Did you ever pick black currants or red currants here in Westfield?
Do you remember Elton Tubbs, a local inventor of an electromechanical currant picker?
Whatever happened to the currant industries that used to thrive in Westfield?
Elton Tubbs of Westfield shows off his invention, a current picking machine, in this photo from 1961.
These three questions, and more, have come up several times over the past nine years since I returned to my hometown of Westfield and in several basically unrelated situations.
Picking red currants during the hot summers of the 1950s was one of several ways for me to earn money for college in 1958. Elton Tubbs and his wife Florence, or "Tubby" and "Flossie" as we knew them, lived diagonally across North Portage Street from where my family lived from 1950-1955. We had raised and picked red currants on both of our farms - on Persons Road and 169 North Portage Street.
From the time we first moved to North Portage, my parents shared many hours with Mr. and Mrs. Tubbs, watching "the fights" on TV at each other's houses, and my dad, Don Blackburn, and Elton Tubbs conversed about all sorts of interesting inventions that Tubby had invented or was in the process of inventing.
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).
One of the inventions Tubby was working on, and eventually perfected and applied for a patent for, was an electromechanical currant picker. Since my dad and I were photographers for the Westfield Republican when I was in high school, Tubby asked us to photograph his currant picker for a brochure for both the patent process and for marketing the machine. While digging through old boxes of family souvenirs a few years ago, we actually found a copy of the brochure, but now it has been "filed" someplace that escapes our memories.
Imagine my excitement when I found a Buffalo Courier-Express newspaper clipping in the scrapbook of a friend's mother, dated April 23, 1961, "Inventor Develops Current-Picker" by Gerry Wiser, Courier-Express Dunkirk Bureau. There was also a photo of "Elton H. Tubbs and his newly developed currant picking machinethe culmination of 10 years of tinkering."
But about black currants in Westfield, the first time I heard of them was at a "New Neighbors Night" at the Patterson Library about a year after I came back in 2003-04. The Westfield Development Corporation, WDC, was represented by John Rawlinson, and during his presentation he suggested a revived interest in growing black currants because of a number of recently researched health benefits might be another economic stimulus for our lagging agriculture industry here in Westfield.
When asked whether she remembered anything about black currants here in Westfield, my mother, Fran Anderson, recalled when her family moved from Bliss Street to her grandfather's farm on Academy Street there were some black currant bushes. She thought they had been removed because of some disease.
Research on the history of black currants located a British website that confirmed this, saying, "As for the U.S., black currants were once very popular there as well, but in the 20th century the government banned them in almost all of the states. The reason was that black currant shrubs can host and spread a disease, the 'white pine blister rust', which threatened the booming timber industry in early 1900s." According to the article, "In 1966 the federal ban was moved to individual States' jurisdiction led to many savvy states lifting the ban as did the New York State in 2003"
One of the heirloom fruits being researched and written about by Westfield resident and farmer Jay Stratton is the currant. Stratton asked me if I had any information about what may have caused the demise of the currant as a viable fruit for Westfield agriculture, suggesting the closing of the one remaining fruit plant that processed currants may have been a reason.
A future BeeLines will address history of fruit processing factories here in Westfield and perhaps will discover the answer Stratton's question as well as unravel the mysteries of the names of the many Westfield fruit processing companies over the past two centuries.