Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The opening of the Erie Canal created a dividing line in time that separated a rough and precarious way of life before the canal, to the beginning of a new, more comfortable era following the canal’s completion. In addition to speeding up travel, the canal brought inexpensive transportation for local products going to eastern markets, and for finished goods coming into Niagara County.
Before 1825, housing would have been simple log cabins with hand-made furniture; greased paper for windows and homespun clothing would have been the norm. Meals would have consisted of meat from wild game, fish, salt-pork or beef upon occasion, pork and beans, corn meal mush, and Johnny Cakes or other corn breads.
Oxen were more prevalent than horses, and were used to help clear enough forest to make small fields to cultivate. On top of all of the other hardships, bears and wolves would kill the settlers’ sheep and hogs. To help eliminate the wolf population, settlers were encouraged to shoot the wolves and then turn in the wolves’ ears to collect a bounty.
The few cows that had arrived would wander at will to forage and often after wandering far away, could only be located by the tinkling of a cowbell attached to their necks.
Crops were good in 1817, the year construction began on the Erie Canal, and early settlers took courage that better things were on the horizon. There was a great spirit of cooperation among the pioneers, what the Amish of today call a “barn raising” was known in the 1820’s as a “log rolling bee,” where all of the settlers would help the newest pioneer to erect his log cabin. The ladies would bring food and a feast would follow. At harvest time, there would be “corn husking bees” and the ladies would have “quilting bees.”