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Life On A Maine Farm In The Good Old Days

Updated on August 12, 2012

Grandson's True Story....

Good memories of the early years.
Good memories of the early years. | Source

Working their way up in the 1930's.

As a young grandson in the mid and latter 1930's I'd like to share some memories from my grandparents' Maine farm.

By the standards of those days it was a middle class farm. Land had been cleared and worked. Apple trees had been planted and had become a mature orchard, as well as an area regularly plowed for a garden. There was no tractor then, and big Canadian work horses were used for the heaviest work, be it plowing and harrowing, hauling ice in the winter, cutting hay in the summer, and dragging logs for cutting and splitting into firewood.

The farm also had cows for milk, butter, and buttermilk, chickens for eggs and meat, regular batches of kittens to hold down the mice, and pigs whose meat supplemented the venison and partridge that came from my grandfather's, Dad's, and two uncles' hunting abilities.

It was a quieter time when much of life was work, meals, and storytelling.

Work meant being in the barn, in the orchard, in the fields, or in the woods most of the day, along with three big meals each day to provide the calories that sustained the men's hard work, and the hard physical work my grandmother, mother, and aunts did in the home.

The cooking was done on a large wood stove, and the laundry was done at first with a big tub and a scrub board which had a rippled metal surface set in a wood frame. Firewood for the stove was sawn with a bucksaw and a two-man saw, and split with an axe, wedges and a sledge hammer, then stacked. The cooking stove warmed the main family room and front area of the farmhouse, but bedrooms could be quite cold in the winter and hot in the middle of summer.

The beds had feather mattresses, and in the winter there was an area on the bottom of the beds where heated soapstones could be placed to warm the cold beds before bedtime. Hand-sewn quilts were standard, and prized. Somewhat coarse muslin American sheets were standard, and the pillows were either feather or down pillows. Kerosene lanterns were used along with candles for lighting after dark, until undependable electricity had reached out to the farming outskirts of the towns and twin cities of Auburn and Lewiston.

By the 1930's roads were improving and a few families had motor cars which had to be cranked by hand to start. Our family was among the first in the area to have them.

Soap for washing and bathing was available, and soap was still made at home, also. Milk from the cows was raw milk, and the Guernsey cows tended to give the creamiest milk best suited to making butter which was either churned, or simply added to a large jar that was sealed with a lid so the cream could be shaken until we had butter as the solid and buttermilk as the liquid. The two combined again when Grammy made her almost daily batches of buttermilk biscuits and the hot biscuits were slathered with the butter.

Cream was also used on the occasions when a birthday called for some ice cream which was also made by turning the handle of an ice cream machine which relied on ice and rocksalt to lower the temperature enough to freeze the ice cream.

Meals could include boiled potatoes, vegetables (in season or home canned), meat, and pie or canned fruit for breakfast, lunch, and supper, though today's more typical eggs, bacon, and pancakes with our own maple syrup were occasional additions. Toast, if made at all, was sliced bread placed between two heavy screen meshes with wire handles that held the slices just off the surface of the stove and were turned once or twice until the slices were toasted. Home canned jellies and jams were usually available, as well as home made pickles of various varieties.

The farmhouse had been built over a spring and the spring water was usually cool enough that a few things could be set in the bubbling spring water to be kept cool. For ice, the men and horses went to Taylor Pond in the dead of winter and cut blocks of ice which they hauled back to the barn, stacked, and covered with sawdust, so that even in the summer we still had ice.

The cash crop of the farm came from the apple orchard, and our family had been the first apple farmers to ship apples to Scotland. One of my uncles, Uncle Charles ultimately went to Lewiston and worked in a factory, and had a stint at working at Poland Springs (which still bottles their famous spring water) but was fired for one day bringing a bullfrog which he put in one of the large, multi-gallon bottles!

My Uncle Walter, the oldest of the three sons, stayed on the farm and continued peddling apples and enjoying the farm with my grandmother after my grandfather died and my father graduated from Hebron Academy and went off to the University of Maine in Orono from which Dad graduated, sold telephones for New England Telephone & Telegraph before going back for his masters degree during the Depression. Dad became Maine's first Highway Safety Engineer, went on to work for the National Safety Council in Chicago, the Navy Department in Washington, DC, and retired eventually as the Safety Superintendent of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

By the time I was going to college a wood-burning furnace had been installed in the basement of the newest portions of the home, only to eventually, after my grandmother was in a nursing home, overheat, and start the fire which burned down the home. The apple orchard and land were sold to a neighboring apple farmer whose orchards were just beyond our nearest neighbor, at one time Maine's US Senator White.

Fishing and hunting were popular pastimes. Schooling was in a one-room schoolhouse just down the road and I actually attended some classes there just as the first ballpoint pens became available in Maine. Church services were held in a private home, and those Sunday services were the few times I remember my grandmother finely dressed, wearing a hat, and not wearing an apron.

Times have surely changed, and so has the price of ballpoint pens!

(c) 2012 Demas w. Jasper All rights reserved.

Maine Farms in the 1930's....


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    • Perspycacious profile imageAUTHOR

      Demas W Jasper 

      6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      PegCole17: Ask your other and aunt to see whether or not they have written down in a journal, diary, or in long letters they now have, memories of their earlier days, such as World War II, and where those items can be found. If not, do an "interview" on ancestors and favorite memories you can pass along to your children and grandchildren. I appreciate yur commenting on this reminisce of mine. You may want to start compiling yours?

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Perspycacious, This was an enjoyable read bringing back stories told by my Dad about life on the farm in the 1920s. Their orchard was filled with pecan trees and Granddad even held a patent on a hybrid tree that he introduced. Much of their time was spent in physical labor in the same manner as you have described here with a spring house and garden patch. What a great trip back in time to those days.

      My Auntie, at 92, still lives on her own with my Mother across the street from me. Your story brings back so many memories of their youth. Thanks for this fine story of life from years gone by.

    • Perspycacious profile imageAUTHOR

      Demas W Jasper 

      6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Mark Bronze: Thanks, Mark. I just had a good phone visit with my Mom and she commented about remembering life on her own grandmother's farm. My mom is 103.5 years old and lucid with some loss of short term memory, but the long-term memory is fine. She had a clean bill of health at her physical this week. She's enjoying a mushroom omelette, orange juice and wheat crackers, plus her regular cup of Red Rose brand tea. I hope you and I can still be doing as well at age 100+!

    • Perspycacious profile imageAUTHOR

      Demas W Jasper 

      6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      2uesday: It will also be a sad day for all of us when the local family-grown fruits and produce disappear, though there seems to a little revival of "buy local" for freshness and peak ripeness. Thanks for visiting again.

    • 2uesday profile image


      6 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this and such memories do need to be preserved for future generations. Life then had seasons which governed more than just the weather. It will be a sad day if we ever lose the pleasure of finding out about how past generations lived.

    • Perspycacious profile imageAUTHOR

      Demas W Jasper 

      6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      A side note: about the only Christmas present we could be sure our Grammy would actually use was a pair of good quality slippers. Oh, she would oooh! and aaah! over each present, but then they would be safely put away for when she might "really need them." When the farmhouse burned down, all those presents she would never "need" burned up, too! The holiday visits meant far more than the presents, no matter how hard we tried to make the presents practical and acceptable.

    • AEvans profile image


      6 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      Wow! I have learned a little more history. Always intrigued by another person's memories. I did not know soapstones were used to warm a bed in the winter. When a person lives through experiences this is when the truthful history begins. Life appeared to be much more simpler then;but many had to work twice as hard to survive. Saddened that your grandmother's home was lost by advancements with keeping a home warm. What wonderful memories you shared with us. I sincerely appreciate them. :)Thumbs up!

    • Perspycacious profile imageAUTHOR

      Demas W Jasper 

      6 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Actually, with the home burned down, there was little choice to be made. But my Dad and Mom purchased their own 7 Acres and a 19th Century home with five fireplaces, hand-hewn beams, etc., always had a good-sized garden, raspberries, and fruit. Dad usually had fall deer hunt venison in the freezer, added trout and salmon from fishing trips, and enjoyed a long, comfortable retirement to his death at 92+. Mom canned and froze harvests in those years and still lives in their home at 103+. Willard Scott's comment about "long life means they were gardeners" seems to have been true. I talked with Mom today and recalled her Ripe Cucumber Pickles, Sunshine Pickles, Green Tomato Pickles, Mustard Pickles, and her own jellies and jams. My wife and I have a quarter Acre devoted to a garden, nuts, and fruits, and have had as many as 250 rabbits for protein. The green thumbs and farming instincts survive. Fortunately we don't have to cut and haul ice in the middle of the winter, harness horses, cut and split wood (though one of my hubs shows one of our woodpiles), but we do can, freeze, and dehydrate, plus run a health store we own, teach classes in yoga, meditation, and well-being and love our grandkids as our grandparents loved us.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image

      Sherry Hewins 

      6 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      You paint quite a picture of a simpler time. In lots of ways harder, but more rooted to the land and people. It's kind of sad that nobody in your family wanted to continue with the farm, but I guess it's a common story. That, as they say, is progress.

    • homesteadpatch profile image


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you for sharing your story. I often wish I had lived in an earlier time. Voted up!

    • picklesandrufus profile image


      6 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va

      this hub was a blast from the past, for sure! I have some of the same memories. Really enjoyable up

    • ChaplinSpeaks profile image

      Sarah Johnson 

      6 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

      Thank you for sharing. I felt like I was there, at that time. Somedays, I wish I could be there and away from all the technology and "advancements"!

    • naturalhealthchat profile image

      Susanne Morrone, B.S., C.N.C., LMT 

      6 years ago from Greater Philadelphia area, PA, USA

      Thank you for these beautiful memories. Hard work and character building produced for us excellent role models. We can learn well from their strong will and determination to live a life of real meaning.


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