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8/9/07 - Summertime Haying Missed by Many in Gilford

WRITTEN BY: Carol Anderson The endless hayfields and pastures in Gilford are now mostly covered by trees and houses, but at one time not too long ago, many residents of Gilford spent their summers cutting hay in those fields.

Hay, in itself, is one farm product that has no direct value to humans. It is unknown where or how the idea of storing winter hay came about, but we can be sure that hay was one of the best inventions of farming. In ancient times, civilizations gathered in warmer climates. The act of storing hay allowed areas with long, cold winters to become settled as there was now a way to keep farm animals alive throughout the winter months.

A visit with Nate Smith (grandson of Samuel and Winnifred Smith of High Maples Farm) and his wife, Carolyn, provided a most pleasurable visit and a glimpse into the haying days of Gilford. The Smith’s continue to keep the farming tradition alive by running Smith Farm Stand, located at 95 Sleeper Hill Road, where they sell summer vegetables Tuesday through Saturday (10 – 6:30).

Smith enjoyed recalling the days of farming in town. His father, Forrest, hayed all his own hayfields on his farm in Gilford, but at that time, Nate Smith was too young and too small to help. Haying on the Smith Farm stopped in l955 when the usual 15 dairy cows were no longer kept there. Bulk delivery of milk had begun and it became too difficult to earn a living with just a handful of “milkers”.

Smith, as he grew older, went on to hay with his uncle, John Weeks, owner of Weeks Dairy. It was with his uncle that Smith learned the fine art of haying and he started young. “I used to drive the tractor, at age 12, up Route 11-A all the way to Curtis Road where we used to do some of our haying.” recalled Smith. Most people involved in haying enjoyed the job even though it was a physically demanding task performed during the most uncomfortably hot months of the year. Smith said, “We’d throw bales around until 8:30 at night and then go for a swim down at the lake. It was very tough work, but there was just something about it.” Smith agreed that he had it easier than people had in the past when all hay was cut by hand with a scythe.

For town residents who were not directly involved in summertime haying, they were still affected by what went on around them. Many people are often heard saying that they miss the haying; they used to love the smell of freshly-mown hay. The aroma of hay drying in the sun is mesmerizing, somewhat like the smell of the first lawn cut in the springtime. We all pause for a moment to breathe in its earthy scent.

Perhaps one of the most prolific haying farms in Gilford was the LaBonte Dairy Farm. A recent, two-hour driving tour with Pete LaBonte helped paint a picture of a drastically different Gilford. This farm had approximately 75 dairy cows and the land on the farm didn’t support the growth of enough hay for the cows. The LaBonte’s, therefore, would hay on other farms throughout Gilford.

Back in those days, Gilford was a town with far less trees than it has now. With less trees came wonderful views across town, and in some spots, such as high atop Liberty Hill, one could see into Laconia. LaBonte commented, “I wonder if people know just how long it took for all those fields to cleared by hand, and now, it’s all grown up.”

LaBonte recalled life in the l930’s when haying was done with horses. These animals were moved from farm to farm and kept there until haying at that particular farm was completed.

Modern hay dryers weren’t yet invented, so hay was dried in the field. This task was then at the mercy of Mother Nature. The months of June, July, and August were the best haying months since they are the hottest and driest months of the year. If the weather was good,” said LaBonte, “you were out working in the fields and that included Sundays – you had to.” The hay was then taken back to the barn and lifted, loose, into the hayloft by a “hay fork” which resembled a huge metal claw. Hay forks still hang, gathering cobwebs, in some of the few remaining antique barns in Gilford. They have become a symbol of a simpler life before man created more complex technology.

The LaBonte’s hayed throughout the town, from Curtis Road all the way to Persons Farm (formerly Savage Farm), which produced the most hay. Hay was also cut by Lily Pond at a time when the railroad used to stop by the Lily Pond Ice House and load ice onto the train.

As technology advanced, haying for this farming family was done more by machine. Their horses were replaced by their first tractor in l944. Their second tractor came along in l948, as did their baler. There was no more loose hay in their hayloft; it was all neatly stacked by the bale.

Both LaBonte and Smith miss the days of farming. It seems that everyone who has worked in the hayfields during the summer agrees with Smith when he says, “There was just something about it.”

Gilford’s Thompson-Ames Historical Society is honored that these men from two of Gilford’s farming families shared their memories. If you would like to share your family’s stories about Gilford’s history, please e-mail us at: thomames@worldpath.net. Be sure to check our web-site for information about the historical society as well as listings on upcoming events at: gilfordhistoricalsociety.org .