Cranberry Industry Dwindling

Footnotes to Long Island History


DECEMBER. 22, 1949     


Thomas R. Bayles

       About 50 years ago, cranberry growing was an important industry in the Manorville, Calverton and Riverhead section of Suffolk County. The largest marsh was operated by Sylvester N. Woodhull of Riverhead and other large growers were the Perkins company of Riverhead, E. L. Brown of Calverton and George L. Davis of Manorville.

       According to an article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1897, the Woodhull marsh was the largest one and its production that year was estimated at more than 3,000 bushels of cranberries, which were bringing about $3 per bushel at that time. About 25,000 bushels were harvested annually form all the marshes in that section of Long Island during those years.

       Cranberries were set out out along the lowlands near the river where water was available, and the land of little value for anything else. The plant beds were made perfectly level and covered with white sand. The plants were set out in even rows about a foot apart so as to give them plenty of room to grow. Later in the season after the plants had a chance to grow and spread out, a visitor could see only a level carpet of beautiful green, broken here and there by a ditch by which water was brought in to flood the marshes when necessary.

       The bogs were flooded at times during the summer to protect them against insects, and in the fall when the crop was ready for harvest, if frost threatened the crop. Again, after harvest the marshes were flooded to protect the plants during the winter, and drained off in the spring in time for the plants to blossom.

       In harvesting the crop, the marshes were lined off in sections with strings so as to keep the pickers working in order. Each picker was assigned a section and picked the berries in pans, which were emptied into pails. The filled pails were taken to one of the foremen who gave the picker a ticket for each pail. These were paid for at the rate of 12 cents each and as anyone could make good wages at that price, there was no shortage of pickers. Many of the pickers lived in bunk houses at the edge of the marshes during the picking season.

       After the crop was harvested, the marshes were flooded and the loose or drift berries would float to the surface and were easily gathered. Then about two feet of water was allowed to cover the field from about the middle of November until the next May.

       Cranberry growing, which was such a profitable and important activity on the Island years ago, has dwindled away during recent years, as is shown by the following item that appeared in the Produce Packer of October. 19,1949.

       "Cranberries, once a crop of considerable importance on Eastern Long Island, are an also-ran today. About the only commercial marshes left are Brown marsh at Calverton and the Davis marsh in Manorville. Harvesting at these two plants ended three weeks ago and it is understood that the crop was not particularly profitable."

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