Mohawk Valley Web Logo
rewriting history (past and present) one database at a time
User Name:

Violins plus ginseng

By: Bob Cudmore

Date: 2018-02-10

Violins and Ginseng
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History for 02-10-18

Arch Kested was a violin maker and ginseng grower from Fonda who was the plaintiff in an assault case that had political overtones.

Born in Broadalbin in 1861 to Henry and Lydia Lansing Kested, Arch Kested married Charlotte Craig in 1891. He became proficient in “hand wood turning,” according to his 1940 obituary.

He was a longtime woodworker at “the old steam mill” in Fonda. His obituary stated, “For many years he was recognized as an expert in the art of violin making and was consulted by many people who possessed violins of various makes.”

Amsterdam native Gail Buchner Breen has a Kested violin made in 1895. There is a crack on the back, which has been repaired. Breen said the violin “has a little bit of a froggy sound when the weather is very humid but is very playable.”

Breen added, “It originally belonged to Charles Rockwell, my maternal grandfather, who lived in Galway. He, along with my grandmother on piano and uncle on accordion, played during the breaks at some of the dances locally around Hagadorn Mills many years ago.”

Another Kested violin from 1893, owned by a collector in the region, is playable but also has a small crack on the back.

The fiddle’s back and sides are maple and the front is spruce. The peg board and other parts are ebony.


Kested also was known as the Ginseng King. Ginseng is a root crop that is processed and used as a general health tonic and to treat male sexual dysfunction.

Cornell University has pictures from 1903 posted online showing Kested’s ginseng farm on the Johnstown Road north of Fonda. Kested was shipping ginseng in two tin-lined hardwood barrels to China in 1905. In 1911 Kested and a partner were said to have a $10,000 ginseng crop on hand but were unable to sell it in China because of a war there.

In 1915, Kested reported his ginseng beds were raided twice within a month and about $1000 worth of the roots were stolen. The story reported that Kested sold ginseng in New York City for three to eight dollars a pound. Kested’s ginseng farm was estimated to be the largest in the United States in 1917.


Kested was the plaintiff in a politically charged assault case in 1922. Kested alleged that J. Hooker Cross and his son Irving Cross came to his barn and beat him.

The Crosses were upset at stories Kested allegedly was spreading about them and the Crosses contended Kested started the physical fray with his pitchfork. The Crosses left the scene when Kested’s wife suddenly appeared.

A jury in Fonda could not agree on a verdict against the Crosses that June, according to the Recorder. The trial attracted attention as all three men were prominent (the elder Cross was superintendent of horses at the previous year’s Fonda Fair) and involved in Republican politics.

When Kested died, his wife survived as did three sons and three daughters. Kested’s obituary stated, “His genial personality and his kindness endeared him to a large circle of friends and acquaintances.”


John S. Hull of Fort Hunter also made violins by hand. The Leader Herald reported that at age eleven Hull started to learn violin-making from his father, John Justin Hull, a violinist and instrument maker in Kingston, Pennsylvania.

The younger Hull trained to be a violinist at Wyoming Seminary in Pennsylvania. He ultimately focused on making and especially repairing violins in Fort Hunter. He was especially good at repairing bows. He was relied on by a large clientele of musicians.