|August Valois, Dean of Elmira Barbers, Has Been in Business
Here All His Life and "Still going"-He Has Shaved Several Generations of
"Some men are easy to please; other make it as hard as possible for us barbers." Declared Augustus Valois, dean of Elmira barbers, as he wiped a spot of lather from the nose of a customer.
"How many different men have I shaved, you ask," he continued. " would estimate that if they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, they would reach from this city to New York, and I have had many of them for regular customers for years. Yes, I have been shaving and cutting hair right here in Elmira for more than half a century-to be exact, 54 years. I’ve used considerable soap and water. Hair tonics! Oh, yes; a few thousand gallons." "Gus" Valios, as he is know to thousands of citizens of this city, and was known and highly respected by thousands who now are gone from this earth, has the distinction of always having worked in Elmira. It was 54 years ago that little Gus Valois, then 15 years old was bound out to a master barber to learn the trade. The pay for the first year was $50, for the second $75, and for the third year $100.
"Mind you," said Mr. Valois "I did not get any of that money. It went to my father. All the money I had during those years was the money given to me as the tips for brushing off the clothes of customers and shining shoes. I was permitted to have such money I received that way for myself. Some weeks I did fairly well, for in those days there were some generous citizens who knew that the tips was all the apprentice had for spending money"
"After I has mastered the trade I went to work for John Hoppe, who then conducted the largest barbershop in Elmira. It was located where the G. H. & J. T. Kelly electric shop is now on Baldwin Street. Mr. Hoppe had four chairs and conducted a bathe department in connection with his shop. I was in that shop ten years, when I decided to go into business for myself. I opened a barber shop at the southeast corner of East Water and Lake streets, where the offices of the Elmira, Corning & Waverly Railway are now located. Later I moved to 115 Lake street and I continued a shop thee for 37 years, until a year and a half ago, when the building was sold and I located here on Carroll street. I am going to to move up on Baldwin street, opposite The Star Gazette building, as soon as Art Seeley moves his bird store to his own building up on Church street."
Although having wielded razor, shears and brush for more than half a century, Mr. Valois has never shaved a person or cut a person’s hair, outside of the business section of Elmira. Mr. Valois is not a rover
"I find that a man can do business in a stand at the same place if he is fair, square and endeavors to please his customers," is some good logic stated by Mr. Valois. "It is not necessary for a barber to be moving from place to place, from city to city and always beginning business in a new place. It is possible that this is less true today that it was upwards of a quarter of a century ago. In the earlier days we had to depend upon regular customers for our business. I suppose that was due to the fact that people did not travel about the country so much. We did not have automobiles in those days. Tourists were unknown in Elmira. Of course there were drummers and there were visitors to the city, but the traveling trade of today was then unknown. We could look about the same time each day or night for certain customers to come into the shop. Of course there are regular customers now, but not like those days.
"Has the coming of the safety razor made a difference in the number of customers?" was asked Mr. Valois, as he stropped his razor preparatory to going over for the second time his customer’s face.
"Can’t see that it makes any difference, " he replied. "There always have been men who shaved themselves, except occasionally. Many men get safety razors and begin to shave themselves, but they lay them aside and come back to the barber shop again."
The working hours of barbers today are far different than a quarter of a century ago. Until a few years ago the barber shops opened at 7 o’clock in the morning and remained open until 9 or 10 o’clock each night in the week, except Saturday night when the doors were not closed until midnight and the barbers were not through after until 1 o’clock Sunday morning.
"The union has helped us a lot." Declared Mr. Valois. "We are now able to have a few hours to ourselves in the evenings. The prices paid by customers today are far different than when I learned the trade. In those days for ten cents we would shave a man, shave his neck, use hair tonic on his hair, curl his moustache and put hot towels on his fact. A quarter of a dollar was the limit for a haircut until ten or a dozen years ago.
"Working barbers used to receive about $12 a week, and worked 18 hours a day. If the boss liked a working barber real well he would raise his pay to $15, in some cases. There was no scale for barbers, it was straight pay.
Mr. Valois had shaved four generations of the John Brand family and three generations of the Arnot family here. He tells how Samuel Clemens, better known as "Mark Twain" the famous author, used to come into his shop for a shave or to have his hair trimmed, for he wore his hair long.
"Dr. Eldridge was one of my regular customers in the old days. No, he did not get shaved, for he wore a long flowing beard, of which he was very proud. He used to have me dye his beard every week. He wanted it a jet black and said I did the best job of anyone. He was a jolly man and I was always glad to have him come into the shop."
Mr. Valois celebrated his seventieth birthday August 12, last. He is of French descent, coming for a sturdy, long-lived stock.
"Someone named a town up on Seneca Lake after you, did they not?" was asked Mr. Valois.
"No, not me. I cannot claim that honor, but it was some of my relatives, I guess," the barber replied as he removed a generous supply of talcum powder from his customer’s ear, and turning to those waiting, called out "Next."
Elmira’s Veteran Barber Shaved Mark Twain In The Day
of Dyed Beards
Elmira Star Gazette July 4, 1926
Augustus Valois, Whose Little Shop is Located on Baldwin Street is Seventy-four and Still Going Strong-Thinks the Bob Improvement on Former Styles
From the epoch of the side burn to the age of the shingle has Augustus Valois, the city’s oldest barber, clipped and cut and shaved. He’s still at it at his shop 212 Baldwin street, although 74 years old and he looks upon the banishment of whiskers with approval. He does not talk about the "good old days" of flowing beards and dyed goatees. He thinks the present styles much more sensible.
But he does miss his customers of day gone by. During the 60 years he has barbered, many of the most illustrious men of the community have sat in the chairs of the shop which he kept for 36 years in the building now occupied by Baker, Rose & Clifton Co. They were the grandfathers who have long since died, of the present generation of business men.
SHAVED MARK TWAIN
The patron of the veteran barber who later became the most celebrated was none other than Mark Twain. Mr. Valois, then a young man, liked the author. He declares he was affable and appreciative. On July 4, 1868, he hurried into the barber shop and asked Mr. Valois if he would call at the home of his father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, and shave him there. The boy hesitated. He had plans for the holiday. However he went. The shave must have been a success for after it was all over Mr. Langdon smiling handed Augustus $3.10 worth of ten cent shin plasters with the words, "Now go and have a good Fourth of July."
The old timers met day after day in the shop to gossip and to be trimmed. Dr. Eldridge came in in 1867 to have his shorn whiskers dyed. The was a practice resorted to with as great frequency by men in those days as by women now. A glossy black disguised grey hair. A Sandy beard became brown. The men of the sixties were immoderately proud of their whiskers.
The barber of three generations can tell story after story about the clients of his youth. Among his most prized possessions are post cards from John Arnot, Ray Tompkins, Sherman Moreland, Charlie Pulford and many others. "They were all good friends of mine." He says with a reminiscent light in his eyes.
Modes and methods have changed vastly since Barber Valois learned the trade in the old Hathaway House. Hot towels, massage, clippers and flappers were things unknown then. Hair was worn long and there was much of it. Scissors alone were used to reduce it’s length. The shops opened at 7 a.m. and did not close until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. On Saturday night they did business until midnight and sometimes 1 o’clock in the morning. On Sundays their doors were open during the morning and sometimes for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Strenuous protests greeted the edict that closed the barber shop on Sunday.
The most elaborate operation which the barber shop then performed, that of dying, cost from $1.50 to $2. A hair cut was 25 cents and a shave 10 cents.
Instead of men with walrus like mustaches and goatees carefully pointed, the bobbed-hair lady now occupies most of the time and skill of those connected with the Valois barber shop.
When asked what he thought of the boyish bob he replied "I think it
is sensible and surely far more attractive than the stuffed pompadours
that women affected in bygone years. But I usually turn my feminine customers
over to my assistant for I find them too hard to please. They have very
I found some coincidences when I was typing it. I found out recently that a distant cousin owned a barberhop on Lake Street. Another cousin worked as a caretaker at Twain's home at some point. And, according to family oral history, a couple of my great-great-grandmother's sisters made Twain's wedding suit. The article really gives a slice of life in that era. I enjoyed reading it.
Ready for more.
|Charlie Ackley Trims Hair for Five Generations|
Family Barber “Uncle Charlie” Ackley Trims Hair For Five Beardslee Generations
In a quaint, little shop on E. 14th St where the floor around the antiquated chair is worn down to the nailheads, Charles H. Ackley, veteran Elmira Heights barber, trimmed the hair last week for the fifth generation in the same family. His customer was shy, 15-months-old Jay W. Beardslee II, son of Mr. and Mrs. Howard J. Beardslee of Buffalo, whose great-great grandfather, Ichabod Beardslee of Crum’s Corners, a Civil War soldier, was one of “Uncle Charlie’s” first customers when he set up his first shop in Valois in 1892.
In 53 years of continuous barbering, Mr. Ackley has shorn the locks and shaved the three other men in the Beardslee lineage all of whom are related to him by marriage. Little Jay’s grandfather, Jay W. Beardslee I and Mrs. Ackley, the former May Beardslee, are brother and sister. Ichabod Beardslee began periodic journeys from his home near Mecklenberg to have his hair cut by the young “Hector Corners (Valois) barber” as soon as Mr. Ackley opened his first shop.
He was followed by Philo Beardslee, Ichabods’s son of Smith Valley, Near Mecklenberg, who, likewise had seen Civil War service. When Mr. Ackley moved his shop to Horseheads in 1893, Philo’s son, Jay W. Beardslee I, the present proprietor of Elmira Hatcheries, kept up the chain. Mr. Ackley moved to his present location at 253 E. 14th St in Elmira Heights in 1909 and found himself cutting hair for Jay’s son, Howard J. Beardslee.
The fifth generation climbed into his chair Thursday afternoon to let the 74-year-old “Uncle Charlie” give him one of his first “man haircuts.” Thirty-six years in one location, Mr. Ackley’s barber shop has become one of the village’s landmarks. The battered, leather chair he uses today is the one he bought in 1911. Instead o keeping his shears, clippers and tonics on a counter he finds it more convenient to use a handmade cabinet which stands beside the chair.
He repairs clocks and sharpens skates at a workbench in one corner of his workroom. Mr. and Mrs. Ackley who reside at 147 College Ave. have been married 54 years.
Photo caption: Turned into a sartorial smoothie at Uncle Charlie Ackley’s
hands is the fifth generation Beardslee, 15-months-old Jay W. Ackley II.
Great-great grandfather Ichabod sat for a haircut in this veteran’s first
chair back in “92.