top of page
  • Sara Tucker

The Farm in Essex

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

By Harry Cooley

In 1905, William and Anna Cooley sold the family farm in Georgia, Vermont, and bought another one in an effort to improve their lot, a quest that suffered many setbacks. Here is the second installment of Harry's autobiography, which will be published later this year. Harry, my maternal grandfather, worked very hard as a boy, a habit that never left him. —Sara Tucker


The Cooley Family. Emerson, the baby, was born in 1908. Harry is in the center.

The farmhouse in Essex was a pretty shabby residence, but it had electric lights and running water, both new luxuries for us, as in Georgia we used kerosene lamps and pumped our water or sent the cows to the brook. The farm work was more demanding than at Georgia, and father kept a hired hand for the first year, although he did not peddle his milk at retail. He made a deal with Mr. Holley, a retired man in Essex, to take the milk in bulk for three cents a quart, and Mr. Holley delivered it, also in bulk, for five cents per quart. I don’t think we ever sold two hundred quarts a day. How two families could ever expect to exist on such meager incomes is now a mystery, but groceries were cheap, and the children didn’t cost much to feed and clothe. The second year on the farm saw the departure of the hired hand and increased dependence on “the boys.”

There was a corn canning factory in Essex Junction, and Father decided to plant sweet corn. This called for hoeing by hand, and we spent long hot days in the cornfield during late June and early July and again in picking season, about September 15, when the weather was still warm. Father hired a man and his horse during haying, but except for an occasional day laborer the family did all the farm work for the last two years on the farm.

Father tried to increase his income by trading in cows and horses, but I don’t see that he ever made anything, as our dairy got poorer and poorer as changes took place, and we seldom had two good horses on the place at one time.

Father got the idea that he had made a poor move, that he could do something else besides farming. This was in 1908 during a depression, which I am sure none of the family realized. A middle-aged man with no particular ability had a poor chance of getting a job in a new field. Anyway, with considerable help from a neighbor across the street who had cultivated the family, Father sold the farm to two different parties. The house and a small piece of land went to Mr. Beaulac, a small-time speculator, and the rest of the land and the barn to a neighbor, Smith, in exchange for a farm in the town of Middlesex near the village of Putnamville, about ten miles north of Montpelier, which neighbor Smith had owned long enough to strip it of all marketable timber.

At the same time Father bought the large home on the corner of Grove and Central Streets which became our home for the next two years. After a brief unsuccessful attempt to find steady employment on the railroad, Father took a job as herdsman for Dan Johnson, who owned a farm on the Essex Center Road (R15) opposite the Drury Brickyard. I was finishing my first year of high school. When summer vacation came I took a job at the Roscoe Printing Company in Essex Junction in the region known as Indian Acres. Here I was put to folding Central Vermont time tables, schedules of Vermont Railway trains. I worked in the top story of a flat-topped factory building with three or four other boys and girls. We took the big newsprint-sized sheets, and by folding and refolding reduced them to the size of a large envelope. We worked from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with an hour off at noon for fifty cents a day. I worked a week, and on Saturday told Mr. Roscoe I was all through, and he grudgingly gave me three dollars and I left the printing business to others.

The next week I got a job for a “butter and eggs man,” C. A. Booth, at one dollar a day. I candled eggs, helped load the delivery wagon in the morning with cases of eggs and butter, m