Warren Farm and Growing Up There

Script for talk given to the Forest Home Embroidery Club by Martha W Hertel

After 1986

First, where was this Farm?

We are sitting on one of its fields right now. Fairway Drive was usually part of either a hay field or pasture although I remember one year it was planted to corn. Some nearby fields were planted with grains, usually wheat. The orchard was always an orchard. The Brittains now have what is left of it.

[Editor’s Note: The Brittains lived, and still live as of 2021, in 135 Warren Road, on the corner of Fairway Drive.]

Every farm is different. Mary and I each mentioned that ours gave us the best of two worlds. The fun and interest of a farm without the all-consuming hours of chores nor the isolation some farm children often feel. We were in a community, Forest Home. Father was a professor so we had a university exposure with all of those interests.

Our parents bought the farmhouse, original barn and 85 acres in 1907. An old deed is of interest especially since we are a women’s group. The deed said:

Abraham Lansing, of the City of Albany, and Susanna, his wife of the first part, and William Chamberlain of the Town of Ithaca in the County of Tompkins.
On this twenty-third day of October AD 1832, personally appeared before me Abraham Lansing and Susanna his wife, to me well known. ——– and the said Susanna, having by me been examined private and separate and apart from her said husband, acknowledged to have executed the same freely, without any fear – threat or compulsion of her said husband. I allow the same to be recorded.

There were many pieces of land purchased and put together, in all 106 fields. Much of it was a farm where the owner had died without a will. The land was divided, by the court, among eight heirs giving each a piece of crop land and a little piece of woods. Each tract was too small for a successful farm. As a footnote, the area is again in many hands, hopefully more usefully divided.

The windmill, which seems to have become a landmark, was probably built around 1920. Water was always a concern. I expect this solved it. It sits atop a 75 foot well and pumped water into a reservoir which was slightly elevated. Notice the windmill is on a man-made hill. The reservoir water could fill the watering fountains in the barn, except for the third floor, by gravity. It saved many man-hours and aching backs.

In 1950 the windmill needed repairs. There were no persons who understood windmills so a deep well pump was installed in the barn. The windmill’s purpose now seems to be aesthetic. Photography and art students have often used it. In 1977 the Dewitt Junior High School drama teacher asked to bring the lead actors in the school’s upcoming production of Oklahoma to use the windmill as a backdrop for publicity in the paper. The picture is at the end of this document. [Editor’s Note: The picture is not available in this transcription.]

There were lots of activities on a farm with a family of this size. We always had a hired woman who either lived with us or came every day. Father was an economist who said, “What does a farmer do when he has more work than he can manage? He hires help. A woman should do the same.” This household obviously qualified for hired help. Despite having to manage all these activities, my mother still found time for her own interests. Mary mentioned some of them.

As you must realize, this has been a dairy farm and a poultry farm. The dairy cows were at the present Equine Research Farm. Some of the calves were at the farm on Warren Road. As children, we raised some of the calves. In the early years, milk was pedaled through Forest Home with a horse and buggy. What is pedaling milk? Before electric refrigeration, most people had milk delivered every morning before breakfast with a standing order. It was unpasteurized milk. Father had named this farm Alken Farm from the alfalfa hay and Kentucky Blue Grass, a new mixture of grass seed he used. This is an old half pint bottle from that business. It was not used long. My oldest brother is the only one who remembers the dairy business. He assumed it was not profitable and so did not continue. My oldest sister says Father bought a special cow to increase productivity but the cow also brought a devastating bovine disease to the herd. Gradually the farm became more poultry.

The eggs from the poultry business were washed, packed and shipped from our basement to NYC by train or truck. We, as children, helped. Mary remembers selling a few eggs she had to Atwaters, the Ithaca grocery store.

Summertime was a period of constant haying and thrashing the grains. When old enough, it was fun to drive the horses for the wagon or the hayfork. Our brothers helped on the farm summer times and often Saturdays when they were home. They were not “tied” to the farm shores. They all went to Boy Scout camp and as college students, usually had work or travel elsewhere. They all seem to have fond memories of their time on the farm.

Mary and I are the youngest of six children. These remarks are based on family stories as well as our own reminiscences.

© Martha Warren Hertel, reproduced with permission.

Acknowledgment: The text was transcribed in 2019 by Lucy Hertel Staley, Martha Warren Hertel’s daughter.

See On Childhood in Old Forest Home by Randolph Scott Little for more about farming, local windmills, and other aspects of growing up in Forest Home in the same period.