Imagine someone putting “Skaneateles” on something and selling it as an authentic souvenir of our fair village. Well, you don’t have to use your imagination, because eBay recently had three items for souvenir hunters, including two postcards that picture Skaneateles and Skaneateles Falls as ocean resorts, and a sailboat ashtray that had me pondering a bid.
In 1887, at Rose Hill, in the southern part of the Town of Marcellus, Frank B. Mills began selling seeds, turning a boyhood fascination into a business. For his first catalog, he bought a hand press, set the type, and did the printing himself. He mailed out 3,000 copies and garnered 118 customers.
By 1890, he was taking so many orders that Rose Hill needed its own post office. Frank B. Mills, conveniently, was named postmaster. In 1892, he was succeeded by his brother, William E. Mills.
By 1895, the F.B. Mills Company had 400,000 customers, and by 1903, 800,000. Catalogs and seeds were mailed all over the world from the little post office at the front of the warehouse.
Mills lived nearby at his Fairview Farm, married to the former Grace Ackles of Spafford. His company employed more than 200 people, and peaked in size in 1908, when F.B. Mills Co. printed and mailed more than 1.5 million catalogs. World War I, the Depression and World War II all took their toll on the business, and in 1953 it closed forever.
There’s a fuller history at saveseeds.org.
The firm of Livingston, Williams & Hunt sold “dry goods” in Skaneateles from 1899 to 1934. The principals were Herbert A. Livingston, H.B. Williams and Charles W. Hunt; they offered everything from wallpaper to ladies’ dresses, but I am drawn to them by their trade in cameras, film, photo albums, postcards, stationery and fountain pens. Also, they received daily weather reports via telegraph and posted each day’s forecast in their window, a service that ended, lamentably, in 1919.
They had their postcards printed in Germany, from photos they took and developed in Skaneateles at their “Lakeside Studio.” World War I brought an end to the trade in German-printed postcards, but several beautiful examples of the firm’s work from approximately 1905 to 1915 survive in private collections and at the Skaneateles Historical Society’s Creamery Museum.
Published by Wm. Jubb Co., Syracuse, N.Y.