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A Look Back: The Ferrin Harness Shops

A look back_SCREENSHOT

By Jolene Hawkins

Looking back to the days when you could hear the jingling of harnesses and the clopping of the team of horses, and the creak of the carriage or wagon behind them, as they drove down Main Street.

Like cars, the street would have many wagons, as well as horses … so, what happened when the horse needed new shoes or the reins came loose from the bit, or a wheel needed to be replaced or the wagon repaired?

You would take it to your local blacksmith shop for repair. We had a shop in town that was still in operation in 1957, and that was Fred Ferrin Harness Shop.

A blacksmith/harness shop was to horses and buggy what a garage is today to the automobile.

In 1871, Clark Ferrin (Fred’s father) went into partnership with A.W. Blackmor. Clark eventually purchased full ownership of the shop, but had a rather turbulent history to his shop as in the fact that it seems to have bad luck follow it. At three separate times the harness shop caught fire. The first time in 1879 was when the Opera House, along with half a block on one side of the street, was burned.

Back then, most businesses shared a common wall, which made the fire spread from one to another store fast, making it hard to put out. An amusing anecdote of the conflagration occurred as Fred, who was only two years old at the time, was tossed prayerfully on a pillow from the upstairs window where they lived of the building where the harness shop was to the ground below for his safety.

Most of the contents of the harness shop and residence were saved. Clark Ferrin was able to collect $500 for the building and $200 for the stock that was a loss from the insurance company, Aetna.

Fred’s father reopened his harness/blacksmith shop and by 1886, in this shop, you could purchase buffalo, wolf and other fancy lap robes for keeping warm as you rode around during our cold winters, blankets, whips, currycombs and brushes, collars, leather, web and rope halters, oil to use on the harness and bridles as well as the hubs of the wheels, along with carriages, harnesses, wheels and all the trimmings.

What kind of carriages did they have and what did they cost? Well, in 1899, there was the 2-seat surrey with the fringe on the top from $75 to $200, Buggies from $45 to $200, Mill wagons $35, Spring wagons from $45 to $100 and buckboards around $50.

Like cars there were so many brands of them as well, did you know that the Studebaker Brothers made a heavy-duty farm wagon? Cannot forget the sleighs, oh, and of course the bells for the harnesses. They also supplied services such as repair, painting and cleaning the harness, wagons, wheels and other items, including wringers on washing machines.

Fred partnered with his father in 1921, and together they served the needs of some 300 horses at the Buffalo and Batavia raceways. Many horse owners from East Aurora patronized his shop for all of their equestrian needs. Some of his customers traveled all the way from Bradford, Pa.

Another fire occurred in 1922, once more destroying the harness shop. It was at this point that Fred then moved the shop to Mechanic Street. As you know, things happen in threes, and for Ferrin Harness shop it held true as once again a fire burned his shop at that location, which also consumed the whole street, even going around the corner and part way down Main Street. It was rebuilt once again on Mechanic Street.

Fred was born in Springville in 1877. He was actively involved with the Concord Historical Society and a member of the Springville Grange No. 1136. Fred and Bertha had three children, Alson Ferrin of Springville, Mrs. Earl (Alma) Whittaker of Ballston Spa and Robert Ferrin of San Gabriel, Cali., and had five grandchildren. Fred died in September of 1968 and is buried in Maplewood Cemetery.

You can learn more about local businesses by reading the local newspapers, phone directory’s and genealogy that we had here in Springville by coming down to the Lucy Bensley Center, located at 23 N. Buffalo St., on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the second and fourth Sundays 2 to 4 p.m. or by appointment by calling 592-0094. You can send us an email as well at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com.

Want to see what downtown Springville looked like in the 1920s to 1950s? Stop by the Concord Mercantile/Heritage building located at 17 Franklin St. and take a walk, you might even see a roadster parked in front of the Great Race display that you can have your photo taken in.

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