Sunday, August 08, 2010

More on New England Farms

Afterthought on my grandparents and New England farming: from family lore and fragmentary records, I determine that my grandparents, Carl and Augusta Nordstrom,  moved their brood from Manchester to Bedford, NH, in 1901 and back to Manchester in 1907.  Yesterday I wrote that he "failed at farming."  Strictly speaking, I don't know this to be true, although I guess the family more pretty much stipulates that the farming foray did not go well.  Anyway, here they are now in the massive  (1132pp) History of Bedford New Hampshire from 1737, entered as "Published by the Town" in 1903 (at page 627):
 At the four corners of the Goffstown and New Boston road is where David Sprague, Jr.(343) and Walter Gage lived...Going south from the four corners on the east side of the road, David Sprague, Sr. (344), William Hobarat, a blacksmith, Ephraim Kendall and his son Ephraim, and George F. Steward lived where Carl A. Nordstrom now lives.
[Those of you keeping score at home will find it in the neighborhood of the Joppa Hill Cemetery, although we appear to have left no one behind here.]

At any rate-- just now, for the first time ever, it occurs to me to marvel at the folly or desperate optimism that would have prompted a city boy with a flock of kids to cart his brood out into a life on the land--a man with, so far as I know, no prior experience in farming (though I suppose he may have been a farm boy in Sweden).

In The Changing Face of New England, Betty Flanders Thomson provides context.    Farming in general in New England was not a pretty business, she shows,  but with a lot of internal differentiation.  There are (or were) potatoes in Maine; tobacco in Connecticut; cranberries in Massachusetts.  There were good farms on "fertile, relatively level" near "towns [thaat] provided a reliable market for cash crops [and] they prospeered mightily."  But:
In the steeper, stonier hill country, on the other hand, much of the soil was too poor, or often merely too scarce,  for profitable farming even when the land was first cleared.  There the farms are smaller, and houses and barns are far more modest both in size and style.  Many of them were occupied for only as generation or two and then deserted, left to a fate that has obliterated them except for cellar holes and stone walls running through the second-growth woods.
 --Thompson, 158 (Houghton Mifflin ed. 1977)

 I'm not completely clear where Bedford fits in this analysis.  I spent a good bit of my own childhood there (long after, and quite unconnected to, my grandparents' attempt).  I offered a few thoughts on cellar holes some months ago; I could have been talking about Bedford although my recollections probably applied more directly to Bradford,  where I also spent some time.  The Bedford of my childhood did harbor abandoned farms; perhaps more surprising, it had a number of operating farms, where people persisted in wrestling out a living in an apparently traditional way.  I can only assume there would have been more in 1903.  Still, I don't suppose the land was ever very hospitable to cultivation and I suppose I can only guess at the sense of disappointment that must have overcome the  Nordstroms as they packed their possessions to make their way back to the city at the end of their six-year venture.

1 comment:

elrojo said...

a lot of good farmers "fail" at farming. you have no control over weather -- a crucial element. livestock gets sick, varmints kill your animals, machinery breaks down at crucial times, farmers get sick also and have to stay in bed. most farmers start out with little control over financing the operation, and some never get control. you have to sell production at certain stages and you dont control prices. monster corporations are different. i'm talking about individual famrers.