Category Archives: Farming Life

Remembering the Green Ridge Turkey Farm – Nashua, NH

Do you remember Kimball’s Green Ridge Turkey Farm on Nashua’s Daniel Webster Highway?  Who can forget the giant turkey that once stood atop that iconic sign on DW Highway?  For nearly 60 years,  the Green Ridge Turkey Farm stood on the corner of the DW Highway and Spit Brook Road in Nashua, NH, about two miles north of the state border with Massachusetts.  Its site was historic – the main house of the farm, called the manor house, had been a long-time Nashua landmark, dating to revolutionary times when it had served as a stage-coach hostelry.  Through several ownership changes and one major fire, the Green Ridge served dinners and pies in its restaurant – and not just of turkey, but also seafood; the Green Ridge also served lobster, clams and scallops.

Green Ridge Turkey Farm Restaurant, ca. 1960. Image from Card Cow.

But, of course, Kimball’s Green Ridge Turkey Farm was best known for its turkeys, which were sold either “drawn and ready for the oven” or “cooked and pan roasted”.  The Green Ridge also offered its own dressing and gravy.  The Green Ridge Turkey Farm got its start when George and Grace Kimball bought the 200-acre property in 1931 and soon after opened a farm stand.  Its frontage on the Daniel Webster Highway contributed to the Kimballs’ success, and, by 1938, Mr. and Mrs. Kimball expanded the stand, adding turkey sandwiches and ice cream to its offerings.  Two years later, in 1940, the Kimballs added the restaurant, and the Green Ridge’s reputation for great turkey, supplied directly from their farm, quickly caught on.  The farm quickly grew to accommodate the raising of up to 6,000 turkeys.

An advertisement for the Green Ridge Turkey Farm - 1951

The reputation of the Green Ridge as a restaurant and a turkey farm spread throughout New England during the war years.  Then, during one of its best years, just four days after Thanksgiving, disaster struck the Green Ridge.  At 6 PM on the evening of November 27, 1950, a few hours after the farm had hosted the New England Turkey Growers’ Association, Dr. Frank Flagg knocked on the door of Mr. and Mrs. Kimball’s home.  The Green Ridge, just 100 yards south from where they were sitting, was on fire.  Dr. Flagg and the Kimballs set off to alert the fire department, but couldn’t find a working telephone.  A recent storm had knocked out phone service in the area.  Eventually, others saw the smoke and flames in the sky and the calls began to arrive to the Nashua Fire Department.  The first caller told the fire department that the ‘Green Ridge farm building [was] ready to explode’.  A moment later, a call from the Wayside Furniture Company told the firefighters that something was wrong at the Green Ridge.

Kimball's Green Ridge Turkey Farm, Nashua, N.H., ca. 1945 (Courtesy: Boston Public Library Flickr Photostream)

The Central and Lake Street stations responded to the fire.  All call men were soon summoned to duty.  Firefighters arrived to find the fire at its peak and the interior of the building was completely engulfed in flames as the smoke rose skyward.  Motorists and nearby residents stopped to watch the fire.  A lack of hydrants in the area meant the firefighters had no available water.  Firefighters rushed the half-mile south to the Allen property and were able to attach a pump to a water hole.  They had finally found water to fight the fire.  But, by then, it was out of control.

By the time the fire was out, the restaurant was a total loss.  George Kimball told reporters he didn’t have adequate insurance coverage to rebuild.   The restaurant had been officially closed for the season just a couple of days before, and would have reopened the next year, on February 22.  The losses were deep, however, and the costs were formidable to replace the lost large dining room, soda fountain, and two deep freeze units, that had been holding 250 turkeys.  The Kimballs put the Green Ridge Turkey Farm on the market.

A buyer came forward and, on March 15, 1951, the Kimballs sold their Green Ridge Turkey Farm to Mr. and Mrs. Howard Flanders.  The Flanders rebuilt the restaurant, and reopened it in July 1952.

The Green Ridge Reopens - July 29, 1952. (Lowell Sun)

The Flanders’ ownership of the Green Ridge was short-lived.  After rebuilding and reopening its restaurant following the 1950 fire, they sold it to the Charpentier brothers, Luc, Victor, and Edmund, in 1954.  The Charpentier family owned the Green Ridge from 1954 through its closing in the mid-1990’s, when it was closed, razed, and replaced by a Barnes & Noble, which still stands at the site.  Still, when driving down the DW Highway in Nashua even today, I still look twice for the turkey that once stood atop the Green Ridge Turkey Farm sign perched near the Spit Brook Road intersection.  Has it really been more than 15 years since it came down?

The Barnes & Noble location in Nashua, NH - on the former site of the Green Ridge Turkey Farm (Photo from: Barnes & Noble)


Turkey Drovers – Traditions from Thanksgiving Days Past

Female wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) take...

Wild Turkeys, Image via Wikipedia

It turns out that wild turkeys are incredibly difficult to move across long distances.  In the days before refrigerated travel, a national roadway system, and even railroads, driving turkeys across long stretches of land was the province of men called turkey drovers.  From 1790 to about 1830, turkey drovers walked turkeys to market, literally, at a top speed of about one mile per hour.  In Massachusetts, this meant driving, or walking, a flock of turkeys from Central Massachusetts to the meat market in Brighton, just outside of Boston.

Each fall during the nation’s first decades, turkey drovers could be seen driving their turkeys across the lesser travelled byways of New England; the horse traffic of the day apparently proved a worthy distraction that slowed the driving of the turkeys even more.  Turkey driving was a dawn-to-dusk activity.  At the first sign of darkness, turkeys bolt for trees, ascend into them, and roost for the night.  For this reason, turkey drovers, usually travelled in covered wagons and took turns protecting the roosting turkeys from predators (both animal fauna and humans) as well as from simply wandering off.

Another peril in turkey driving: turkeys tend to crowd together when being driven and will trample each other.  To overcome this, men called shooers divided the turkeys into lots of up to 75 birds, and led the turkeys along their route using a long pole, with a piece of red flannel attached to the end.

So, when picturing the Thanksgiving Days of yore during this year’s holiday season, add the turkey drover and his large flock of turkeys to your conjured images.  Happy Thanksgiving, readers!

 


The Town Farm – A Victorian-Era Solution to Poverty

Town farms were Victorian society’s equivalent to today’s homeless shelters, nursing homes, and mental hospitals.  Often relegated to a far corner of town, unseen, forgotten, and hopefully self-sufficient, the town farm was created to instill a sense of industriousness and self-sufficiency in paupers who would, in turn, provide what labor they could to help run the farm.  And, throughout most of the nineteenth century, it worked.  The town farm in Billerica, Massachusetts once spanned over 150 acres, including 75 acres of forests.  In 1880, the Billerica town farm housed some twenty employees and paupers, in addition to its horses, cows, pigs, and chickens.

But, what was life like on the town farm?  Appropriate “separations” were encouraged.  Male inmates were to be separated from their female counterparts absolutely and entirely, in the living rooms, halls, stairways, and even yards of the town farm.  It was also considered important to separate persons of “good character” (who might have been forced to seek refuge at the Farm due to infirmities) from the “vicious and degraded”.  Indeed, of the Billerica town farm’s 13 paupers in residence in 1880, three had been recently released from the Worcester State Hospital.  All three were required to be kept “under lock and key” at night and two had been classified as “homicidal”.

Also, as it might be imagined, hygiene was considered paramount.  Prevailing thought reasoned that appropriate personal hygiene led to healthful, pure air and encouraged caretakers to search for “defects in the cleanliness and purity of air . . . at every visit.”  Weekly baths were required; the water for the bath was included in the six gallons of water set aside for each inmate’s weekly allotment.  Also, clothing was to be washed weekly and the wearing of day garments when abed was strongly discouraged.  Inmate compliance with these suggestions and rules was not always a foregone conclusion; over half of the paupers listed as living at the Billerica town farm in 1880 were mentally or physically debilitated.

Comforts such as heat and individual beds were considered important – shared beds were discouraged.  Sheets and blankets were to be aired daily.  The straw of each bed was to be made over regularly.  Food was delivered to the inmates at regular meals and was eaten with knives, forks, and cups.  At least four days a week, inmates could count on seeing beef or mutton at their meals, complemented by potatoes and bread.  On the others days, they were served vegetable soup.  Tea and rye coffee were the beverages available.

In their nineteenth century heyday, the town farm provided a much-needed support system for society’s poor, infirm, and undesirable,  Records from even earlier than 1880 show larger groups of paupers, some seemingly from the same families and a number of healthy, yet poor people, among them widows and children as young as four months old.  Despite their challenges, town farms managed to produce hay, milk, livestock, beans, potatoes, and wood products year after year before ceasing operations in the first years after Social Security was implemented.  The increasing standard of living during the early twentieth century coupled with the implementation of social welfare programs enabled families to become increasingly able to care for their sick, elderly, and troubled members.  The town farms quietly seeped into the forgotten history of their towns, sometimes only remembered in the street names of the roads they once occupied.

Sources:

  • Olmstead, Frederick.  Hand-book for visitors to the poorhouse.  4th ed. New York:  G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1888.
  • Ancestry.com. U.S. Federal Census – 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
  • Ancestry.com. U.S. Federal Census – 1880 Schedules of Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

Haying Time in Old New England

Man using a scythe

Image via Wikipedia

The history of New England heavily centers on urban life, and more specifically, Boston.  But, what about the history of its suburbs, which today form its bedroom communities?  Most of those town histories are firmly grounded in, or at least laced with, farming.  Any good story or study that depicts or explores the region’s past should consider New England’s agricultural heritage too.  At the end of the nineteenth century, ‘haying season’ meant weeks (as many as six, starting around Independence Day) of rising at 4 o’clock, assembling a team of ‘mowers’ and farm boys, and laying down an acre of ground, all by hand scythe before 7 o’clock, while the dew was still fresh atop the grass.  (For a period-incorrect illustration of a man using said scythe, see image at above.) Each day, the best mower of the team, the ‘boss’, cut the first swath into the field.  This swath needed to be twice as wide as any other and was called a ‘doubler‘.  The other mowers followed, each cutting swaths behind the doubler.  Each then took a turn as the leader, while the prior leader was sent to the rear of the line.  The etiquette of these men working the hay fields became quite formalized, and to break the etiquette was considered poor taste.  Rivalries emerged among many of the men, and, occasionally, an overzealous mower would delight in closing the gap between his efforts and the effort of the man in front of him.  Sometimes, he would approach so closely that he would ‘grass‘ the other man by throwing grass from his own scythe in front of the other mower.  Some men got so engrossed in the rivalries that the sun and the labor overtook them, forcing them into the shade of a tree or bush.  The mowers would taunt these men for becoming ‘bushed’.

While the mowers toiled cutting swaths through the hay fields, farm boys followed in their wake, spreading the freshly fallen stems to the sun and wind to facilitate the drying process.  From there, the raking and heaping of the hay filled out the rest of the morning.  With this accomplished, after their midday dinner, the haymakers began bringing the hay in.  And if, as on a good day, they finished all of this before 9 o’clock at night, they set back to mowing down another section in order to get a head start on the next morning’s labor.  There were breaks during the day, some to sharpen scythes with whetstones, but mostly to visit the spring in the field, where a jug of hard cider was customarily kept.  Farmers sometimes substituted rum and molasses for the hard cider, but this happened less so in later years as they came to realize that the rum tended to slow down the hired men during the long afternoons.  By the time of World War I, the long labors of nineteenth century haymaking had been lessened considerably by the introduction of haymaking machinery.

Sources:

  • “A Departed Custom.”  The Lowell Sun.  23 July 1918.  6.
  • Hall, C.N.  “Some Features of Old Connecticut Farming”  The New England Magazine,  An Illustrated Monthly:  Vol. 22.