Biography of Frances Harriet Price Zufelt 
Rural Life Along Lake Ontario
Town of Richland, NY

Contributed by Julie Litts Robst.  Many thanks for sharing this wonderful history and accomplishments of a member of her family, Frances Zufelt.  So much has been written 
on the lives of men, while sadly neglecting the contributions of women in history.  

Frances Harriet Price Zufelt - Born, August 21, 1901 at Port Ontario, 
Richland Township, Oswego County, New York - Died, October 09, 1999 at 
Oswego, Oswego County, New York.

Newspaper Article - May 24, 1988 Salmon River News - Pulaski, New York
Frances Zufelt, Rural Life Along Lake Ontario.
    When the Oswego County Legislature named Frances Zufelt co-runner up for 
Oswego County Senior Citizen of the Year a couple of weeks ago, they honored 
a woman who honorably represents her generation of feminine strength and 
loyalty in rural America, a woman who combines the exemplary traits of 
mother, daughter, grandmother, wife, teacher, helper and volunteer. She has 
told fragments of her life story on tape for the Pulaski Historical Society 
Museum and in interviews. The highlights in this article are combined from 
both sources.
    Frances Zufelt came from hardy stock. Her ancestors were the pioneers who 
settled the west when the west for New Englanders was the densely forested, 
unknown land of New York State. Some of these ancestors fought in the War of 
Independence before they went west; others on the family tree fought in the 
Civil War after they moved here.
    The land along the shores of Lake Ontario in the winter were bitter cold 
when the pioneers arrived in wagons with all their family possessions and the 
family cow hitched behind when the century turned over to 1800. They usually 
came in January and February when they could cross the many streams, rivers 
and marshes while they were frozen. Otherwise they would have to wait until 
summer and that would be to late to plant crops for harvesting before the 
next winter.
    The family's all-purpose horse would pull the heavy load and if they were 
fortunate enough they would bring a team of oxen, though that was a rare sign 
of wealth. Some of them arrived to the harshness of crude camps built in 
clearings by the men the season before; others less fortunate finished their 
first winters here in crude lean-to's and even tents. Some of them were 
running from religious and government oppression; others pioneered for the 
opportunity to be landowners.
    Their new land was inhabited by all kinds of wild animals, bears, 
panthers, timber wolves, lynx, deer and rivers teaming with salmon. Some were 
fearsome to humans, others provided their daily food. Indians camped along 
the river and lake during the good weather where they fished and hunted.
    Those early pioneers who survived were made of tough threads. The 
struggles carving farms out of forest never touched before by man made men 
out of young boys. Hauling water from hand dug wells, keeping fires in open 
hearths, preparing food from what was available in the wild, making soap, 
candles, maple sugar, weaving the cloth to make all the family clothes, 
having babies without medical care and combating illness that took many 
lives, sometimes wiping out entire families.
    Frances Zufelt's heritage was established in the beginning of local 
history. She is the great-great-grandchild of Benjamin Winch, a surveyor who 
came from New England to help mark out the parcels of the new land and became 
a useful and influential citizen in the he area. He settled first in Mexico, 
then moved up the lakeshore to the mouth of the Salmon River in 1801, then up 
the river to what was then named Fish Creek (now Pulaski) where he opened the 
first tavern about 1806 on land by the river now occupied by the Log Cabin 
    Frances was born in 1901 in the same house her father was born in 40 
years before on a farm located on the east side of Route 3 across from the 
Pine Grove entrance to Selkirk Shores State Park at Port Ontario, the 
daughter of Harriet Daphne Brown and Henry Davis Price.
    She would spend her early life in the district where the family names 
still bear out her ancestry today. Her mother's family descended from 
Benjamin Winch through the marriage of his daughter, Sally, to Daniel Brown
their nine children and grandchildren. Brown was the first settler on the 
north side of the Salmon River. His family that included the Twitchell's
settled where the Joss and Heilig farms are now located.
    Frances suspects many of her ancestors came here from Connecticut and the 
Hudson River area after the Erie Canal opened up in 1825. Many of them 
stopped for a year or so at places like Saratoga Springs, breaking up the 
trip. Some of them were exciting characters and their lives portray different 
aspects of pioneer life along the shores of Lake Ontario.
    Her father's mother was Julia Ann Litts, who was born in 1825 and came 
with her family from Kinderhook in 1830. Information on a deed reveals that 
Daniel H. Litts, a shoemaker and farmer, bought 100 acres of land for $1000 
at Port Ontario, a large sum of money at that time. The Litts family once 
owned all the land from Route 3 to the lake, they sold for Selkirk Shores 
State Park in the 1920's. Frances Zufelt remembers a large chestnut grove 
that eventually blasted.
    The Price ancestry includes Colonel Rufus Price, a colonel in the 
Revolutionary Army, an aide in Washington's staff, and a pensioner who 
settled in Richland in 1808. His wife was Ruth Grant who was related to 
General Grant. Rufus Price dealt out land from his farm some place around 
Douglaston Manor to what is now Atkinson Road. This is one of the ancestral 
branches of the Barclay family.
    Porter Price was a colorful character. He became a sailor in his teens 
when 14 to 16 year-olds were considered men. He became a commercial vessel 
Captain on the Great Lakes. There was a story told about him being honored 
and presented with a gold-headed cane for being the first boat to break 
through the ice of Lake Superior one year and take needed goods to the people.
    Mrs. Zufelt also remembers that her great-great-grandmother Schmidt spoke 
only Dutch and that embarrassed her grandmother Julia's brother Lewis Litts
because she couldn't speak English. Her great-grandfather, Ralph Price, had 
three wives including Rebecca Weed, the mother of all the children, her 
sister Polly, and Aunt Fanny Gillette.
    It was not unusual for men to have several wives since women did not 
endure the hardships of pioneer life as well. There were many illnesses 
including consumption, typhoid, tuberculosis, smallpox, and other childhood 
diseases that were killers in those times. Not the least of these was 
    "Everyone between Port Ontario and Grindstone Creek were related." 
Frances says, "I lived in a very small household, an only child and there 
were very few children in our district. There were three cases of marriage 
between the Litts' and Price's. We didn't know anyone outside our school 
district. I never knew Lewis Zufelt in my younger days even though he was 
born and grew up just a few miles up the road on Route 3."
    She remembers the one and a half story house had a well room lined with 
racks for the milk pans used for setting the cream that was later churned 
into butter. She imagines the hard work it took to clear the 100 acres of 
farm land that supported the family of three daughters and one son. There is 
a story remembered of her grandmother, who married in 1850, when she walked 
through the dense forest to see the train on the new railroad.
    Harvest time was exciting for a small child in late August, she says, 
recalling the neighbors exchanging help to get the hay in, stack the oats, 
and thresh the oats to mash with a thresher powered by soft coal. "It was a 
hot and heavy job. The women served enormous meals."
    Frances went to school at District 12 - the Bethel District where the 
community center is now located on the north side of the Salmon River at the 
intersection of Lake Road. But she couldn't go there all year. When the river 
froze over, then thawed and flooded the causeway, it was dangerous for anyone 
to cross, so she went off to school at the Page District across from the main 
entrance to Selkirk Shores State Park where Murphy's restaurant is now 
located, a mile walk from her house.
    Rural schools were much alike. Mrs. Zufelt remembers there was a front 
entry flanked by two coatrooms and a shelf for the water pail. Water was 
carried by the pail from the neighbors house and raising and lowering the 
flag was a privilege. There was a wood burning box stove built of cast iron.
    There were eight grades in the country schools. "I believe I was the only 
one on my grade and for years I was the youngest child. There were not many 
children in the area and it seemed like there were not many all over." Mrs. 
Zufelt says.
    She remembers the names Twitchell's, Allport's, Cliff Lynn, Audrey 
Seiter, Litts', the Sharp sisters when she grew up and attended the Bethel 
School. She went to the Page District with the Atkinson's, Gladys, Mabel, 
Fred and Cole (their two brother's drowned in Grindstone Creek), Earl 
Waterbury, Martin and Marvin Robbins and others she would meet again in a new 
role - as their teacher. Her teachers were Nellie Price Brown, Frances Brown 
and Martha Ingersoll.
    When Frances was nearing the finish of the eighth grade and after she had 
passed her regents, Principal Bartlett from the Pulaski school district paid 
a visit on her parents and encouraged them to send her to school in the 
village. Her fatal flaw, she says was math, she was required to pay tuition 
until she conquered it.
    "I stayed with my Aunt Eva (Calkins) Litts, widow of Fred Litts, who had 
died in 1909. Fred Litts II inherited the farm so she moved to the village. I 
paid her $1.25 board per week. It was a labor of love for my mother to hitch 
up the horse and take me to Pulaski every Monday morning and pick me up every 
Friday. She would bring meat and vegetables to help with my expenses."
    Frances thought high school was a "pleasant interlude" and enjoyed the 
debating societies. One of her classmates was Miss Mack, known later to many 
in the community as Mrs. Lura Sharp.
    "We had two bad years of the flu, I think 1914 and 1917. Then during 
1919, we were in World War I, and country school teachers were scarce because 
teachers were going to work at other things for better pay and the war 
effort. I knew I was going to graduate from high school (despite the problem 
with math that she eventually conquered - even algebra, geometry and 
intermediate algebra.) "It was a great thrill and accomplishment to graduate 
from high school. One day J. M. Bonner called me out of chapel, which was 
study hall, and asked me to go to training school because there was a great 
need for teachers in the rural schools."
    An avid reader of the Saturday Evening Post, she read about a program 
available for high school graduates to attend normal school and obtain a 
permit to teach two years in a district school. She decided to graduate and 
pursue that avenue.
    "I took the six-week course at Oswego Normal by the lake. I didn't learn 
a darn thing, but I had lots of fun. When I finished I went back to teach at 
the Page District, the same kids I went to school with, some of them smarter 
than me. But we had no problems. When I played with them on the playground, I 
was Frances. When I was in the school I was Miss Price."
    She earned $12 per week the first year, $15 per week the second year. 
"They were two wonderful years. I had some triumphs and one defeat - a girl 
who hated school and couldn't wait to quit and two boys I couldn't teach to 
    Frances was one of a few local girls, including Katherine Brown and Ruth 
Calkins Whitcomb, who went to Albany in 1921 to earn a four year teaching 
degree. The tuition was free, room and board money had to be earned.
    "We drove to Richland and waited for the Rochester train. It cost $11 
round trip. We didn't come home much except for holidays. It was very strict. 
We couldn't take cuts like they do today."
    When she graduated with her A. B. degree, she came back and taught in the 
Bellville and Adams schools. While she was at Adams, she married Lewis Zufelt 
in 1927.
    "It was naughty to get married when you were under contract to teach in 
those days I was boarding. When it came time to renew my contract, that was 
it." She and Lewis were paying for a home on the Port Road near the 
intersection of Route 3. "I wasn't going to be away. I was a young lady and 
feisty, not in tune with the employment situation. Nobody was going to tell 
me where to live. We were entering the 30's. Times weren't good. I was lucky 
to get a job at Shortsville as a librarian and English teacher where there 
were 100 students in the high school. I ended up having to board away during 
the week anyway. I went to Syracuse University for two summer schools to hold 
my job. I stayed for four years until I got pregnant and we had our home farm 
paid for."
    "We had to live hand to mouth then. We had two children born at the Port, 
Elinor and John. Lewis was working at the park on the C C C project under the 
military. It was a lifesaver for us. We moved to the Zufelt farm on Route 3 
Jan. 1, 1938 when Lewis' mother died. We sold the house and three acres at 
the Port to pay the mortgage on the farm. Then Charlie Brooks was good enough 
to finance us with 6% interest so we could buy cattle and equipment. The day 
we finally paid that debt, I went hooping over the hills declaring we own it, 
we own it. It was our home for 39 years."
    "When a teacher was needed at Henderson, I employed a housekeeper who 
wanted a job as bad as I wanted her. I left to board for the week. The first 
week of school, she died in the kitchen. I finished the two days left that 
week and had to resign. Later we had two more children, Thomas and William
better known as Bump. When I was 65 years-old, I accepted a job in the A. P. 
W. junior-senior high school as a librarian. I had 18 credits of library 
science and they needed a trained librarian. It was a wonderful year. Since 
then I submitted at Pulaski and Altmar."
    In the time that lapsed between her teaching days, Frances Zufelt raised 
her family and helped her husband on the Route 3 farm, bought by his maternal 
great-grandfather William Wheeler, with his pension from the Civil War. 
Wheeler is a family name that reaches back into the very early settlement of 
Sandy Creek. Two William Wheelers, father and son, were among the 220 sons of 
the town of Sandy Creek sent to the Union Army and Navy during the rebellion. 
The town raised $35,000 for bounties to volunteers. Only one came home, the 
    "I speculate William Wheeler enlisted in 1862 and then re enlisted in the 
middle of the Civil War because he served four and one half years. His father 
enlisted for just two years service, fought at Gettysburg, and just about 
when his time was to run out, he died in the Mississippi River campaign of a 
disease or wound. He was buried near New Orleans."
    William and Caroline (Massie) Wheeler had three children, two of them 
died in childhood. Their daughter, ora, married Fred Zufelt. The Zufelt farm 
was the place where several Zufelt children of two generations were born, 
including Lewis.
    "When we moved to the farm, it had something we lacked at Port Ontario. 
It had wonderful water that was piped in 1900 across the road and down the 
hill to the house and barn. When the DOT built the road in 1929-30, they 
raised havoc with the free flowing water and broke down the walls of the 
reservoir. They had to be rebuilt." The house was not wired. We got the 
electric line about 1927-28. We used gasoline motors for the washing machine 
and milk machines. Money was scarce. We canned vegetables, made bacon and 
hams and our hens raised eggs. We had red raspberry bushes and sold the 
berries roadside. I bartered the eggs for staples and the children's clothes. 
We increased our herd and sent more milk to Dairylea. We had two horses and 
never more than 30 cows and young stock."
    "When I had Bump, he weighed five pounds soaking wet. The children 
brought yellow roses back from the May Hill school that used to be at the top 
of the hill."
    The May Hill District was named after the David May family who first 
owned and settled the property owned later by the Wheeler and Zufelt's.
    "By 1940, we were in pretty good shape. We were decreasing the mortgage 
and increasing the cash flow. Then came World War II. Lewis registered but 
was deferred because of having young children and a farm. The government 
pressed farmers to produce milk for powdered milk. Dry milk products brought 
less than the price of feed. There was a rebellion in the air. Neighbors 
talked about holding their milk, dumping it on the ground. Lewis was much 
against the strike. He thought it was sinful and wasteful. We made butter. 
Then we tried to haul the milk early. It was terrible. We went to the milk 
plant with the children. The milk was dumped by our neighbors on the ground. 
The government granted an increase. We profited from the efforts of our 
neighbors. We were strike breakers. I feel discomfort with the name."
      "Production Credit was a wonderful thing for us. We made arrangement to 
pay off the property and accomplished it. Finally with the mortgage paid, the 
hours Lewis drove the teams with the lines around his waist were cut down  
because we could accumulate tools. I never kept a diary, I was to busy 
    In the early 50's, Lewis' father died at the age of 84. Lewis' health 
began to fail in the 60's. "One day he came in the house and told me to call 
the auctioneer. I thought he must be worse that we realized. He died in 1969. 
I stayed on the farm until 1977 and then sold it."
    Mrs. Zufelt started a new kind of life when she moved to Pulaski, the 
life of a volunteer. She became active in many organizations and put in some 
traveling time visiting family members and Hawaii.
    She continues to put in her daily walking time around the village and 
expects to return to her volunteer job as soon as the doctor says she can, 
following recent surgery.
    Frances Zufelt, a woman whose generosity is offered in the sincere form 
of honesty and kindness, a woman whose language is laced with wit and 
practical wisdom, a woman whose roots and history insist she maintain a sense 
of loyalty to her community and family, and a woman who shares that special 
gift of enjoying every moment of living with those she comes in contact.

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