(Posted at Isledegrande.com - Grand Island, N.Y. - on June 21, 2006)

Dairying on Grand Island

30 League Members Have Empire of Their Own in the Middle of the Niagara River Near Buffalo

By Ted H. Townsend

Published in The Dairymen's League News, 1933

Thirty dairy farmers on an Island. Milk brought to market on a ferry. It sounded fantastic when John H. Drought Division Representative at Buffalo, said there were 30 dairy farms on Grand Island in the Niagara River. It was worth investigation. One reaches this green-clad Island that sprawls across the Niagara River by means of a ferry. And of course, this means of transportation must be used to bring the milk from the dairy farms to the market.

Grand Island is a township in itself. It is nearly eight miles long and six miles wide and contains 17,381 acres. A macadam road extends around the shore line and several good highways cross the Island at intervals.

The 30 dairymen on the Island form the Grand Island Local of the Dairymen's League. William M. Kaegebein is president of the Local and Harold L. Long is secretary. Some of the dairymen have been members since the League was first organized.

Dairying is the chief agricultural pursuit. The herds are chiefly Holstein. Milk is collected by the truckman at the farm and then taken across the Niagara River on the ferry to the Tonawanda market.

President Kaegebein has a 160-acre farm and Secretary Long tills a similar acreage.

Springs and wells supply water for the homes and the herds, and right here in the center of a fresh water area mineral springs abound. A few creeks find their way across the Island to the river.

Wheat, buckwheat, barley and oats, and corn are grown as well as good quality hay. League member Frank Schutt was loading baled timothy hay for shipment to Buffalo when we visited the farm. It was first quality hay and on that particular day was worth $12 a ton.

Secretary Harold Long produced a picture showing a truckload of timothy hay weighing four tons. (No. we won't stretch it; the actual weight was 7,940 pounds or 60 pounds less than four tons.) Mr. Long has a fine poultry flock as well as Holstein cows. Wheat is also grown extensively.

The ferry is a necessity to the dairymen on Grand Island. Supplies must be brought from the mainland and produce must be carried across the river to market. The ferry, by the way, is a large barge hauled around by a tug. It carries autos and trucks as well as passengers. Ferrying is expensive and adds to the hauling cost. The truckman pays $1 a day or $365 a year for the privilege of crossing the river and of course the producers must pay this. Plans are underway for building two bridges from the mainland to the Island and this is expected to reduce hauling costs.

Last winter there was a huge ice jam in the Niagara River. It was impossible to operate the regular ferry for a week or more. A temporary ferry was operated below the ice jam and the League members were able to send their milk to the market by this means. On one trip Secretary Long shipped 1,000 dozens of eggs along with the cans of milk. The temporary ferry was pulled by a motor boat.

There are a number of schoolhouses on the Island and four churches. There has been a discussion regarding the formation of a Central Rural School, according to President Kaegebein, who is a member of the School Board. High school pupils are transported to the Tonawanda school.

One "roadside stand" is located at the north end of the Island. League member Gordon O. Stoddard has a nice display of truck crops and fruit, apples, pears, grapes, plums, melons, squash, etc. This farm is just about a mile above Niagara Falls.

The land on the Island is level, much like the Seneca County country between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. The soil is clay and fairly heavy. This year there has been a real drought and despite the fact that water can be seen in almost any direction, the crops have suffered from lack of moisture.

Grand Island has a history. Inhabitants still tell how off Burntship Bay, the sunken hulks of two French ships can be seen. They were driven in from Chippawa by the British during the French and Indian War of 1755 and sunk there by their commanders.

The Island was many times the scene of bloody battles among Indian tribes in days before the white man took the frontier.

In days of British and French occupancy it was claimed by both. The French were driven out and then the Seneca Indians claimed ownership. This was acknowledged by the United States government as late as the War of 1812 when Red Jacket organized a war party to drive the British and their Indian allies from the Island. The British and Indians departed, however, without meeting Red Jacket's war party.

The Island did not become a part of the state of New York until 1815 when it and other Islands in the Niagara River were acquired by the state by treaty with the Seneca Indians for $11,000 and it is assessed today for about $4,000,000. ($11,000 is an error)
Editor's Note: The Indians received "the sum of $1,000 in hand paid them by Daniel D. Tompkins, Governor of the said State of New York" and in addition "annually, forever, an annuity of $500 to be paid on or before the first day of June each year forever hereafter, at Canandaigua in the county of Ontario; first payment to be made the first day of June, 1816."

Grand Island was once a peninsula according to geologists, projecting from the American side. It would be the same today if the waters of the Niagara River receded twelve feet. The water on the Canadian side of the Island is 30 feet deep while the eastern branch is but twelve to 15 feet deep. This matter was taken into consideration when an American-Canadian Boundary Commission was appointed in 1819 and they established the fact that the main channel of the Niagara River was on the Canadian side, hence the Island belonged to the United States.

Squatters rushed in where the Redmen used to tread early in the 19th century and they were so numerous and militant that when the tax gatherers of the Empire State attempted to exercise their power, the Island residents declared their independence.

A force of militia under the sheriff of Niagara county was ordered out by Governor Clinton to expel the intruders. Seventy houses were burned and 150 men, women and children ejected. The majority were transported to Canada. At that time, the Island was covered with forest, there being but 80 to 100 acres cleared. Game abounded, in fact, the tract was a hunter's paradise.

In 1825 an interesting event occurred, Major Mordecai M. Noah of New York attempting to make of Grand Island a place of refuge for the Jews of all nations. Major Noah was sheriff of New York county and a leader in Tammany Hall. The tablet of the "City of Ararat," that he almost founded, still may be seen in the Buffalo Historical Museum.

The skepticism and the opposition of Jewish Rabbis and other leaders killed Major Noah's great scheme. Enough of history and geology.

The land was cleared of trees, save for a woodlot or so, and today League cows graze in the pastures located between fields of corn and grain and occasional orchards.

Grand Island Local holds meetings and of course every dairyman on the Island has a right to attend, for it's a 100 per cent League territory. One might almost call Grand Island Dairylea Land. It's worth a visit when you are traveling to Niagara Falls.