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2. Butchers

G. D. Dooer Letterhead

1885 letterhead from G. D. Dooer’s butcher establishment in Avon, NY. Any business transactions that occurred over longer distances, in this case to the Wadsworth family, were conducted via mail.

G. D. Dooer's butcher shop in East Avon, NY

A section of Avon's Main St. from the 1872 "Livingston County Atlas." G. D. Dooer’s Fresh and Salt Meats business is located immediately next to the school that is marked in green.

By 1885, many places across the United States (mostly big cities like Chicago) saw rapid, industrialized development of meat processing and shipping. In Western New York, however, raising livestock and butchering meat remained a fairly localized practice. Railroad and canal transport were both employed to greatly increase the Genesee Valley’s ability to transport its dry goods, but food preservation technologies were still limited for items that would spoil easily such as meat. Early refrigerated train cars saw continuous experimentation with placement of meat and ice. Some cars that placed the meat on racks high above a mixture of water and ice were known to tip when going around curves at high speeds, and so the most typical design in the late 1880s was one that relied on warm air in the car to be cooled by ice in an upper compartment, so that it would sink again and cool the meat below. This design required the ice to be replaced as it melted, making it a high-maintenance process.

Because refrigeration technologies were primitive, and many people in the Genesee Valley had access to local sources of meat or raised their own livestock, meat was butchered and bought locally. G. D. Dooer, for example, was a dealer in both fresh and salted meats—his products were either eaten quickly after purchase, or preserved with salt to last far longer. Dooer’s business operated in Avon, NY, and according to his ledger, he dealt in small quantities similar to what one would buy at a modern butcher. None of the legible names in the ledger belonged to any surrounding businesses, and so it stands to reason that Dooer mainly dealt directly with the consumer. The consumer also would most likely not have gone very far to make these purchases. Late 19th century Avon is a fairly typical example of what other towns in the Genesee Valley looked like at the time. The main street has the highest concentration of homes, businesses and other establishments, with a few side roads developing as the town grows. The people of Avon and perhaps from a few neighboring towns would not have had far to travel to obtain meat for their meals.  

Citizens of the City of Rochester had more options for meat purchasing than those who lived in towns like Avon. Farmers closer to the city, along the Erie Canal, or those who could use refrigerated cars could sell their meat at any of the 162 meat markets in the area. In 1884, protests against a stockyard and a slaughterhouse prompted the Board of Health to order their removal beyond city limits. While the city was dealing with higher volumes of meat production, smaller towns saw smaller-scale operations that were far less intrusive and even sources of pride. Outside the city, local farmers focused on breeding their best livestock and even participated in fairs and contests—in 1890, G. D. Dooer won several prizes for his sheep and his lambs.

Sources Consulted

—Dooer, G. D. 1836- (George D. ). Ledger., 1883.

—McKelvey, Blake. "The History of Public Health in Rochester, New York."Rochester History 18.3    (1956): n. pag. Web.

—United States. Assembly of the State of New York. New York State Agricultural Society. Annual Report of the New York State Agricultural Society. By W. Judson Smith. Vol. 13. Albany: n.p., 1891. Print.