How the hamlet came to be — and stories (true and otherwise) of how it got its name

Located in the town of Farmington is the small hamlet of “Pumpkin Hook." The main area of the hamlet is located between Allen Padgham and Hook roads. Today there are clusters of homes, two churches, the fire department, the partially renovated 1816 meetinghouse and an empty storefront that once was a grocery store. There are four historical markers scattered throughout the area depicting important facts about the area.

In 1808, Otis Hathaway — son of Isaac Hathaway, one of the first settlers in Farmington — began work on lot #136 to begin forming the village of New Salem. The village was named after Salem, Massachusetts and it is noted as the only village in the town of Farmington. Otis built the first store buildings and sold building lots to others. Maple trees were planted along Allen-Padgham Road. Gravel roads and shaded streets were an attraction as travelers from neighboring towns would walk their horses along the road to enjoy the shade of the trees. (In 1934 most of the trees were removed to allow for more light for planted crops, and the tree logs went for firewood.)

The hamlet grew extremely fast and became the business center of Farmington. One could find shops for a tannery, tavern, tinsmith, milliner, hat factor, cooper, blacksmith, foundry, hotel, and a harness shop. The Hathaways built a cobblestone blacksmith shop that held three forges. Village business declined after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, but new businesses continued to appear and struggle to remain open. Shipping activity bypassed the little village, and the village became a sleepy agricultural community.

One successful business was the Katkamier Iris Farm. In 1927, A. Belknap Katkamier purchased the old hotel and established his world famous iris gardens. The gardens held the largest single iris plantings in the world, numbering over 2000 varieties. People from all over the world visited the gardens. It remained open until Mr. Katkamier’s death in 1947.

The Friends Church (located in the “hook”) was a place where devout Quakers from a vast surrounding area came to worship and meet with one another. By the mid 1800s, New Salem had become a political place for reform. Most villagers advocated for the abolishment of slavery and many offered shelter and safe passage for runaway slaves. Residents witnessed first-hand slave bondage when Marylander James Brooks migrated to Farmington prior to the Civil War and brought two slaves with him. Abolitionists Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony all gave speeches about human rights in the 1816 meetinghouse.

Society of Friends (Quakers) women were given the right to have their voice heard as equals to men. Many Quaker women were ministers of the faith. In June 1848, the Yearly Meeting discussed a resolution to eliminate the Quaker practice of separate meetings for women and men. Suffragists Mary Ann McClintock, Martha Wright and Jane Hunt attended that meeting and, already being revved up about the issue when they joined Elizabeth Cady Stanton for tea in Waterloo, they set in motion the first Woman’s Rights Convention. Stanton (a non-Quaker) repeated her convention speech at Farmington in October 1848.

Today the hamlet is best known for the annual fireman's parade and carnival and the Friends and St. John's Lutheran churches.

Plans are in the works to apply for a roadside marker grant to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation Legends and Folklore grant program. If funds are granted, a marker explaining how folklore became “truth” will be placed in the recreation park located in Pumpkin Hook. Readers who have played “telephone” when they were younger will certainly appreciate the story of how New Salem got its name changed to Pumpkin Hook. One basic thing about a folklore is, usually there is a slight thread of truth in it.

Allegedly, the folklore tale began with Randall Phetteplace, who related this “tale” to Charles H. Gardner when he was a young boy (around 1860). It goes like this — the Hathaways grew pumpkins for feeding their stock, and one day a man from a distance came with team and wagon and purchased a load of pumpkins. He intended to take them where they were less plentiful and sell them. He put up at a hotel for the night. While the good people of New Salem were sleeping, some fun loving boys hooked the pumpkins. The next morning the man found the wagon empty and every resident discovered pumpkins on their porches. The news soon spread and there on people would be asked if they had been down to the “pumpkin hook.”

A slightly different story was documented in a 1939 local newspaper. “The farmers planted pumpkin seeds which they had brought from New England. As the harvest moon shone over the fertile land, the legend discloses, a number of the ripe golden pumpkins were 'hooked”' from the fields by the less ambitious settlers, good 'Friends' though they were.” (In early times, hook was a description for stealing.)

Both stories are fun to hear (and repeat) but the truth is that sometime in the 1830s, a local politician (name unknown) used Pumpkin Hook as a pen name when writing a series of letters to a local paper. (No documentation exists to explain the mystery of the name.) He was protesting a proposal to relocate the county and town boundaries which would transfer the New Salem village from Ontario County to Wayne county. Obviously the proposal was not approved, but New Salem unofficially became known as “Pumpkin Hook” after the letters were published.

Postal records record a New Salem and Farmington but not a Pumpkin Hook. The New Salem post office was established on Jan. 20, 1818. On July 13, 1820, it was changed to Farmington. It was then dissolved on Dec. 23, 1901. Although New Salem appears on county atlases after 1818, it was never incorporated as a village.

While writing this article I am reminded of the line “a rose by any other name ...” from William Shakespeare’s play "Romeo and Juliet." To me, New Salem/Pumpkin Hook is Farmington’s rose — shopping is non-existent there, but the beauty of open farm land is reminiscent of days gone by. Many descendants of the early pioneers live there. They are proud of their small hamlet and are always willing to share the telling of its history. Just ask them!

 

References

Preston Pierce, OCHS Education Coordinator/Ontario County Historian

1988 Town of Farmington Bicentennial book

Preston Pierce, OCHS Education Coordinator/Ontario County Historian

Newspaper articles

Town archives

"History of Farmington" by A.B.Katkamier

"History of New Salem" by Charles Gardner