|A sampling of the items at Half-shire Society|
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
The Osceola Novelty Factory
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Half-shire society and mentioned that the area has a connection to circus performers worldwide. Osceola is a small town in the southwest corner of Lewis County and not far from Richland where Half-shire is located. It was first settled in 1838. Part of the Tug Hill plateau famous for the winter accumulations of snow. The population in the 2010 census was 229 people down from 265 in 2000 when it averaged out to a density of 3 people per square mile. All those statistics should indicate to you that this area has very few people and is fact more woods than anything else. So, how does this tiny town with almost no population have a connection to the circus?
At the turn of the twentieth century, many circus performers used wooden items in their acts for juggling and other performances. Before the mid 1900s, this was the material used for many items that we now make in plastic today. Osceola Novelty Factory was in existence for just a short time, but it quickly became well known. It made items in the middle of the woods and marketed them all over the world to circus and other performers.
It was an ambitious idea when the factory opened in 1896. They lasted only a decade, closing their doors in 1906. However, the factory and its products live on in the memories of residents of the area, some of which remember stories of their grandparents and others working there. A few of the products are still around the area today and Half-shire Society has a few in their collections. While I was there, I was able to see these.
It was located on the south side of the Salmon River. Situated on the east side of the road, between the river and Cemetery Road. The list of products produced during its short run included dumb bells, bowling pins, tops, bowls and vases. All were made out of wood from the forests of Osceola and shipped out after completion. Today the area is known by most people as home of the Fiddler’s Hall of Fame and a great place for snowmobiling, but once it was the manufacturer of novelty items that were shipped around the world.
The photos of the factory and of its employees were taken from a book published years ago on the history of the area. This book and other books on the history of northern Oswego county and southern Lewis county are always available to researchers who visit the society. Those booklets that are still in print may also be available for purchase while you are there, as well as at their display at the Oswego County fair in the summer.