Manuscript Letter Copy Book of A. F. Purdy & Co., of Bernhard’s Bay, Oswego County, New York, purveyor of silica sand, used for making Glass, 1886-1895

Quarto, 255 pages, approximately 220 letters, dated 14 December 1886 to 17 May 1895; bound in half maroon leather, pebbled cloth covered boards, spine mostly chipped away, boards scuffed and rubbed, corners and edges worn, several pages/letters have been excised, a couple of others loose; index in front, only has three entries; a couple of letters are invoices sent to customers; several letters faded, but overall are quite legible.

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        Alfred Fanchero Purdy (1839-aft 1913)

Alfred F. Purdy was born on 5 November 1839, in the village of Constantia, Oswego County, New York, the son of Sylvanus Purdy (1810-) a carpenter/joiner, and his wife Cornelia (1802-1879). In the available U.S Census records and New York State Census records from 1840 to 1910, Purdy is always found in Constantia, Oswego County, New York, and appears to have lived his entire life in the town.

In the 1860 Federal Census Alfred F. Purdy was listed as a “teamster,” his father Sylvanus was a carpenter and joiner. Soon after this census, Purdy joined the military, serving with Company K, 110th NY Infantry during the Civil War. He enlisted on 9 August 1862 in Constantia, New York and mustered out on 31 December 1863.

The 1865 New York State Census for Constantia shows Purdy working as a shoemaker and married to Elizabeth and the father of two children (Emma and Nellie). The couple was married on 14 January 1865. By 1870, Purdy’s occupation was listed as “boating.” The 1880 Census shows Purdy and his wife Elizabeth still living in Constantia, Oswego Co., New York. No occupation was listed. The NY State Census of 1892 has Purdy listed as a “speculator” in the town of Constantia, but does not identify what he was speculating in. For the years 1893-1894 we find Alfred F. Purdy was an Overseer of the Poor for the town of Constantia.

When the 1900 Census was taken Purdy and his wife were listed as having had two children, but both children had died by 1900. In 1900, there is an 18-year-old girl living with them, listed as an adopted daughter. They owned their own home and Purdy was listed as a farmer. Purdy was listed as a day laborer in the 1905 New York Census, and was still married to Elizabeth.

Purdy filed for a veteran’s pension on 23 April 1913. He died a year later at Bernhard’s Bay on 19 June 1914. His wife died at the Masonic Home in Utica, New York, on 21 February 1920.

       A. F. Purdy & Co. of Bernhard’s Bay, New York

Nowhere in the census records do we find Alfred F. Purdy being involved in a glass sand company. A.F Purdy & Company was located in Bernhard’s Bay. Bernhard’s Bay was a hamlet within the town of Constantia. The hamlet was a station on the New York and Oswego Midland railroad and as early as 1865, the town had a hundred and sixty inhabitants. Glass was first made at Bernhard’s Bay in 1852 by a stock company.  In the early days they had a general country store in connection with the glass-works, which was owned by Stevens, Crandall & Co. This works employed about sixty men, and manufactured nearly thirty thousand boxes of glass per year. Later once sand deposits were discovered in Bernhard’s Bay and other neighboring villages, several other glassworks and iron furnaces were opened in the area, which in turn led to the founding of A.F. Purdy & Co., who mined the sand for the glassworks in the area and elsewhere in New York State, and for iron works.

Since the census records of 1860, 1870, 1880, 1892 (state), and 1900, all show various occupations of Purdy outside of A.F. Purdy & Co., it is unclear when exactly his company was founded. The letter copy book offered here starts on 14 December 1886 and runs to 17 May 1895. The 1880 federal census listed Purdy with no occupation, and then the next time we find him is the 1892 New York state census, where he was listed as a “speculator,” but not what he was speculating in. Possibly it was this glass sand company.

A number of the letter copies are signed by F.L.M. or F.L. Marsden, who appears to be Frank Lee Marsden (1857-1923), of Constantia, New York. Marsden is found in the 1880 Census as a clerk in a store at Constantia. When the 1892 New York State Census was taken he was enumerated at Constantia as a merchant. By 1900 he was listed as a banker at Constantia, thus A. F. Purdy & Co. appears to represent just one part of Marsden’s professional life. Besides his involvement with Purdy, Marsden’s death notice of 9 May 1923, mentions that he was a former postmaster and supervisor in Oneida, a banker, and also ran a steamboat for several years on Oneida Lake. He was also treasurer of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Bernhard’s Bay.

The 56th Annual Report of the New York State Museum’s geologist in 1902, provides us some background information on the business of silica sand   and glass in New York State, and A.F. Purdy & Co’s production.

Glass sand was worked in the towns of Rome, Verona and Vienna, Oneida County, and Constantia (Bernhard’s Bay), Oswego County. The sand was underlain in considerable areas, varied in thickness from 6 inches to 3 feet, was covered by a few inches of soil and underlain by ‘hardpain,’ frequently containing bog iron ore.

The process of getting the sand to market was first the layer of soil was stripped off, the sand taken out and washed in sheet iron sieves with ¼ inch perforations. Passing into troughs, the sand was stirred in water and thus freed from fine and light impurities, which made it ready for shipment.

The sand was used in the manufacture of window glass and bottles, and to some extent, in steel mills. For these purposes, it was shipped to Rochester, Ithaca, Lockport, Black Rock, Syracuse, Clyde, etc.

The output of A.F. Purdy for the year 1902 was 2500 tons., its competitors were: J.L. Bentley, Fish Creek (200-300 tons); E.H. Cook & Bros, Bernhard’s Bay (5000 tons); A.L. Gifford, Rome (1000 tons); & William Williams, Durhamville (a few barrels).

Many of the letters in this letter copy book show Purdy & Co.’s most frequent customers as being Ithaca Glass Works and the Washington Glass Co., both located  in Ithaca, New York; and the Canastota Glass Co., at Canastota, New York, at least for the years 1886 to 1891. Other glassworks mentioned are Dunbarton Glass Works, at Dunbarton, New York; United Glass Co., of Syracuse, New York; Scranton Glass Co., Pennsylvania; and others. The letter copies also show that the company was pricing costs of transporting the sand by the New York City & Hudson River Railroad and the New York Ontario & Western Railroad. The railroads appear to have been used when water navigation stopped for the season. Boats were cheaper.

While the bulk correspondence is business related and shows the workings of the glass sand business, the costs of sand, costs of freight by boat and train, who they are selling to, bank notes exchanged, etc., there are also several personal letters concerning Marsden’s family and personal life. Marsden, in one letter, writes to his mother assuring her that he will send money when she needs it, and another letter to his uncle asking for money owed to his father. Another letter written to J.F. Landgraff discusses local politics, and yet another letter relates his attempts to start a coronet band in the community.

There are also several later letters from the 1890s to the Victoria Paper Mill Co., of Fulton, New York, which was buying train car loads of timber from Purdy & Co., perhaps another line of company selling the timber on their lands.

       Sample Quotes

“S. Goodman, A.G.F. Agt, N.Y.C. & H.R. RR, [December 1886]


Dear Sir,

We have from 300 to 500 tons of glass sand to transport from this place to Canastota N.Y. We desire to ship by your line from Oneida. What is the very best rate you can name us per ton in car lots between those points? Any early reply will greatly oblige.


Yours truly,

A.F. Purdy & Co.

Per F.L.M.”




“Bernhard’s Bay, NY, Dec 14, 1886


O.E. Frazer, Sec’y etc.

Canastota, NY

Canastota Glass Co.

Dear Sir,


Replying to your letter of Dec 11th, would say that as we wrote you, we would prefer shipping the larger part for the sand this fall while the weather is perhaps more mild than later on. However, if the winter should be an open one, we could probably ship it about as you would want 2 or 3 cars per week.


The larger part of the sand is back in the lot and to such an extent as to prevent our getting to it, that is one reason why we would prefer to ship now. However, we will ship you what you want per week as long as the weather will permit. Of course, you understood by our last letter that the price was to be 95 cents per ton f.o.b. here. Please let us hear from you.


Yours truly, A.F. Purdy & Co.

P.S. If not too much trouble please have your clerk make a complete statement of our sand a/c to date & forward by early mail.”



“Bernhard’s Bay, NY, Feb 16, 1887


J.F. Landgraff, Cleveland, NY


Dear Bro:


You spoke of a caucus to be held at Temperance Hall to place in nomination a temperance excise commissioner for the middle district and also of a suitable candidate for the place. The Republicans here are speaking of John P. Winn as their candidate. If he is nominated do not think we could do better than support him. Mr. Winn is an ex good Templar, a temperance man and would if elected I believe vote ‘no license.’ Republican caucus will be held on Friday previous to town meetings and if he is not nominated would have time to put up some one ourselves. I am confident that he will be nominated if Republicans in this district are not over ruled and I have good reasons for thinking they will not be. I have had no conversation with Winn in regard to it but think he would accept the nomination if tendered him. Write me what your idea is and oblige, Fraternally, F.L. Marsden”



“May 9, [188]7, Washington Glass Co,, Ithaca, NY


Gents: How is your sand holding out? It now looks as tho w could not get a load to you before the 20th possibly later. In case you should get short could you not obtain some from the Ithaca Works to last until we could get some there. An early reply will greatly oblige.


Yours truly, A.F. Purdy & Co.”



“May 13, [188]7, Washington Glass Co., Ithaca, NY



Your letter received and noted. We have made all calculations to send you one load of sand and the boat is here waiting for her load. When I was there you said you should want a load on opening of navigation and we held the boat from the opening of navigation until now in order to get this load to you early. It will be serious inconvenience to us not to send it and would like to have you consent to take it. Please write us.

Yours etc.,

A.F. Purdy & Co.”



“July 7, [188]7, Ithaca Glass Works, Ithaca, NY



Your favor of 5th inst is at hand and noted. We will send you one load some day next week and more will follow it as fast as we can get it there conveniently.


Thanking you for your valued order we remain, Yours Truly A.F. Purdy & Co.


P.S. We can send probably about one boat load per week.”



“July 20 [188]7, Capt. D. Miller, Canastota, NY


Dear Sir,

In reply to your letter of 19th inst would say that neither the Foster or Earl are in the lake after sand altho we expect the Foster in this week. The Earl has had but one load of sand this season from us and that was when she went out this spring. I was in Syracuse last week and the Earl was there and he wanted a load very bad and we told him that he might come in and take a load for Ithaca about the 25 or 26 of this mo. If you can figure to bring in a load of coal for the Co. we can give you a load out for Ithaca in 3 or 4 days after the Earl is loaded. We have no Canastota boating for anyone at present and I understood from what you said this spring that you would prefer not to take a load for Ithaca. The Glass Co. is not ready for its hard coal now as they haven’t taken an inventory. If you went to come in light you can have a load for Ithaca in about a week or so from now. You would have time to make a short trip somewhere else if you want to. Please write me upon receipt of this if you will come and about when you will be here.


Yours truly, A.F. Purdy & Co.”