In a recent article on the possibility of bringing hop culture back to Otsego County, numerous errors about the history of hop growing in our county were made.
Hops did not come to Otsego County in 1808. That is the date that James Collidge moved to Bouckville in Madison County. He is credited with being the first to grow hops in New York state. Hops probably reached our county shortly thereafter, but no sure date is known. By the 1830s, Otsego County was the center of hop growing and would be so until the early 20th century.
Hop production did not die out by 1890. It was actually still going strong as we produced 50 percent of the nation’s crop, 20 million pounds. Even in 1900, we still produced 17 million pounds or 35 percent of the national crop.
The article also cites disease and “a lack of knowledge on hop production” as two reasons for the decline by 1890. Hops were often damaged by diseased like blue mold, but until the great blue mold outbreak in 1912 to 1913, most growers survived. With the spraying of powdered sulfur, the disease could be controlled. By 1913, other factors made hops a less attractive crop, especially milk production as a more-profitable and -secure farm product.
We had been growing hops since the early 1800s, so why in 1890 would we suddenly lose the knowledge of “hop production?” New York hops were considered the gold standard of American-grown hops in the 19th century. Yorkers were the best at growing, drying and selling hops in the nation. Even when we were in decline, our hops brought a premium.
Our hop history is too important. Let’s state the facts, not created information.
Albert C. Bullard
Bullard is a retired history teacher with a master’s degree in American folklife studies who has studied Otsego County’s hop-growing history for more than 40 years.