The Career of Lewis L. Crocker
By Douglas H. Shepard, 2000
Lewis L. Crocker was born in 1836. His father, Luther, had a large farm in Pomfret. In November 1857, Lewis married Nancy J. Wilson. The 1858 Assessment Roll shows him, for the first time, as an independent householder but, apparently, still living in his father’s home. From 1859 on, he is farming on his own 35 acres. He continued farming at least through the time of the 1875 New York State Census, where he identifies that as his occupation.
However, by 1872 he had also begun a meat market in partnership with Henry Burr. Their location seems to have been a basement area of the building at the corner of Water Street and East Main Street. The entrance to the shop was towards the rear of the building, on Water Street.
In October 1872 the furniture store partnership of Bartram Bros. was dissolved and Amos Bartram joined the meat market to make it Bartram, Crocker & Co. Bartram did not remain too long, since the 1873 Directory refers to the firm again as Crocker & Burr. Burr then left and, in April 1873, Ephraim P. Wilson of Portland took his place in the firm of Crocker & Wilson.
In January 1877, the partners bought a vacant lot on the west side of Water Street from L. A. Barmore for $600. Their announced plan was to put up a two-story wooden building for a meat market on their 15x70 foot lot. (The basement they were vacating was to be used by Howard Bros., who owned the corner building, for manufacturing eye salve, the former Pettit-Barker enterprise.)
The announcement of the Crocker-Wilson plans was in the Fredonia Censor of 10 January 1877. By the issue of the 31st, they had taken over George Blood’s furniture store at 13 Water Street (the modern number), giving in exchange their recently purchased vacant lot plus $1,000. Blood’s old store building was only 18x40 feet, but sufficient for their needs. Blood was already planning his new building at 12 Water Street.
The Crocker & Wilson meat market continued at 13 Water Street until February 1881 when Lewis Crocker withdrew from the firm, which became E. P. Wilson & Son. At that point he began a harness and grape basket manufactory (the harness part soon disappeared). The office was in a small, three-story building on Day & Prushaw’s Carriage Factory lot about at 20 Center Street. The carriage business fell on hard times and, in April 1888, was sold off. In 1889, Thomas and Samuel Wellman, who had bought out Vincent Dunn & Son’s broom factory near Laona, moved it to the third story of 20 Center Street. By December, they had purchased Harry Parker’s former marble shop at 114 East Main Street and moved the broom factory there, leaving the third floor of 20 Center Street free for Lewis Crocker, who wanted to expand his basket factory operation.
An October 1890 item in the Observer had commented on the fact that Crocker was then employing four men and the factory was very busy, all of which suggests the grape basket operation was doing quite well. After the carriage works had failed, the D & F Street Railway Co. bought the property and began laying the foundation for a new car barn about at 12-18 Center Street.
By the mid 1890s Crocker moved the basket factory to a building about at 35 Church Street. The company seems to have lasted through 1900, although not on Church Street. It may have been moved to a building on East Main Street, part of the Felt Factory lot where the Howard Watch Co. had been. The Fredonia Censor of 28 March 1900 reported that a small storage barn of the basket factory was destroyed when the Felt Factory burned.
Since the last Directory to identify Lewis Crocker as a basket manufacturer was that of 1900, it may well have been the fire loss that caused him, finally, to retire. He died some four years later.