By: Carl & Elaine Seliskar
This is the last of three articles devoted to Elijah Pomeroy. In this one we again use his own words describing what he did as a woodsman and craftsman. First, a note on how we have written this and the following articles. We will quote Elijah’s writings without any changes using the manuscripts in the archives of the Huntsburg Historical Society. His words are set off in quotation marks. After each such quotation we will add our own comments about what he has said explaining some of his statements.
Elijah Pomeroy, 1870
“About 1822 I built a house for father, the one that Spencer Pomeroy now lives in. The year after I built a frame barn for father. Soon after I built a house for myself, the one afterwards occupied by Mr. Hodges. I moved into it in 1831. In 1823 I made my first coffin. It was for Butler Lord’s child, and up to this time, 1870, I have made 500 coffins for this and adjoining towns. In 1824 I went west to work at the joiner’s trade. The next year I went to Buffalo and worked there on houses for about a year, then returned home. As the farmers wanted frame barns, I commenced work on then, and built a total of 25 frame barns. The farmers also wanted frame houses, and I put up and finished 30 houses. I bought “Benjamin’s Architecture” and other books, to be informed in that science. I took three partners and built the Methodist church. On account of my health, in 1838, I concluded to sell my farm and move to the Center and carry on a shop. But my neighbors wanted me to build houses for them, and I concluded to do so. I built the house that Warren Loomis [Mary Dickenson house, aka Dickenson-Hale house] lives in, and the one that A. Evans [Adin Cole Evans] lives in; also the store occupied by Smith Wright. In company with Austin Loud, I built the Congregational church [in 1838], and I gave $66 to the society.”
Spencer Pomeroy is Horace Spencer Pomeroy, the eldest son of Horace Pomeroy the second son of Stephen and Lydia Pomeroy. Spencer first lived on Lot #4 in the Township where his family originally settled in 1808. Lot #4 is located on now Burton Windsor road east of SR 528. A joiner is a skilled craftsman who specialized in making wood joints in furniture or other wooden pieces including houses and barns. Given the fact that joinery then consisted of numerous complicated wood joints, being a joiner was a term associated with high skill and knowledge. Today seldom does one find such skills in use.
Elijah built a house the main portion of which still stands adjacent to the old school building at the Center. His cabinetmaker’s shop was also located on the same building parcel but no longer exists. The Smith Wright store stood on the northwest corner at the Center. See below for a photograph of this early building. The society refers to the Congregational Society an early organization which eventually became known generally as the Huntsburg Congregational Church. The original members of this society include most all of the adult male pioneers alive in the 1860s.
Below are several old photographs of things made by Elijah Pomeroy.
The Smith Wright Store
The building, now referred to as the Smith Wright store, was erected by Elijah Pomeroy in 1853 on the northwest corner at the Center. It initially functioned as a co-operative by local farmers who sold their produce and goods there. It later became the property of Smith Wright who used it as a general store. Over the years the store changed owners several times and on February 24, 1903, the store burned to the ground, together with its contents, including household goods in the living quarters above. That corner at the Center is now occupied by the 1908 Town Hall parking lot.
The Pomeroy Walnut Table
Black walnut oval table by E Pomeroy about 1850. The table has been repaired and refinished. The table is in a private collection.
There are several amazing things about this beautiful table. The top is a single piece of plain-sawn black walnut with a beaded edge terminating in a hand cut molding that runs over the entire perimeter of the top. The base is delicately set out with ornamentation in a classic Victorian style. The four legs are outlined in a half-round groove that seems perfect even though it was hand done. The central turnings would have been done on a treadle lathe but are amazingly delicate: the bottom spindle terminates in a very small round bead; the top tapers smoothly to a cylindrical shaft terminating at the bottom of the top. To think this was all done long before Huntsburg had power woodworking tools!
The Dickenson-Hale house
This elegant house with its wrap-around porch still exists today just north of the Center. It was originally built for Mary Dickenson [aka Widow Dickenson] in 1842 and since then has been occupied by several other owners, notably Sylvester Hale. The house is classic Gk revival style similar to other such houses Elijah built in the Township. The four corners of the house have column-like ornamentation (pedestals) which terminate into simple box-like capitals.
Coffin receipt 1870
This is an actual signed receipt from Elijah Pomeroy for making a coffin for William J. Armstrong in 1870. At this time (mid to late 1800s) most coffins were made of local tulip poplar. That Elijah made so many coffins indicates his popularity also in the surrounding townships.
The Pomeroy Chest
The Pomeroy Chest, as this piece has come to be known, resides in the museum of the Huntsburg Historical Society. It was probably one of the last chests of drawers that Elijah worked on in his shop at the Center as it is unfinished lacking the pilasters at the front of this American Empire style piece. The curly maple panels, inch-thick top and splash-board are made of exceptionally high-curl maple now rarely found available to cabinetmakers. The hand dovetailing of the drawers with sides and bottoms of local tulip poplar are in part fastened with hand cut period nails. The turned front feet are morticed into the cherry dresser base with twin mortise and tenon joints, an unusually complicated joint to make by hand or by machine.
The Methodist and Congregational Churches
Above are period photographs of the Methodist (left) and Congregational (right) churches built about 1836-1838. The Methodist Church has evolved structurally over time into what is now the Huntsburg Congregational Church lying just south of the Center on the east side of the road. The Congregational Church was built by Elijah Pomeroy and Austin Loud and remained in use until 1937 when it burned to the ground. Little was able to be saved from this fire. Older residents of the Township living today can recall this terrible fire. Several relics from the Church are on display in the museum of the Huntsburg Historical Society. If one compares this church with the Methodist Church above one can see how similar they are structurally.
The Legacy of Elijah Pomeroy
Certainly there were other crafts-men and crafts-women of skill in the Huntsburg in the 1800s: cobblers, blacksmiths, cheesemakers, weavers, etc. But none that we are currently aware of seemed to have the breadth of skills that Elijah Pomeroy had. Elijah built huge post-and-beam barns and delicate furniture each of which require special different skills. Other notable woodworkers included Austin and Nelson Loud with whom Elijah collaborated. Elijah was also a major force in the Township socially being heavily involved in the Congregational Church affairs. He is a Huntsburg pioneer of special note.