Often times when we look back at our lives and those of our families, we feel inspired to sit down, pick up a pen and write it all down for future generations, genealogists, and historians. Because such events are of interest to us, we think such a memoir will be of interest to others as well. And very often it is! Several times in the past weeks we have made reference to the memoir Alvah Hunter left for his children and grandchildren. This unpublished manuscript tells of a time in Gilford history fast fading from the collective memory of our town and perhaps of our state. It is a valuable resource for historians and a loving gift to the Hunter family.
The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
weekly news release.
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12/28/06 Thompson-Ames Welcomes Family Histories
The Gunstock Parish, a recent history of Gilford written for the Historical Society by Adair Mulligan and published in 1995, recounts the story of Gilford from its pre-history to its present. The history, well-researched by members of the society and beautifully written by Ms. Mulligan, has received accolades as an exceptional example of a town history. It too is a valuable resource for historians and a loving gift to the town.
Recently the Historical Society was further enriched when it received in the mail another unpublished memoir of a Gilford boy's memories of his growing up years – this time, in the 1920's and 30's. It is a well written and informative account of the work in the fields and woods of his family's High Maples Farm located on Morrill Street. Unlike the Hunter family of the 1800's, there are those still living in town who will remember Samuel and Winnifred Smith and their family of ten. Our new memoir was written by Robert Smith, the ninth child of Samuel and Winnifred. Some years earlier, Edna Smith Berquist, a sister of Robert, wrote a popular book, The High Maples Farm Cookbook, which was published by McMillan and was popular enough to go into a second printing. In addition to being a good cookbook, its early chapters tell of family doings and events of this closely-knit and active family. Taken together with Robert's memoir, we have a wonderfully complete look at a farm family of the the early part of the 20th century. We see their struggles, the hard work, and the cooperative effort that brought them through this difficult time in American history.
Robert talks of making maple syrup, a farm task which he liked, cutting and removing hay, which he heartily disliked, fencing, cutting and hauling wood, and milking. He reminisces about dirt roads, the depression, fish stories, schooling, hired help and his yoke of oxen. He speaks openly and affectionately of his parents, of politics, family differences and neighbors. As the next to youngest of a large family, he felt secure, pampered, and during the depression years, even rich, because there was always plenty to eat at the Smith home. But like farm children the world over, he experienced the long hours and endless chores that go with farming.
In one chapter titled "Making Hay the Old-fashioned Way" he says, "I don't remember anything about haying that was fun…..it was an all-summer job accomplishsed largely by brute strength…and sweat." On the farm, they needed about 60 to 80 ton of hay a year to feed about 50 head of cattle and a team of horses through the winter. Although the quality of the hay was not the best, according to his account "milking cows got the best of the hay, corn silage and purchased grain supplement while horses and working cattle got a little grain with the hay as did the calves". On the Smith farm, haying was all done with horse, ox and man power. What equipment was used "was modest even by the standards of that day". Hand scythes were used extensively on fence lines and swampy areas. He tells of using the "infamous bull rake" – a four-foot wide wooden toothed affair with a bowed handle which was pulled by hand along a row "where hay was piled up to more weight than a strong man could handle easily". As he remembers it, "a boy of 12 or 14 doesn't manage a bull rake, it manages him." Lost loads were a curse to the one who lost the load as they earned his father's ire and became the butt of jokes from the rest of the crew.
On the other hand, he describes in detail the pleasure of making maple syrup in spite of the hard work. When they began sapping, they had about 100 taps. When cutting trees, all sugar maples were spared and by the time Robert finished high school they hung about 1600 buckets over a wide area of the farm. The work was done with one yoke of oxen and a team of horses, a great deal of "boy" help and one hired hand. For Robert, tapping was the most enjoyable part of the process. "There is something special about picking out a good looking unscarred spot on the trunk of a sugar maple, turning the 3/8 inch bit into the sapwood, yanking out the bit and then marveling at the first trickle of sweet sap that appears. I think it is pure nature at its best." Cash income from maple products was of great importance to the family during the years the children were growing up and the whole process of sapping was remembered with real pleasure by Robert and by his sister Edna who built up such an extensive business selling maple products and hosting sugaring parties for family, friends and tourists that she sometimes had to buy extra syrup from other farms.
All of the Smith chidren went on to have successful and satifying lives. Robert, now deceased, was educated at Cornell University and later became a professor at the Cornell University School of Agriculture.
Thompson-Ames is grateful for family histories and for memoirs of those who grew up in or had an association with Gilford. We are eager to have written or taped accounts of your family's Gilford experience. Please contact us at 927-9009 and we would be pleased to be in touch with you to schedule an oral history interview.