops. September could be a time of storms that could damage crops, such as corn, ready for harvest. Rachel Williamson described a storm of September 13, 1903. She said, “It blew down nine apple trees on the [Gervas] Ely farm, where Zen. Cromwell lives; also lifted the poultry house and stood it on the roof in another place, and removed a number of slate from another building. It took Allie Phillip’s rye stack and scattered about half of it over the adjoining field on Samuel Hunt’s farm, and blew nearly all the fruit from the trees in general.” The Gervas Ely farm is today the Birum farm adjacent to Howell Farm where the Major Henry Phillips house is located and Zenophon Cromwell was the tenant living there. Around 1920 he bought today’s Howell Farm and established his well known dairy business.
We know that weeds had to be controlled in all crop fields, but a law passed in New Jersey in March 1900 required that all owners or occupants of land adjacent to any highway had to cut and remove all brush, briars and weeds during September each year. If this was not done the township committee was to arrange to have it done and the property owner would be charged for it. So, in addition to concern about tomato, fruit, and corn harvest, Pleasant Valley farmers also had to take care of the brush, briar, and weed “harvest” next to any roads. All of the roads at that time were unpaved, even the “highways.”
At the end of September was the annual Inter-State Fair held in Trenton. This large fair was called inter-state because it drew from Bucks County in addition to central New Jersey. Each year it was widely advertised and special trains brought people from areas such as Pleasant Valley (from Moore’s Station) and the schools would be closed one day so whole families could attend. A typical newspaper announcement is from 1895 and reads:
The announcement for 1902 shows that it was not just an agricultural fair, though, but it also contained entertainment for a wider audience.
September, of course, was also the time when the new school year began. Between 1890 and 1894 the local people of Pleasant Valley ran their own school and not very much about it appeared in the paper. Their schoolhouse was brand new in 1890 and in 1894 they had to turn it over to Hopewell Township according to the new state law. Once the township was responsible for all the schools there were frequent articles telling what had been done during the summer to maintain, spruce up, change curriculum or teachers, etc. There was always a note of optimism for the success of the new year and admonitions to parents to ensure that their children not only enrolled in school but actually attended every day and got there on time. In fact, attendance and punctuality seem to have been the primary concerns in the period 1895-1910. Unfortunately, the Pleasant Valley School was noted for poor attendance until about 1910 as we will see in future stories.
September was the end of summer and the beginning of fall and people began to think about winter. Since homes were heated with coal and cooking was done on a coal fired stove this fuel was important. Announcements began to appear in the paper in September for meetings of the Pleasant Valley Farmers Alliance to plan for coal deliveries and they usually met at the Pleasant Valley schoolhouse, which was also heated by coal.
Normal life cycles continued in September in the Valley.
For example, on September 13, 1898 Charles Miller who owned what is
now Howell Farm died very suddenly at the age of 74. He got up as usual
about 4:00am, “feeling as well as ever and just as he got down
stairs he fell and expired in a few minutes.” (Hopewell Herald,
September 14, 1898, page 4)