July of 2014 has been quite the month for Wilhome Farms. July 1st marked a gathering of my father, his sisters and some of their families at the farm. July 31st will mark a massive farm family picnic, known in Holstein circles as a Twilight Meeting. In between, my brother Don and his son, Justin have pulled out all the stops to spruce things up, complete with the absolutely enormous job of scrubbing, priming and painting the metal roof of the barn, some 60 ft. above the ground.
I can’t tell you how much the gathering on Canada Day meant to all of us. We found ourselves sitting in a circle on the lawn with each person (some from nearby, some from as far away as Alberta and Ohio), telling a story about their experiences on the farm. We listened attentively, we laughed, we shouted in horror. A few of us shed a quiet tear. The stories were so rich. Many of them I’d never heard before. Some of the stories centred around the kitchen. Many were about mis-deeds such as the mistreatment of younger siblings/cousins or mis-calculations with farm machinery and the ensuing consequences! Some were about singing together, driving for the very first time and listening to our grandfather laugh. One was about the youngest male cousin who was forbidden to shoot groundhogs (and collect the bounty). Our ever-practical and gentle grandmother promptly helped him skin a mouse, for which he too was given a bounty! It was a great, great day.
I’m happy my soul had a chance to grow on this fertile patch of ground. I’m glad I shared its precious soil and water along with the many animals and this big, complicated and wonderful family!
This reflection is tangential to the workings of the farm, but it’s such an important part of the extended Williams family and is so entwined with the Emma Field novels that I want to include it in this series.
In Book One a tragedy befalls Emma’s father. It is, in fact, a tragedy which fell upon the real John P. Williams II’s eldest son, Edwin. This young man attended Victoria College in distant Cobourg (not bad for a farm boy in the 1870s). He later married Caroline (Carrie) Bowerman, the daughter of his father’s good friend and Bloomfield Quaker, Levi Bowerman. Edwin and Carrie settled on a farm north of Picton and had three sons: Merton Yarwood, who wrote TheSamuel Williams – Jemima Platt Family history book , Thomas and John Platt III.
The following is an account by Merton Williams of his father’s (John’s son’s) death. “January 1889 started bleak and cold with no snow. ON the night of the 9th, a sleet storm covered the trees and ground with ice, ahead of a hurricane, which coming up the Hudson River, crossed Lake Ontario and struck Prince Edward County with full force!
By 4 AM January 10th, the great driveway doors of Edwin’s old barn had blown open and a part of the roof had blown off! Going over to the tenant house, Edwin returned with his hired man Obadiah Wannamaker, and they together closed the doors. As the centre post was broken, Edwin stepped back and started to roll a boulder against the doors. A gust of wind blew them open, one striking him on the head and hurling him ten feet! Obadiah managed to get him to the house, but in four hours he was dead!”
In June of that year Carrie rented out the farm and took her boys to live with her parents, grandmother and Aunt Lydia, at what they called the “Little Lot” or the “Watson Place”, beside Trout Creek, across from Morgan’s Mill (where Emma had gathered woollen strips from Caleb and where Vera Plank lived). The house was within view of the farm which John P., recently widowed, operated with his youngest son, William Hartwell. (As an aside, John P. married his grandson’s “Aunt Lydia” as his second wife the following January. Are you confused yet?) Merton Williams recorded many lovely details about his life at the “Watson Place” and the admiration he had for both his grandfathers, but what is of greatest interest to me is that Carrie, who I would assume had been “disowned” by the Quaker Meeting for marrying out of her faith moved her three sons to Westtown Boarding School, outside Philadelphia, in the summer of 1894. She had taken a job in the girl’s wing of the eminent Quaker boarding school. Merton describes it as a “well ordered school with electric lights and hot baths, outside swimming and skating ponds, sledding, tennis, soccer, libraries, museum, gymnasium, observatory with astronomic telescope – what a change from No. 6, Hallowell one room school house!” It’s no wonder that Merton and his brother Thomas went on to higher education at Queen’s University in Kingston. Merton also attended Yale and worked as a geologist mapping the Silurian area west of the Niagara Escarpment. He was visiting Quaker relatives in Norwich, Ontario in early August of 1914 as war clouds gathered over Europe. He writes, “I called the house (of his relatives) by phone and on Sunday morning, August 4th, an open carriage called for me and I sat with Anna Haight, garbed in her plain grey silk dress and Quaker bonnet. At the plain, white meeting house, men and women sat apart, facing the high seats occupied by the Ministers and Elders. Subdued and fearful silence was interrupted by simple prayers and exhortation. Next morning the news was broadcast on the bulletin boards – Germany had attacked Austria and England was at war! Canada followed suit. The long, peaceful age symbolized by Queen Victoria had ended!”
Merton Williams reminisces about his many hunting and fishing expeditions with his grandfather, John. P. Williams. He also recounts how he took his grandfather for his first ride in a motorized carriage (automobile). It was with sadness that he, along with his extended family, laid this man to rest in Glenwood Cemetery, Picton in April of 1915.
But one last note about the writing of the Emma Field novels and the John P. Williams family. I had already written the passage about Emma’s marriage in Book Two when Anne E. Williams, a dear family member and great grand-daughter of John P. sent her grandmother Carrie’s wedding dress east to the Prince Edward County Museum. I had written, “Emma wore a dress as richly brown as wet maple leaves on the floor of a springtime woods.” The intricately-sewn dress that arrived was of the finest silk. Lace had been added to it so that a cousin could wear it, years later in a parade, but it was as richly brown as wet maple leaves on the floor of a springtime woods! It’s a work of art and is displayed at the former church of St. Mary Magdalene in Picton.
Carrie Williams (John P. Williams’ daughter-in-law)
with her three sons, Thomas, Merton, and John Platt III.
If athletes can give 110% I can write 13 entries in a series of 12. Stay tuned for one more posting!
It may seem strange to include the history of the farm’s water sources in a series such is this, but I know from the two years I spent on a ‘property’ (farm) on the Darling Downs of Australia that there is nothing so crucial to life as water. The water on the farm at Bloomfield is the coldest, clearest, most refreshing water I have ever known. It has sustained thousands of animals and dozens of humans in the 200 years the family has lived on the land above it. I think it deserves a reflection of its own.
My mom, Helen Williams, in the house and barn log she prepared in 1982 writes of the well Caleb Williams secured before his marriage to Gloranah Young. “The creek was too far away from the house for a fresh water supply at the time. The same went for the spring to the north in a pine thicket. Near the house Caleb dug down about 12 ft. and struck clear, cold water, dug deeper and lined the well with stones from the gravel ridge. He bailed water out with a bucket or a balanced well-sweep made of a long pole. “
Later, when Caleb and Gloranah’s son John built the large barn which stands to this day across the road from the house, a good well and watering trough were established in the barnyard. The creek and the nearby spring provided a source of water when the cattle grazed to the south of the barn in the summer.
In 1944 with the availability of electric pumps my grandfather, Morley Williams, installed a water line between the spring and the farm buildings on the ridge. Over the years it has provided water to four households and five larger barns. At the peak of the animal production, it watered 1000 pigs/year and approximately 100 head of cows, heifers and calves/year.
Although Book One’s unpleasant swimming scene with Edmund Franklin took place in Bloomfield, I recalled my time spent skinny-dipping with the neighbour girls in the pool of creek water closest the bridge to write that passage.
My aunts have told me of how, as girls, they used to drink from the ice-cold waters of the spring by grasping one another by the ankles and lowering the thirsty girl, head-first into the water.
My parents have always impressed upon us the importance of protecting the water source. My grandfather, dad, brother and nephew have left buffer zones, practiced no-till cropping and for over 70 years have kept the cattle from muddying the waters of what was once called Trout Creek and is now known as Waring Creek. They have also worked with community groups on conservation methods that have kept the water clear and pure.
In the late 1990s when a proposed gravel pit threatened the very source of the water my parents and dozens of others, at great personal expense, took the development to the Ontario Municipal Board and WON!
By 1875 John Williams decided that the time had come for a new and ample barn. Plans for the structure 60 ft. by 105 ft., and a full 60 ft. from the basement floor to the peak, (the posts were to be a full 35 ft.!) made it, at that time, the largest barn in “The County”. Construction on the gentle slope south of the house began with cutting pine for frames and siding and cedar for shingles at the family’s mill. All of the many beams were hewn by hand. “The result was a side-hill barn with room for horse and cow stables in the basement as well as a room for machinery. A granary and stable for seven horses occupied the east end of the main floor which had two driveways entering from the north side and one from the west end. The mow space, served by horse forks, normally took care of the whole crop, and as threshed from one mow, the straw was delivered into another mow. A floor was laid below the peak of the barn which was lighted by dormer windows. In this loft, a granary was built, equipped with a winch for lifting and lowering the grain. A horse-stairs or ramp allowed the horses to be taken to and from the basement without leaving the building.
Hundreds of pounds of wrought iron nails fastened the vertical siding. The cost of the barn was about $4,000.”*
This barn, renovated and modernized over the years with stable cleaners, then a gravity-fed manure system; milking machines, then a pipeline system, along with the accompanying silos and outer buildings is the heart of Wilhome Farms to this day.
Each child who has grown up on the farm has memories of this barn – the suffocating heat of the hay mow in July and the golden steam that curls into the winter morning sunshine from warm bodies of the cows. We have built forts, waged battles and “hidden and searched” for endless hours in the hay and straw mows. We have played in the cool, smooth kernels of corn or itch-inducing barley just as others play in sand at the beach. We’ve swung from sisal ropes on lazy, rainy days. We know the sweet smell of hay and cow’s breath, the sourness of rancid milk and calf scours and the familiarity of cow manure and mice. We have stepped into what we thought of as “adulthood” with the milking of our first cows and shared cookies and cold drinks to revive our tired bodies before the afternoon chores. Some of us, with accompanying goats, have wended our way along the dusty beams high, high, high above the barn floor. For me and my aunts it is the memories of family voices blended in song as we “did the chores” that continue to make us smile. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…
*Merton Williams’s “The Samuel Williams-Jemima Platt Family”.
About 1864 the family moved across the road to the brick shop so that a major addition could be added to their house. “With timber from their own woods and lumber from their own mill, according to plans made largely by themselves, Caleb and John tore down part of the old house and in front of the brick section built a most comfortable home provided with twelve rooms, a pantry and wash room, a spacious wood-house including an old-fashioned brick oven and smoke house, over which was a roomy storeroom. Spacious frost-repellant collars, a well and cistern completed the arrangements. A fine fireplace in the living room added cheer to heating provided by stoves connected with four double chimneys.”* (I can’t imagine how much wood a family would burn to keep a house with twelve rooms semi-warm!)
“The building of the new Williams home coincided with an era of prosperity in Prince Edward County…when brick houses were built in town and country which are solid and fine to this day!”*
*Taken from Merton Williams’s Samuel Williams Jemima Platt Family.
John Williams’s keen interest in horticulture soon found him travelling to Rochester, New York where he learned the best modern methods of grafting, pruning, budding, selection and insect control. He expanded the orchards until they covered 20 acres (about 10 typical city blocks) of land sloping toward the creek. He also grew cherries, plums, pears and grapes. The Ontario Agriculture Commission Report of 1881 states:
“A gentleman of my acquaintance, Mr. John P. Williams, has adopted a system of cultivation which I think is worthy of notice. He cultivates in the spring until about June, ploughs his land twice and sows it with oats; when they are about 4 or 5 inches high, he buys a lot of sheep, turns them on the land, they live on growing oats during the summer manuring the land, lying under the shade of the trees and devouring falling fruit. The sheep do not do any injury and his orchards are flourishing under that system.”
Pollination of so many blossoms was not done sufficiently by the wild bees of the area so John also purchased domestic bees and learned to be an excellent apiarist. He built a combined ice house and bee house with walls a foot thick and filled with sawdust. There he kept ice in the summer and bees in the winter.
In the meantime barrels were needed for shipping apples, so John had the staves, hoops and heads manufactured from logs at Morgan’s Mill. The construction of the barrels took place in a large brick fruit-house he had built across the road from the house. It was equipped with a good cellar for apple storage and a fireplace which kept both the apples and the barrel-makers from freezing in the winter. Many hundreds of barrels were made and packed in the new space.
In 1866 two side-wheel steamers began to provide direct and rapid connection between Picton harbour and Montreal. John could see a world of opportunity in this and got to work arranging the first shipment of Ontario apples ever to reach the soils of England!
Can you see why this man just had to work his way into the story?
John Platt Williams II, the second son of Caleb and Gloranah Williams, attended the log school on the corner of the farm as well as the West Lake (Quaker) Boarding School as a day student. The boarding school was known for its exemplary education for both boys and girls. It’s quite likely that John’s interest in apples was encouraged by the close ties between the teachers at this school and others at its sister school, Nine Partners Boarding School, in Dutchess County, New York. (Quakers from what is now Ontario and New York State gathered together each summer. At such events farming information, tools, seeds and cuttings were often swapped.) John returned home at 19 to farm and help his father run their two mills located a mile apart on the creek. When the water was high he would often pole the distance in a dug-out canoe. Many years later he modernized Morgan’s Mill with auxiliary steam power for periods of low water. He added two looms for weaving blankets and carpets. John jumped right in on all the Industrial age had to offer!
It was on her trip to Morgan’s Mill when Emma Field first sees Vera Plank in distress.
John married Mary Jane Yarwood in January of 1853, but we all think of Mary Jane as Emma, right?
“The woods, barren of leaves, wrapped themselves around the house like a worn and frayed mother.”(page 12 of Emma Field, Book One).
While Caleb and the men of the district cleared the land that sloped to Trout Creek, they left a stand of 2 acres of sugar maples immediately to the west and the north-west of the house built in 1840. To this day that woods provides a wind-break against the prevailing winds. It is possible to stand in the still air on the porch of the house and see the tree-tops in the distance swaying to-and-fro.
The woods provided the family until 1927 with a source of sweetness in the form of maple syrup and maple sugar. Then, during the Second World War when sugar was rationed, the sap shanty was used for another six years. About 1977 my brothers bought used buckets and spiles and boiled for a number of years. Now my nephew proudly bottles the amber sweetness under his own label, “Justin’s Maple Syrup”.
The woods have also long been a magical place for many of the neighbourhood children (and cousins!) to play and build forts.
Thanks to The Great Lakes for moderating the temperatures enough to make the sap flow consistently and thanks to the early Williams family for leaving the mighty maples in place for future generations to enjoy!
“Snow was smacking like little kisses against the schoolhouse window…” (page 15 of Emma Field, Book One).
A log school-house was also built to the east of the Williams house. Caleb served as a trustee for the school.
By 1840 Caleb and Gloranah were prosperous enough to build a larger brick house to the east of the log cabin that had served them so well. Bricks were supplied from the Kendall Brothers brickyard in Bloomfield. Pine was most likely sawn at one of the two sawmills below the farm on Trout Creek. The house had all of the essentials of the day including a beehive bakeoven, as well as an outhouse tacked onto the north wall of the woodhouse. In inclement weather the family didn’t have to brave storms on their way to the little building. In the kitchen was a dumb-waiter, a kind of elevator with shelves on pulleys which carried food to the cool of the cellar and acted like a refrigerator. This is the house described on page 12 of Emma Field , Book One as dignified and sturdy. The old log cabin became a pigpen.
Toward the end of Book One, Gloranah Williams gives Emma a jar of potato water which she wraps in a cream-coloured woolen blanket. That blanket is on display at the Prince Edward County Museum, Picton.
If, as the saying goes, “good fences make good neighbours”, the Williams’ have always had both. The first fences to be erected were patten-rail, made of cedar so resilient to the weather, the rails can remain in fine shape for centuries.
Caleb and Gloranah’s neighbours to the east were John and Mehetebel Cooper. John was a son of Obadiah Cooper who came to Prince Edward from Dutchess County, New York in 1802. He was a relative of Fennemore Cooper of Coppertown, New York, the author of “The Last of the Mohicans”. Obadiah fought in the War of 1812-1814 and his flint-lock rifle was used in “the killing of the last bear in The County.”* It was considered such an important rifle that a member of the Williams family purchased it several generations later.
I relayed the details of the shooting in Emma Field, Book One…with one major mistake pointed out to me just this past spring…what the heck was a non-polar bear doing out of hibernation on Christmas Day?
*Merton Yarwood Williams’s The Samuel Williams – Jemima Platt Family