First published October 11, 1984 It's grape harvest time again and we can't help thinking about the great changes that have taken place in the process through the years. There was a time when many grapes were shipped in small containers to markets all over the world. The manufacturing of those containers was an important industry in Westfield. Who remembers the basket factories? The Westfield Republican of May 10, 1893, had an interesting story to tell of Austin B. Culver of this place who had just invented a little machine that "should make him a fortune." It was an automatic counting machine and was designed specifically to take the place of a car clerk in loading grapes into railroad cars. It looked like a little square box with a dial and pointer on one side of it. It was fixed in a car door and the growers placed their baskets upon it and the machine made the register with perfect accuracy. It could be used for other purposes but it was designed especially to count grape baskets. Mr. Culver exhibited it to the directors of the C. & N.E. Grape Union and without exception they all spoke highly of it. The Centennial Edition of The Grape Belt, Friday, June 20, 1902, mentioned John B. Bristol as one of the wide awake farmers and vineyardists of Chautauqua County. His vineyard was three miles west of the village of Westfield. His "latest venture" was in the basket manufacturing business which promised well. In the same paper was an ad for The Dean Brothers Company, Brocton, Portland and Westfield, N.Y., Dealers in Grape Baskets, Basket Labels, Spraying Machinery and Material, and Shippers of Fancy Packed Chautauqua Table Grapes. In May of 1913 The Fruit Growers Basket Manufacturing Co. had just completed a fine building on the corner of West Pearl and N.Y.C. and St. L. Railroad land and expected to employ from 15 to 20 persons during the season. This was an industry the village wished abundant success. At about 10 o'clock on April 27, 1915, the large lumber mill owned by D.N. Morse at 74 Spring Street, was destroyed by fire. How the fire started is a mystery. It was discovered by Charles Hanks, who was driving past in an auto. He at once turned in an alarm but, owing to the inflammable contents and the wooden building and the high wind, the building was a mass of flames by the time the firemen arrived, and all they could do was same the surrounding property. The firemen succeeded in saving the basket factory owned by Mr. Morse, which was but a few feet south of the mill. The loss is estimated at nearly $9,000.The loss came to Mr. Morse at a particularly busy time of the year, he having just received several large rush orders for 20-lb. baskets. This was the last mill in the vicinity where the owners turned out baskets from the log. Many other factories bought their basket stock in the flat. The Morse mill turned out large numbers of grape baskets and boxes for picking and shipping, as well as large amounts of rough lumber. Mr. Morse stated that he did not know whether he would rebuild or not, but that if he did, the new mill would be smaller than the one burned. The mill gave employment to 20 men and several girls and to about 50 men during the busiest season. A little notice in The Westfield Republican of July 28, 1915 stated that D.N. Morse started up his new basket factory Tuesday morning and it seemed good to once more hear the whistle blow. The fall weather conditions improved just in time to have a helpful effect on the grapes. The Welch Company started the price at $40 per ton. Armour Company did not buy grapes that season but were busy bottling. The Chautauqua and Erie Grape Company sold 20-lb. baskets at $30 per ton and 8-lb. baskets at 12 cents per basket. Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 - inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment. Beigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).
The photo shows the employees, with the sawmill and basket factory at the left, in 1909. The house in the background was Dexter and May (Fitch) Morse’s home, built in 1895. (This house is still at the NW corner of Spring Street and Third Street. The mill in the photo is the one that burned in 1915, and even the “new” 1916 mill no longer exists; replaced now by several houses.) Dexter Morse is front row, first person on left, wearing a vest, and seated next to a stack of grape baskets. Note that there are no handles on the baskets. Handles were attached by the purchasers of the baskets, when they were filling/packing them with grapes for shipment.