Waverly Sun-Recorder November 15, 1934
No Unauthorized Commercial Use may Be Made of This Material
Submitted by Marcia Jankowski of Horseheads
"UNCLE JAKE " WESTBROOK, 94 TELLS OF COMING TO WAVERLY AT 7 YEARS Yesterday cards and messages of greeting poured into the Orchard street home of Jacob "Uncle Jake" Westbrook, on the occasion of his 94th birthday. Still hale and hearty, he takes a walk every day, gets the milk from several block away and spends a good deal of time at Purdy's blacksmith shop. The fur-capped figure with the beard of a plainsman is a familiar and welcome sight on Waverly streets.
Turning to reminiscence, "Uncle Jake" related that he was born in Westbrookville, Sullivan County, Nov. 14, 1840, and came to Waverly at the age of seven with his parents. They arrived in March and took up residence in the Squire Whittaker house, now known as the Tracy property. In July, they purchased the Shoemaker farm, now the Fred Hanford farm where the farm building recently burned.
The journey took five days by wagon. The roads were of dirt and the only forest through which they passed that Mr. Westbrook can remember was Beech Woods, many miles from here, where later the first stone road of this section was built. But "I recollect coming through quite a few snow banks," says Mr. Westbrook.
Col. Levi Westbrook was already here, having come about 1835. Col. Westbrook was his father's brother. His parents were Gen. Abram and Charlotte (Gumager) Westbrook. The Bumaers, French Huguenots who came over at the time of at the time of the religious controversy. His father obtained his military title in the "general training" of the day, in which he displayed excellent horsemanship.
The road to Waverly followed the old stage line and was called the Newburgh turnpike in later years. Only a small settlement greeted the newcomers at Waverly. Factoryville was then more important.
In 1861, the family moved to the farm on Elmira street near Spanish Hill, where Mr. Westbrook was to spend his life farming. His father later bought the saw and grist mills on the Chemung from Judge Arthur Yates, who lived on Park avenue. The mills had been built by a Mr. Shoemaker and later sold to a corporation. General Westbrook bought the new ones but these burned in 1870.
A canal was a vital link in the transportation system of those days. The Erie railroad was then in existence, but the canal was the only means of communication with the coal mining region to the south. The Junction canal paralleled the Chemung and the Susquehanna between Chemung and a point near Pittston. This was necessitated by the rifts and low water in the rivers. Barges hauled large quantities of coal to this section and to Elmira from where it was carried north to other parts of the state served by the canal system.
Boats entered the Junction canal between Athens and Greene's Landing. One lock was near McDuffey's farm. Another lock, called the Weigh Lock was located half a mile up at Tootletown, and put the boats into water at the Wilawana level. Here the water could be let out of the lock and the boatload of coal weighted.
"Above the dam was dead water," recalls Mr. Westbrook. "The drivers would give the boat an extra pull so that it would float across the river. Then they would ferry the horses or mules across and hitch them on again to tow up the river."
How important the canal was in the early days will be gathered from the statement of Miss Anna Curran Cronin, of Elmira, a cousin of William Fraley of Waverly, who recalls that her parents went on their wedding trip on a canal boat. They made slow progress, covering five miles a day, but they found the trip very enjoyable.
The old canal bed may be seen in many places today particularly at the Chemung bridge below Athens. One reason for the existence of the bed today through the territory of the west of Waverly is related by Mr. Westbrook. There arose at one time a dispute over the ownership of the land adjoining the canal at one point near Wilawana. General Westbrook, William Mathewson, who lived on the Clark farm, and some other man of the neighborhood, were called to Elmira to testify regarding the value of the land. The Lehigh acquired the rights of way and to this day farmers are forbidden to fill in the canal bed, although they may cultivate it.
The Erie acquired the Barkley mine in 1865 and built a coal pocket at Chemung to provide necessary facilities in changing its fuel for its engines from wood to coal. W. C. Buck of Chemung was placed in charge of the mine. In that same year the Lehigh came through and build coal pockets at Waverly.
In the 1850's, wheat sold at $1.00 and $1.25; eggs ranged from 10 cents to 20 cents per dozen, and farmers would have a dozen or two to sell now and then; oats were 30c-35c; butter 25c per pound. In the Civil War days, prices soared: wheat sold as high as $3.25, butter 65c and oats 75c-90c. Butter was produced in quantities around Litchfield and Ridgebury. Large numbers of cattle were shipped away, and two or three carloads a year to Buffalo. Drovers would come up from the Scranton territory, and the Westbrook farm was frequently a spot for pasturing the droves. Mr. Westbrook remembers his father selling a yoke of oxen used on the farm in 1865 for $300 to Dan Rex and John Bowen. The oxen had previously been fatted in the pasture.
Social life was not so exacting in those days as it is today. There were the Masons and Odd Fellows among fraternal organizations. There were the weekly singing schools. Also every week, the "fellows" would hold a "hop". On alternate Fridays, the dance would be held at Chemung or at the Snyder House (now the Terminal Hotel) in Waverly. This was in the late 'fifties or early 'sixties.
After 94 years, Mr. Westbrook still had an active interest in life. To what to attribute his long life, Mr. Westbrook does not know. As to smoking, he smoked for 52 years and then quit and has not touched tobacco since.