The Impact of Westward Expansion on New York State Agricultural Prosperity, 1830–1900

Sunday, January 5, 2020
3rd Floor West Promenade (New York Hilton)
Ernest Rugenstein IV, Hudson Valley Community College
The westward expansion of the United States had an impact on New York State agricultural prosperity. By the 18th Century, using natural waterways and Native trails, inroads had been made into western New York, parts of the Adirondacks and the North Country along the St Lawrence River. Large numbers of New England farmers migrating after 1783 into New York State. These new residents found rich, well-watered agricultural land with farms becoming prosperous. With the completion of an extensive plank road and canal system and the addition of the railroad western New York became a destination for many (Mathews 153).

By 1830 farms were growing in number. Agricultural lands were producing a variety of farm products such as grain, vegetables, and dairy cattle. New York from the 1850’s to the 1870’s was experiencing its greatest agricultural prosperity with even marginal lands being used in sheep and wool production. Although beginning to lose some population to western territories; the number of farms in New York were increasing. Farmers were cultivating more acreage and expanded their herds of dairy cattle and sheep. In fact, some farmers were experimenting by reducing the number of rough wool sheep they had and herding fewer but higher quality Merino sheep. They greatly increased the value of their farms and their investments in machinery and tools. New York farmers bought the latest in threshers, harrows, plows and other farm implements. This need for farm equipment increased manufacturing and drove the development of major industrial centers (Gates 117).

The late 1860’s still saw New York as a farming paradise, however, “the wheat economy, practiced on small clearings in the many glaciated valleys and hillsides, could no long bear the strain of disease, poor soil, and competition” (Hoglund 186) from the grain farmers who were migrating west. Many farms that had been raising increasing numbers of sheep and cattle had to begin supplementing with truck farming, converting to dairy farms, and fruit raising. With the necessary changes in farming came larger migrations westward. Many were enticed by the cheaper land values and richer farm land; New York farm land cost $38 an acre where as in Wisconsin it was $16 an acre (Gates 129). From 1880 to the 1900’s farm usage in New York dropped an “average of about sixty thousand acres each year. (Hoglund 185)” Additionally, by the 1900’s many new immigrants to the country were either migrating from cities or were farmers who took advantage of the inexpensive land in the Midwest.

Through the use of appropriate period maps, primary source material and historical interpretation of depicted data, the poster portrays the financial impact of westward expansion on farms in New York State between 1830-1900. This change in agricultural prosperity is further visualized by examining source data in coordination with the lifespan of the Baker Farm of Grant, NY.

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