What Life Was Like on a Horsham Farm in the late 1800s
Horsham Township was a rural farming community for much of its 300 year history. Some recollections of what life was like on the farm are recounted below.
Howard T Hallowell
Howard T. Hallowell is best known as the founder of the company now known as SPS Technologies but he started life as a farm boy in Horsham. He tells of his early life on the farm in his autobiography How a Farm Boy Built a Successful Corporation 117.
Mr Hallowell was born on his family farm on June 30, 1877 at Hallowell, PA. Hallowell, at the intersection of Governor's Road and the Doylestown-Willow Grove Turnpike in Horsham Township, PA, was one of 5 small villages that made up the township. The area became a crossroads after the 1830s when the Turnpike north of here became a public road. Justinian Hallowell, born in 1855, established the Hallowell Hotel in 1880 and at some point a post office also called Hallowell. This is near what is now Easton and Moreland Rds.
The Hallowell family lived in a farmhouse on the western side of the turnpike but moved across the road to a large brownstone home when Howard was 10. The farm had been part of a much larger farm of 505 acres established in 1709 by Jan Lukens and at various times was known as "The American Homestead", "Jarrett Hallowell Homestead Farm", and "The Horsham Homestead ". Much of the farm was acquired by the US Navy in the 1940s. The remainder was most recently owned by the Hankin family.
"During the years of William Hallowell, The Horsham Homestead was one of the largest in Horsham. The great farm was fertile and in an excellent state of cultivation. It had formerly been known as the “Jarrett Hallowell Homestead Farm," having remained in the same family since the days of William Penn. In William Hallowell’s time (1860‘s) there were dwellings and farm buildings on both sides of the Easton Road, which was travelled by many teams and trolley cars. It was William Hallowell who had a water trough, hewn from a single block of stone, placed along the road in front of his property on the east side of Easton Road for the refreshment of “man and beast.” In 1889 this trough was given to the Society of Friends and placed in front of the Horsham Friends Meeting House where it stands to this day. On the west side of Easton Road stood a modern and handsome two-story dwelling of cut stone, surmounted by dormer windows. A fine lawn separated it from the turnpike. It was built in 1872. This was the Hallowell family’s residence in the later years when The Horsham Homestead was in a tenant’s hands. In the rear of the barn was a thrifty orchard. This newer residence was razed for the Naval Air Base."
Horsham Homestead 38
HPHA has what we believe is the same trough mentioned above, although we have a slightly different story. From the Inscription:
The now 300+ year old trough is now located in front of the Penrose Strawbridge House.
Howard T Hallowell recalls...from How a Farmboy Built a Successful Corporation)
"When I was quite young I had to do almost a man's work"
Farmers handled little money
"Father had a lot of cattle, and he would frequently have me take a load of grain to to the grist mill to be ground for the cattle. On one occasion, while they were unloading this grain from the two horse market wagon, I noticed the owner of the grist mill going around to the various bags of corn with a scoop - he had a scale beside him - and taking out so many scoops-ful of grain from each bag. This he would put in other bags and keep. When I returned home I told father what I had seen and which I thought he should know. Well he had a good laugh. He said "Howard, that is what we call toll, which means that instead of my paying money to have the grain ground, the miller takes the equivalent of so many dollars of grainfor doing the work of grinding that feed for the cattle. ..." As farmers we handled very little money, and the cost of most things were taken out in trade."t
Cutting the Wheat
"On the farm at that time, mowing machines, reapers, and binders and similar machinery were practically unknown. ... Father bought the first (mowing) machine in this section. But when it came to harvesting the grain, I can still see six or eight men with grain cradles , one man slightly ahead of the others, going round and round those large fields , cutting the wheat. Then a few days later other men would follow, rake up the cut grain, tie it into bundles, and haul it into the barn "
(HPHA has such a grain cradle in out collection)
"Father was great at getting the most modern equipment he could buy. A good example was the labor-saving device he bought to help my mother in her work of making butter. The apparatus was set up outside the springhouse, and a horse harnessed to it. As the horse walked round, and round, the shaft of the mechanism revolved. operating the churn inside the springhouse.
This was continued until the cream turned into butter, at which point Mother would complete the job of making it into attractive-looking pound "pats" each one molded with out personal seal.
When it was finished the butter was carefully stored in the cool, dark springhouse until it could be taken to market to be sold."
Harrowing Fields ... and Finding Arrowheads
"When I was about 10 years old Father sent me out to harrow, a job I did not like. ..However I made myself like it. ....there were many Indian stories and books which I enjoyed reading. To my delight, while I was harrowing I found quite a number of Indian arrowheads. I also found four beautifully carved Indian hatchets. Both the arrowheads and the hatchets were made of flint and what attracted my attention was that most of them were made from various colored flint, none of which material was found in this part of the country."
I often wondered, if, like ourselves, some of these Indians decided to be salesmen and took it upon themselves to travel all over the country calling on the different tribes and in that manner acquired from various types of stone foreign to these regions."
"To show how primitive methods on the farm were in my early days, if there were small quantities of rye to thresh, we used to spread it on the barn floor and then my Father and the hired men would use flails ... It was interesting to watch them, as they were very skillful in handling the flail and I remember trying to imitate them without success. After the rye had been threshed it was necessary to separate the grain from the chaff and to do this we would use a hand-operated fan. I recall turning this fan while Father fed the grain in at the top. Of course, this was a great step forward compared with biblical times, when, after the grain had been flailed, it was thrown up in the air and the wind would carry away the chaff and the heavier grain would fall to the ground."
"I have vivid recollections of opening the paper and seeing big headlines about the uprisings of the Indians in the Oklahoma Territory... It is surprising how often such headlines appeared in the Philadelphia paper - the trouble they were having in Wyoming and various other sections of the western United States. Of course this mad exciting reading for a young fellow..."
"When I was old enough to handle a team of horses on the highway, I would go each week with Father to the market at 18th and Ridge Ave in Philadelphia. He would drive one market wagon, and I the other, and when we arrived at the market we would put all the various things for sale on display in our stalls. As Father explained, toward the end of the day the cheaper buyers would come along - those who wanted everything for nothing. They still exist today. Some hard characters were among them. I remember late one evening a rough looking woman came through the market and stopped at Father's stalls. She took her dirty thumb and made a groove in a pound of my Mother's nice butter, which she had worked over so long. Then she put her thumb in her mouth to taste the butter and started to get another sample. My Father, with the back of the butcher knife, cracked her across the fingers, and you never heard anything like the choice bits of profanity she used. I told Father that he would never sell anything if he handled the customers in that fashion.
He said, 'Howard, if thee knew these characters as I do, thee wouldn't say that. They never but anything. They only mess things up, and I hope and pray that I will never have to exist by selling to such unpleasant people.'
That bit of experience about the butter was a wonderful lesson to me, and on all my sales trips I have never forgotten the the incident of Father with that customer and the butcher knife."
"Like all prosperous farmers of the day, Father employed several men on the farm continuously, all of whom Mother had to feed. When we sat around the table (the family sat with the hired men) it made quite a crowd of people at dinner."
"From necessity Father did all his own butchering: killed the hogs and steers, cut the animal up into the proper pieces, made the scrapple and sausages. Of course you could not do much butchering unless you had a smokehouse, since modern refrigeration was unknown, so over the springhouse where the butter and milk were kept, was the smokehouse. There we hung the hams and other meat and smoked them to preserve them."
"Of course, the candles had to be made. Couldn't they buy them at stores, you may ask? No, they could not. I often watched Grandfather and Grandmother make all the candles used on the farm, both in our home, and in the homes of our employees. I have a vivid recollection of the way we made them. First, all the tallow and other ingredients were put into a rectangular pan, about 3 feet deep and hung over a wood fire. Then we took small, round, sticks about two or three feet long from which we hung the wicks. These wicks were nothing more than suitable lengths of string. As soon as the tallow was melted, the wicks were dipped into it by hand, using the sticks as handlesso the string could be fully immersed. They were then taken out and hung in a rectangular tank, until the tallow hardened on the strings and then the process was repeated until the candle was of the proper diameter.
Hundreds of these candles or tallow 'dips' as they were called, were put away neatly in boxes, and I will never forget the time Mother went down the cellar after some of them only to discover that the rats had found these candles first and had a fine feast on them."
"Of course, wood fires were all we had for heat and cooking and as a very small boy my job was to pile up wood for the stove in the kitchen. Piling the wood was very pleasant and I enjoyed it a lot, but when they wanted me to carry in armload after armload of split kindling wood, that was a different matter.
It seemed to be a standard rule on Father's farm that if they ran out of work, all the men, with their axes and cross-saws, had to go out in the woods to cut down timber for firewood. How I did enjoy, as a young fellow, going out with these men and helping them cut down the big trees. What a kick I got out of seeing the trees fall and hearing the noise they made as they fell! The wood was usually hauled in after a snowstorm on big sleds drawn by two horses."
"Another of my regular chores was to take the horses and mules to the blacksmith to be shod. This was a job I think every farmer's boy detested, especially it was a year-round task. When you have 10-12 horses, there is a lot of blacksmith work to be done.
Although the animals were not used so much in the winter and, therefore, did not need re-shoeing as frequently as in the summer, the calks or "heels"on the horseshoes had to be sharpened to prevent their slipping on the icy roads
But it was the summer visits to the smithy that we youngsters most disliked. We not only had to take the horses to the smithy, but it was also our duty to keep the flies away from the horses so that they would not kick the blacksmith while they were being shod. This we did with a switch or whisk made of a horse's tail nailed to a round stick, and it was a tiresome job I can tell you."
Chickens and Eggs
"It was also my duty to feed the chickens and hunt eggs, neither of which I particularly enjoyed. Probably because of my dislike of the work I did not hunt eggs as conscientiously as I should have, and many times I was chastised by Father when he found among the eggs some which the hen had nestled too closely and were almost ready to hatch or eggs which had become rotten. I remember throwing a lot of eggs against the barn wall, and although I was quite a distance from these broken eggs, their odor would have stopped an army. To this very day I never can enjoy eggs."
"As you grew a little older, you had your share of cows to milk. This I never did object to. Of course, at that time they had no milking machines - never even dreamed of getting up such a thing. I was pretty strong and had strong muscles in my wrists so I made out quite well with the milking. Later on I had to take the milk to Hatboro Station, three miles away. I would get up about five or half-past and have an early breakfast. The men would load the creamery wagon with cans of milk, get the horse and wagon ready for me, and I would take the milk to the station and return home with empty cans. I would then put the cans away, put the horse in the stable, change my clothes and walk a mile and a half to Horsham Friends School. A ride of any kind to school was just visionary. Rain - yes - let it rain. All the youngsters had oil skin coats and umbrellas. With out lunch kettles in hand, off we went to walk the mile and a half to school."
"Boots! You can laugh all you want to, but I wore leather boots for a good many years. They came up to my knees. Although they were much heavier than shoes, that mattered little to a boy, and I recall that Father always paid - even at that time - seven dollars for a pair of my boots. The shoemaker had his own house on Father's farm, further proof that a farm the size of ours was almost self-sustaining."
"We had miles and miles of fences, and there were two or three men continually repairing and replacing them. In the early spring I was always sent out with the head fence builder. This I liked. I used to sight down the row of posts, and if any of them were not perpendicular or were out of alignment, Father would insist that this be corrected until each post was in its proper position."
"Of course, all these chores were good for us. It was a fine bringing up. Now, don't get the idea that it was all hard work with no play. We had some gay times and parties and I remember one incident in particular. This occurred in the winter after a big snowstorm. We used to take sleigh rides and have good times. This particular night I asked Father if I could have the sleigh and two horses and take the four school teachers from Horsham School for a sleigh ride. Father gave his permission. I geared up the two horses and put on an extra string of sleigh bells and off I went to pick up the school teachers. To this day I can hear those sleigh bells jingling! The last thing I did before leaving home was to put an axe and shovel in the sleigh. Seeing this, one of the men knowing I was taking the four school teachers out, exclaimed, 'Howard, do you intend to knock them over the head with the axe and them bury them!' I said, 'No, no, no, we might get snowbound and then I will have to shovel the snow away and might even have to cut down a fence. I assure you I will try to bring the teachers home in one piece.'
I remember it was dark as pitch, and you couldn't see very far in front of you. We were riding along gaily when suddenly we hit a bid snowdrift. Over went the sleigh, and out fell the teachers and I. I don't know how deeply the snow penetrated their garments, but I do know that it got under my overcoat, down my pants, etc. and if that bunch of women felt as uncomfortable as I did that evening while trying to be happy in the parlor of the family we were calling on, they could stand more punishment than I could."