Last month’s Lorenzo Driving Competition put me in mind of horses and how few there are in our local area. Perhaps on farms, but not in our village. To see a horse go down Canastota streets would certainly be a sight and an attraction for our young folks. The only time that happens is when we have a parade and horses are included in it.
But there are some of us who can still remember that there were horses living in our confines of the village. Namely on West Lewis Street, Roberts Street off from Mill Street and Barlow Street. As a small girl seeing these horses go past our home was still a curiosity and if we saw one coming we would run and tell the other kids in the neighborhood that it was coming by our houses. We do however remember the story of an aunt of ours who came to live in Canastota in horse driving days and was married to a blacksmith who was kept busy shoeing the animals. One time as she was driving her buggy across the Erie Canal lift bridge the horse got startled and ran away with her giving her a fright before finally getting it under control. My uncle decided the horse had to be “put down” because it wasn’t the first time that the horse had become violent and he felt it wasn’t safe for my aunt to handle him.
I happened to be a friend of the little girl that lived on Barlow Street with the horse. Every summer at least once that I knew of, the farm on the end of James Street located on Stroud Street had fields of hay. The gentleman who lived there would cut it and the man on Barlow Street would take his team and wagon and go and get a load for his animals. One vivid memory from my childhood was the thrill of being able to ride on the back of the wagon to get a load of hay with my friend. It was an experience I will never forget lumbering along with the team going for the hay and riding on the top of the load returning home right in the village waving to the people we passed along the way who were out doing chores around their houses or something. I don’t remember the names of the horses, but they were a gentle team and we helped water them when we got home and unloaded the hay.
All the horses I remember were for transportation or for working. The one on Roberts Street was owned by Angelo Canino. He was a produce man who went from street to street selling his cabbage, celery, tomatoes, oranges, bananas, potatoes or whatever he had fresh that day. In those days women were home and would hear him coming and go out to meet him with their change purses in hand to purchase fresh veggies and fruit for that night’s supper. He would make the rounds every day I think, but perhaps I don’t remember that accurately, because we were still little kids. We would only be interested in the ice man and chips we could beg from him on hot summer days. He was a welcome sight back in those days.
The other two horses I remember were mainly for transportation and family business. The one off of Mill Street had a rather long wagon and when the family went out there would be mom and dad on the seat and the rest of the family would sit on the sides or the back of the wagon with their feet dangling.
When and why the family moved from Mill Street I don’t know, but I wonder if it was because they were asked to by the village fathers. It would have to be a suggestion, however; the grandfather’s law protected them from being forced to move.
The gentleman who lived on West Lewis Street had his horse as an only means of transportation. He was in his late 60s or 70s and as we were told did not have the means to purchase a car, nor would he have had a driving license. His conveyance was a single- seated wagon.
He might have seemed eccentric because he was often seen riding with a stovepipe hat, either rubber farm boots or felt leggings and short rubber boots. No one ever questioned his attire and accepted it as normal for him. He attended church every Sunday and could quote the Bible by chapter and verse without any hesitation. I often sat in the congregation with my family and listened as the minister would ask him to tell the Scripture that was referred to on the bulletin. His neighbors thought dearly of him and often saw that he had a cooked meal and fresh vegetables, bread and other foodstuffs. His horse was not a problem for them as in those days it was accepted if you had a horse in your barn.
I know that there were quite a few residents in our village who enjoyed horseback riding, but their animals were stabled on farms outside of the village.
When Vernon Downs came into being, interest in horses returned . A few stables were built near our village and folks began traveling to Vernon nightly to see if they could win a race.