One of the definitions in the dictionary for the word remarkable is ‘worthy of attention’ and the life of Erastus Crook, an early pioneer in the Tuna Valley, fits that description. Erastus spent a lifetime struggling to support a family and to make a living on a farm on the banks of the Tuna Creek (now known as the Crook Farm on Seaward Avenue and owned by the Bradford Landmark Society), and his life is a lesson in the hardships that early Tuna Valley settlers faced.
Erastus Crook was born on January 19, 1800, in Piedmont, New Hampshire, the child of Benjamin and Mary Crook. There were fourteen children in the family, including eight boys: Benjamin, Ira, Samuel, Frink, William, Joseph, Orlando, and Erastus; and six girls: Ruth, Behulah, Sarah, Susannah, Louise and Ida.
Before 1820, the family moved to Holland, N.Y., and on May 7, 1824 Erastus married sixteen-year-old Betsey Barron from the neighboring town of Cold Springs.
Four years later he rented land from the Holland Land Company along the Tuna Creek in neighboring Pennsylvania, and in 1828 the Crooks, with their young daughter Caroline, traveled by canoe from Olean down the Allegany River and up the Tunungwant Creek. There they settled, cleared the brush, farmed the land, and eventually had six more children: two boys and four girls. It is believed that he was also a shoemaker and a storekeeper, as well as a farmer.
Exact information on those early years is unavailable, but it is believed that in 1853 Erastus bought a small farm consisting of 142 acres north of Bradford on the banks of the Tuna creek, now known as the Crook Farm. The farmhouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1876, was also built that year and is believed to be the oldest house still in existence in the Bradford area.
Life on the farm was hard. The Crooks plowed the fields, tended the animals and harvested the crops, made their own shoes, candles, wove cloth on looms, tapped the maple trees for syrup, and did their own carpentry. Food was cooked over an open fireplace and later a wood burning stove. The women grew a large vegetable garden, canned and preserved, baked bread, churned butter, made cheese and milked cows. Water was hauled from water from a well.
Erastus also kept a day to day accounting of life on the farm. Portions of that diary survived and were found years later in a drawer of an upstairs room in the old farm house. The diary begins on April 23, 1859, and reads “a very snowy blustering day — done but little work only to take care of my cattle.”
June 1859 saw a killing frost in the valley. He writes “the hardest freeze that I have known since 1816; everything that could be killed by freezing was killed last night. Everything seems to be dressed in mourning. I do not know what we will do — the only way is to trust in providence.”
Erastus, now fifty-nine years old, began to suffer tremendous pain in his ankles and legs (probably Rheumatoid arthritis) and wrote often of the suffering he experienced. That spring he wrote “beautiful weather this morning. Everything seems to rejoice in the returning of Spring. Birds are singing and making melody in the air; if my ankles were well, I should feel to rejoice with them, but the pain takes all the comfort away…” He speaks of visiting the German doctor “down in the valley.” Erastus writes “I have tried most everything that I can think of. How thankful anyone ought to be that has the use of their limbs. If ever I have the use of mine again, I will try to praise the Lord for it…”
Occasionally, his wife Betsey (Erastus refers to her only as “Mrs. Crook) walked to Limestone to purchase medicine; neighbors would stop by with home remedies. But a farmer’s life cannot stop or slow, and Erastus, with the help of his sons, William and Edgar, planted corn, potatoes, turnips, cabbage, cucumbers, flax; and milked cows, butchered hogs, and raised chickens. In 1860 he sheared the sheep — a job he detested — and noted that they now owned 24 sheep and lambs. “If we do not lose anymore, we shall have sixteen left after paying our sheep debts.”
On November 5, 1860, he wrote “this is election day. Presidential. I hope success to old Lincoln.” He only spoke of the Civil War once — on Independence Day, July 1861. The war had begun in April of that year. Erastus said, “I presume there will be some lives lost foolishly. I hope not. I hope this day will be used as it ought to be.”
As the years went on, Erastus wrote daily of the never ending chores on the farm but always began each entry with a comment on the weather, the chores he has managed to do, and always the physical pain in his legs — the “horrors” he called it.
Things changed for the better when an oil well was drilled on a corner of the farm. Called the Olmstead Well, it commenced production in the summer of 1875 and became one of the most successful oil wells on the Tuna flats. Although the Crooks owned only a very small royalty of the well, and never became rich, that small income made life on the Crook Farm much easier.
The diary ends on June 2, 1866. Erastus Crook died December 10, 1877. He was 77 years old. He is buried, beside his wife, in Limestone Cemetery.