A Good Read from the February 2001 Newsletter

Farm Life Sixty-Five Years Ago

By Roland Van Guilder

Looking down street with telephone pole, trees, buildings and old-fashioned pickup truck.
A view of the four corners and Clyde Parker’s garage taken from West Street during the 1930s.

About two miles west of the four corners in Middletown Springs, Barker Bridge, a planked, truss bridge crossed the Poultney River to the south. Another mile upward through the Buxton Orchard (later the Allen Orchard) lay two farms. One was owned by the Porters and the other by the Van Guilders. Both were dairy farms with approximately 20 milking cows each, which provided the livelihood for the two families. The farms were worked with teams of horses. The work back then included field and crop pro­duction, getting up the wood for fuel, harvesting and transportation. Neither farms had electricity or tele­phones. 

The Porter farm marketed milk, butter, and cheese once a week to the cheese factory in East Poultney. Mrs. Porter was responsible for the Saturday deliveries either by horse and buggy or sleigh. 

We owned a Model A Ford which we used when the weather permitted. In the wintertime, we used a one-horse sleigh if it was a family outing or a team­drawn bobsled for heavier loads. Our daily routine con­sisted of delivering four or five, eight-gallon cans of milk to the Middletown Springs Creamery operated by Morris “Bus” Pratt [located behind what was until recently the Middletown Springs Inn]. He recorded the delivery. In those days, the “village” hummed with activity especially in the early morning hours. Both motor-driven trucks and horse-drawn buckboards or sleds filled the center of the town daily.

The next stop was at Walton Frost’s Store where Jenny Powers greeted everyone in her most cheerful and business­like manner. Clyde Parker’s new filling station and garage was a brief stopover for catching up on the so­cial or town news. 

A summertime trip to town by an eight year old lad with his father was occasionally rewarded with an ice cream cone—a special treat of appreciation for helping with berry picking or hoeing and weeding the garden. Key to our existence was a bountiful harvest to insure ample produce for “canning.” The pan­try and the cellar had to be filled with food to insure our sustenance through the winter months. 

Our mothers’ cooking skills were really astonishing. Everything from homemade bread, pies, and cakes were made in a wood-burning cook stove’s oven along with much of the meat and potato meals. The wood-burning stoves were also our only source of heat, so everyone got dressed quickly and hurried to eat a hot and hearty breakfast. 

We saw farm life as simple back then. For sure, it was never monotonous. Each season offered a great variety of things to do. Winter gave us our only break in an otherwise busy year. Our time during winter; however. was devoted to fixing fences and getting up the wood. In the spring, we tapped the maples and boiled the sap into syrup. Everything was used. Nothing ever went to waste. Late spring gave Barker Mountain and the orchard below a real promise of things to follow. In those days the hills were alive with song birds by day and “pond-peepers” by night. 

Each summer we had a break from school. But those days were filled with field work, gardening, and, of course, haying. I will never forget the fragrance of new-mown hay or fail to recall the calls of the whippoorwills at dusk. 

The circle began again with the start of school in September, while the colors of the hills gave us a great show soon afterwards. Of course, I got pretty excited with the first sled ride of winter, too. Looking back life seemed easy for us, but by today’s standards it would be considered very burdensome. 

Although we lived three miles from the center of town and school, we never had a feeling of loneliness. Our two families lived about a half-mile apart, but we socialized together. Spare time activities included card playing and musical sessions. Both the Porters and my parents were talented. My parents played the piano, violin, and harmonica. As for the young lads, we hunted, played common games, and walked to and from school together, which shortened the distance. 

Both farms were taken out of sustaining production at least by 1940. The Van Guilder farm burned in about 1950; unfortunately, there are no extant pictures of either farm to our knowledge. 

On an 1867 map of Middletown included in Frisbie’s History of Middletown is a region west of the center of the town labeled Burnham Hollow. It is near this region that Roland grew up. The Van Guilder and the Porter farms were situated above what is today’s Burnham Hollow Orchard. Barker Mountain was home to the nine sons and daughters of Raymond and Elizabeth Durham Van Guilder and the eleven sons and daughters of Albert “Bert” and Elizabeth Hatch Porter. 

Many legends have accrued to this community because of the musical talents of these folks and the many “kitchen hops” held at the Porters, which are remembered mainly by our seniors. A “hop” was a dance held in the farmhouse kitchen accompanied by great music and food served by the women of the families. 

A few weeks ago, I talked with Amanda Van Guilder Reed who is one of three Van Guilder children still living. She told me that Evelyn, Harry, Paul, Ralph, Regina, and Frank are deceased. Eleanor Van Guilder Ricard, who was pictured with Ruth Krouse in the May 2000 MSHS Newsletter, lives in San Diego. Eleanor phoned me one day, and we talked briefly about the “old days” and the dance hall on Burdock Avenue. 

Roland left town, as did many of our young folks, either because of the Great Depression or World War II II. He became an engineer and settled in the Midwest where he resides today. Fortunately, for us memories remain “forever green.”