Welcome to the History Corner!
Celebrating the rich history of Port Byron, New York, an old Erie Canal village in the Town of Mentz. This site is dedicated to the legacy and heritage of our community as well as a variety of regional historical tidbits. I hope you enjoy your visit and will stop by again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Famous Cherry Tree

Hoffman Vs. Armstrong

Who would think that a cherry pie made at Port Byron, NY during the Civil War would result in a landmark lawsuit for New York State?

It’s true; the lawsuit was even mentioned in the American Forests Magazine. To recap the report, one summer day in 1864 Sarah Hoffman of Port Byron decided to bake a cherry pie. Times being what they were, she did not go to a store for the pie filling. Instead, she simply went to the yard where her brother Dr. William Hoffman had a glorious cherry tree. According to the report, the neighbors house occupied the site where Warren's Coal office once stood. Dr. Hoffman's home was next door and the tree was located between both properties.

The tree had already had a good picking leaving little fruit available from Dr. Hoffman’s favorite tree, so she decided to pick the cherries from the branches that had sprawled and were overhanging their neighbor Abner Armstrong’s property. Sarah used the division fence as a ladder to reach the fruit when the neighbor appeared insisting that she stop what she was doing. Abner felt that any fruit that happened to hang over the fence on his side was rightfully his.

Sarah refused and kept on picking when Abner took matters into his own hands. He began to violently shake the fence causing Sarah to fall. She sustained cuts and sprains. Of course her brother the Doctor filed the lawsuit for restitution for his sister’s pain and suffering. Abner felt he was simply removing a trespasser so he refused to pay a dime.

The case went from the Cayuga County Court System all the way to the Court of Appeals at Albany. New York State had no prior case in which to decide who was the legal owner of the branches that grew over the division fence, so cases from England as well as CT were reviewed. It was decided that the CT law made good sense for the Empire State and was applied to the case. This was the first case of its kind in New York State.

It was decided that the title to the fruit of the tree runs with the title of its trunk, no matter how far the roots and limbs spread. Therefore, Dr. Huffman was determined to be the rightful owner of the fruit on all branches of that tree.

I have no doubt that it was also the most expensive pie ever made in the history of New York State. Many sitcoms and movies have portrayed a similar scene so the lesson learned is to always keep your branches trimmed to avoid them infringing on the property of your neighbor.

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