Vagg House: The Vagg family, their home & their business
The Land and Property
Originally referred to as Proctor’s Corners, then called Fair Haven, the hamlet was renamed Childs in the late 1800s in honor of Supreme Court Judge Henry A. Childs of Medina.
John Proctor was a major landholder, first tax collector and town constable. He owned the land surrounding the intersection of Routes 98 and 104. In 1818 he sold the parcel at the southwest corner, now occupied by the blacksmith shop, house and barn to Samuel Hoisington for $450.00 “with a frame house now on the premises” according to the deed. Records indicate that John Simmons purchased the land in 1842 and established a blacksmith shop on the property. Joseph Vagg began his business in the same brick shop directly south of the house.
The Blacksmith Shop
The location of Mr. Vagg’s shop to his house illustrates how tradesmen of the period lived near their place of trade. The original shop burned in November 1921. A passerby on the road discovered the fire. The Albion fire truck responded, saving the house, but not the shop. The origin of the fire was unknown but was suspected to stem from a pile of shavings.
The building had not been insured. Luckily, local farmers understood the importance of the shop to the extent that they donated labor and brought in large stones for building foundation walls and redirected Proctor Brook in order to build a replacement. The larger wooden building is currently located father south from the house than the original brick shop and included a power shop, a rare pre-electric woodworking shop. The anvil, forge and tools were salvaged from the brick shop and moved to the new one which was in operation by early 1922.
The local blacksmith’s role was crucial to farm operations. If farm machinery broke, a farmer couldn’t wait for parts to be delivered from a manufacturer. The planting or harvesting of crops could not be delayed, and the equipment was in need of immediate repair. If the farmer’s horse threw a shoe, it was essential to resume the lost horsepower. Mr. Vagg willingly worked all hours to fulfill customer’s needs. He offered services for farm machine repair, shoeing horses and forging iron work. His shop allowed for metal working and woodworking projects.
Declining health caused him to stop making horseshoes around 1949, but he continued to work long hours on repair work. The increase in farm mechanization increased repair work until it occupied almost all his time by 1953. His shop was closed in 1956.
The Vagg Family
Joseph and Nellie Vagg moved into the house on Ridge Road in 1909. They had a son, Norris and a daughter, Melva. Her husband, Kenneth Warner, lived in the family’s house after they married.
• Joseph H. Vagg was born in Elba, NY on November 30, 1879 and resided there until he moved to Barre, NY and lived at the home of his employer, Edward Johnson, as a farm laborer.
• In 1902, he went into the blacksmithing business in Barre with Roy Leonard, his future brother-in-law.
• On June 17, 1903, he married Nellie Bulmore of Barre.
• In 1909, the Vaggs moved to Gaines, NY where he opened his own blacksmith shop in a brick building behind his house.
• Only once was he reportedly kicked by a horse that he was shoeing — in the eye, but no permanent damage was done.
• He bought his first automobile, a 1919 Studebaker, in 1921.
• He also served as trustee and deacon for Gaines Congregational Church.
• Health issues and advanced age led to his shop’s closing, one of the last in the area, on February 1, 1956.
• Joseph Vagg died at age 76, on October 11, 1956.
In the early years, all blacksmith work, with either wood or iron, was handwork. He expanded his business, as it is reported in 1914 that he installed a calking machine to reduce the time spent waiting while having horses shod. In 1917 he added “a wood machine.” Mr. Vagg did woodworking and his work was key to keeping transportation and agricultural equipment operating. He was able to shoe horses, make and repair wagon bodies and wheels, make small tools, sharpen knives and repair all sorts of equipment.
Author and columnist Arch Merrill stated in 1944, “Once the smithies were as thick along the Ridge as the inns. But that was in horse and buggy days and now at Childs, Joseph Vagg, last of the Ridge Road blacksmiths, holds the fort. For 36 years he has been shoeing horses there. And his patrons come from all over the countryside.”
In 1975, Mayor Donna S. Rodden recalled, “Joe Vagg was a man who loved horses…He was a blacksmith who seldom used the “twist,” a gadget slipped on the lip of a mean horse to hurt if he became unruly, to keep the horse standing still to be shod. Joe had a way with horses, and the twist only became necessary with the occasional western horse brought in by horse traders. Western horses were often not broken in well…
• Nellie Rose Bulmore Vagg, was born February 1, 1884. After marrying Joseph, she raised their children, Norris and Melva.
• Nellie was known to help Joe in the shop, especially to help fit wide metal tires over the wooden wagon wheels quickly before the hot metal burned them.
• She was very active in the community with the intent to improve the lives of its residents.
• Treasurer of the Gaines Congregational Church for 25 years
• Treasurer for the Charity Mission Circle
• Committeewoman for the Orleans County Republican Committee for 45 years
• Active in the Gaines Grange
• Honored in 1944 by the Red Cross for 50+ hours of volunteer time
• Member of the Orleans County Women’s Christian Temperance League for about 25 years, serving as treasurer and rising to the position of delegate to area and state conventions.
• Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)
• Active member of the Home Bureau and Extension Services from its start and frequently held informational meetings in her home. Similar to the Farm Bureau, the Home Bureau sought to bring scientific information to rural communities by Cornell University.
• Republican election inspector for many years.
• Nellie died September 14, 1975 at the age of 91.
Her commitment to the Temperance Movement was strong. A local resident recalls that when the corner store across the intersection from her home began to sell beer, she told the proprietor that she would “no longer be able to do trade” with him.
As a member of the WCTU, she wore her white ribbon until her death. The WCTU view is that alcohol is a cause and consequence of larger social problems rather than a personal fault. The WCTU also advocated against tobacco use.
Classes for local women which she hosted at her home included Elementary Meal Planning, The Study of Meat, A Place for Everything, General Mending, Nutrition, the Amount of Food Required, Salad Making and Whole Wheat. She herself conducted classes at other locations including What Makes A Good Day for the Homemaker, Family Fun and Morale in War Time, and Hazards to Our Youth in Our Present World.
After Joseph’s death, Nellie bequeathed the blacksmith shop and his tools to the Cobblestone Society for the purpose of preserving it as a museum in his memory. She also donated to the Society additional land, south of the shop, which allowed for relocation of local historical buildings.
The Vagg House – Its Layout
Entering the house through the southern enclosed porch, one is in the kitchen. Entering the dining room, there are three ganged doorways on your immediate left. The first being the door to the basement, followed by the door to the staircase to the second floor. Next is a door into a small room which gives access to a half bath. The north wall of the dining room has a large opening with sliding doors. These doors open into the parlor. The second floor is reached by a narrow, steep stairway rising from the dining room. There is a landing at the top of the stairs, from which one must step up to go west into a bedroom or east into the hallway. The hallway has two doors on the east side, the southern one enters the full bath, the other enters the unfinished attic space in the east wing. A door on the west enters the center bedroom and one at the northern end of the hallway enters the front bedroom.
The house is typical of a 1930s home, as most of the furnishings are of that era, as well as its layout. Electricity was no longer for the elite, but common in more modest homes.
There are wooden cabinets with glass doors along the west wall, south of the doorway to the dining room, the dining room being in the other section of the house. These cabinets are believed to have been moved from another structure. Similar in appearance are original wooden cabinets with glass doors on the south wall’s eastern end. Between the door to the enclosed porch and these latter cabinets is a porcelain sink. There is a door to the screened porch on the north wall. The doors to the porches feature hand graining, as does the beaded ceiling of the screened porch.
Remodeled in 1929, the kitchen wallpaper is not original to the home. The kitchen wing was added in the 1870s.
• The kitchen has a working wood or coal burning stove, a Kalamazoo kitchen range, 1935, with Owner’s Manual. Reservoir at right, ash pan below area on left for coal or wood. Used for heating and cooking in the winter months. A Tappan extra-insulated gas range of early to mid-20th century manufacture was used in warmer weather — less heat in the room.
• Monitor Top refrigerator c. 1930. Additional electrical coil to defrost the freezer, a monthly chore.
The GE Monitor Top refrigerator is the most recognized vintage refrigerator model. First introduced for household use in 1927 – 1936 at a price of $300, it was considered affordable for the average family.
• 1930s Hamilton Beach food mixer (owner’s manual) and green enamel hot plate. “Dog” electrical receptor displayed nearby.
• EASY Washing Machine: two tubs, one to wash, one with spinner to dry clothes. Sold 1920s and 1930s, patented in 1912.
EASY Washing Machine, Syracuse, NY. The name Syracuse Washing Machine Corporation was used 1919-1932, after which the business became the Easy Washing Machine Corporation. The manufacturer who made the washing machine was originally formed in 1877 as Dodge & Zuill.
• Mangle ironing machine – A mangle or wringer is a laundry aid consisting of two rollers in a sturdy frame powered by a hand crank or electricity. Originally used to wring water from wet laundry, used to press or flatten sheets, tablecloths, clothing and other laundry.
• Traditional corded iron and a cordless flat iron with a trivet.
• Devices to iron ties and put creases in pants.
• Early sidelight with outlet socket, useful since outlets were scarce.
• Photos displayed: Joe & Nellie’s 45th Anniversary and one shows a carriage step, used to create the replica outdoors.
• Drip-O-lator, coffee & tea urns, egg steamers, small grill for sandwiches, toaster c. 1930s.
A Drip-O-lator is a patented (1921 and 1930) coffee pot for making drip coffee. It was designed in a variety of china designs with aluminum liners. The Drip-O-lator changed the customs of coffee drinking in America, as the percolated coffee dripped right into the pot, ready-to-serve.
• On the wall near the 1840s chest: two Wedgewood luncheon plates (Geo. & Martha Washington)
• Kitchen cupboards: Depression glass collections, pink and cobalt blue Moderntone. American Pattern Glass (near the 1929 enamel sink)
Pink Depression glass – Available in the early 1930s, some colors were described as Cheriglo, Peacock, Flamingo and Wild Rose. Often purchased in dime stores or obtained at minimal cost by mailing in box tops from cereal purchases, the colorful was popular with homemakers during difficult economic times. Many movie theatres had one night where a certain piece of Depression glass pattern was given to those attending. To complete the set, one had to visit the movie theatre for several weeks or months. Depression glass is available in an array of collectible patterns. Moderntone was produced from 1934 – 1942.
The Dining Room
• China cabinet holds the “special occasion dishware,” the buffet stored linens, “good silverware,” etc.
• Frauntfelter China is on both the table and buffet. The designs on these pieces are hand painted by the Royal Rochester Company. This chinaware is considered Art Deco and was inexpensive.
Ohio’s Frauntfelter China Company was formed in 1923 by Charles Frauntfelter, who had been the sales manager for the Roseville Pottery Co.
• A Royal Rochester waffle iron is plugged into electricity.
• Electric space heater
• Candle Sticks with shades displayed were popular in the Teens/1920s
• Pola Negri shown on tin round container. Of Polish heritage, first European actress under contract in 1920’s Hollywood with Paramount, appearing in silent films.
• Granada Orthophonic Victrola c. 1928 – One of four premiere models introduced in 1925. Far superior sound quality than previous Victrola models, with higher volume capability. Cabinetry offered a high-quality appearance and increased record storage. Typical retail cost of $150 at the time, is equivalent to $2,250 today.
Victor Talking Machine Co., Camden, NJ founded in 1901, was renamed RCA Victor when acquired by RCA in 1929.
• Bissell floor/rug manual sweeper
This model was developed by Melville Bissell in the mid-1880s. His untimely death left his wife, Anna, with five children, to assume charge of the company. She became the first female CEO of America in 1899. She remained as CEO and chairman of the board until her death in 1934.
• Airway Sanitizor vacuum cleaner, later spelling changed to Sanitizer. This vacuum cleaner was innovative and required electricity. It was the first to use a disposable bag for collecting the dust and dirt. These machines are considerably heavier than today’s sweepers and vacuums.
• Hanging banner of the Gaines WCTU, c. late 19th or early 20th century
• Small plaster bust of Frances E. Willard, c. 1932. She is wearing a little white ribbon of the WCTU. Born in Churchville, NY, she became the second president of the WCTU in 1879 until her death in 1898. 1912 commemorative plate published by a Methodist group features noteworthy temperance images and Willard’s home in Illinois.
The Living Room was used as the family room is today without electronics and TV. The family and guests could gather at the same time to share conversation or activities. Wallpaper in the room was installed in 1948 for the occasion of 45th wedding anniversary. The overstuffed furniture with original fabrics dates to the mid-1920s, lamps, end tables and piano are all original to the house.
• The player piano is something that everyone can enjoy whether you play the piano or not. (It is operational and can be demonstrated.) Hand fan displayed with period imagery.
• Next to the piano is a Carola Child’s Phonograph made by the Carola Company of Cleveland in the 1920s, rare and enjoyed by children. It has been characterized as the “Nightingale of Phonographs.” (It is operational and can be demonstrated.)
• Child’s wicker rocker and patent leather shoes with a button fastener, 1920s.
• The box of wooden blocks shows how every generation of children had similar toys for playtime.
• The globe was made by the Replogle, a company in existence since 1930.
Luther Replogle was a school supply salesman who saw a need for a globe in every home. He and his wife started the company in a Chicago apartment and adjacent basement where globes were handmade. The company got its first big break when the Chicago retailer, Marshall Field & Co. (now part of Macy’s) chose Replogle to make a globe for the Chicago Century of Progress World’s Fair in 1933. FDR asked families to have a map or globe handy during his addresses to the nation.
• Fox print over the bookcase. Sectional barrister bookcase and table lamps with original fringe shades
English lawyers were called barristers in the 1800s. They used these cabinet-style bookcases with glass doors because the closed doors would keep their books in place if the cabinets were moved.
• Hooked wall hanging over the piano, a plaster plaque with a parrot, 1920s popular illustration of era
• Harbor scene oil painting, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy c. 1770 and Whistler’s Mother (Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1), 1871, James McNeill Whistler, show a sense of culture appreciation, well-educated owners
• Late 1920s radio in the corner and a radio lamp, popular in the 1930s and ’40s to add low light to the room in the evening while listening to radio programs.
• Taxidermy from the 1920s shows three stuffed quail
• Morris Chair, purchased in 1917, with original fabric
The Morris Chair is an early reclining chair first marketed c. 1866 by Morris & Company in England.
The interior of the barn shows a variety of wood shapes and types suggesting that either it was constructed in part using scrap lumber or had subsequent repairs in that manner.
There are the remnants of a horse stall in the southeast corner. There are windows on the east and south walls located higher than normal to allow light into the stall. The windowsills show damage that appears to be from a horse chewing on them. The west and north walls of the stall have been removed. The location of the west wall of the stall can be determined by sawed off supports still extending from the joists.
The interior basement walls are parged with concrete. There is an indication that an animal door once existed on the south side, near the east corner. At one time pigs were kept in the basement level. It has been flooded at times by an overflowing Proctor Brook.
There is a steep open wooden staircase to the second floor in the southwest corner. The second floor is an open, unfinished space.
Not original to the house, this was made with the same dimensions as one standing at the 1832 Cobblestone Schoolhouse on Gaines Basin Rd.
Cobblestone Society & Museum
The Cobblestone Society learned in 1969 they would one day assume possession of the blacksmith shop, and the remaining tools within it, because of Mrs. Vagg’s generosity. Her will finalized those arrangements in 1975. Some original tools that had previously been sold at auction were recovered and purchased and returned to the shop. A dedication service was held was held on May 28, 1978 for the blacksmith shop and another small building which had been moved to the property donated by Mrs. Vagg. The shop became part of the Cobblestone Museum campus and has been open to visitors to learn about blacksmithing, at times with a blacksmith working at the forge. The Cobblestone Society agreed to purchase the lot containing the house and barn from the estate of Rene Schasel, sole owner of the home from 2009 until his death in 2019.