Labor and Capital, Production and Consumption:
The Town of Skaneateles, NY, 1800 to 1950.

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This project seeks to answer a number of social history questions, using a century and a half of one township in the Finger Lakes of Central New York. It will rely primarily on the Federal decennial census, both the population schedules and the manufacturing, industrial, and agricultural schedules, primarily 1850 to 1940, as well as the New York State Censuses of 1865 and 1875.

Among the questions:

What was the degree of geographical mobility in this period? I.e., how many families settled in the town for more than a generation in contrast to the families who stayed for only a decade? To what degree was family wealth a factor in settlement versus movement?

How did patterns of family and household formation change over time? For example, did incidence of boarding in families increase or decrease? How did family size change? In in 1850s, for example, with the exception of three widow women, no one was living alone. That was particularly striking among single workers; every one of them was boarding in families. How long did that pattern last? Obversely, when did families stop bringing in strangers? Then, of course, there are interesting questions about who got schooling, and how much. There were no high schools (except in very large cities) before about 1900, yet several of the teenagers in the 1850 census were still attending school as late as 17 and 18 years old. They may have been attending private academies, but then the question is, what sorts of families could support an older teen in school?

For the most part, early censuses utterly ignored women's work, waged or otherwise. How much female labor force participation can be documented? Similarly, does the census recognize child labor? Photos from the woolen mill in Skaneateles Falls include workers who appear to be quite young.

How did immigration into the town change and how do the immigrants' homes correlate with issues of mobility?

How did the occupations change over time? What sorts of labor was available. What evidence is available documenting the shift from a producer economy to a consumer economy? When and in what ways do professions grow and change? An early finding: in 1850, there were more ministers than lawyers and doctors in the town, and very few professions at all in contrast to the very large number of producers, from farmers through mill workers. There were no bankers at all, and only a handful of retailers such as grocers or clothiers.