Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Farmland Security

Cover of "Secure A Home in New Hampshire Where Comfort, Health, and Prosperity Abound."
 New Hampshire was never a friendly place for farmers, who had to scratch out a living in the state's rocky soil. Even nearby Vermont's soil was leaps and bounds above the Granite State's in terms of fertility and lack of physical obstructions. During the nineteenth century, with the rise of textile mills along the New England rivers and the settlement of the west, New Hampshire saw a marked increase in the abandonment of traditional farms. Entire families picked up and moved to the cities and places like Illinois and Ohio, where the land was plentiful and rich; we've blogged before about the publication of pamphlets meant to entice farmers to flee the barren ground of the northeast for the lush fields of Iowa.

First page of the farm descriptions in the government pamphletBy the late-19th century, the rate of abandonment had become so great that the New Hampshire state legislature passed an act in 1889 that required the office of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Immigration to investigate the state of these farms. They then published a report of their investigation, complete with a color map, entitled Secure a Home in New Hampshire, Where Comfort, Health, and Prosperity Abound. As one can guess, the book was intended "to call public attention to the desirable farms which for various reasons have become without occupants," so that the farms could be repopulated and hopefully stimulate the state economy. The overall tone of the publication can best be described as strained optimism, wherein the authors try to portray the best picture possible of the state's agricultural situation while acknowledging the factors that caused mass migration in the first place. The pamphlet claims that new farming innovations with regard to crops and livestock, among them fruit and dairy, have made farms in New Hampshire more profitable than ever. There is also an emphasis on an expanding infrastructure made possible by the railroads as well as an uptick in summer tourism that brings money into the state during the warm seasons.

Still, despite this cheery prognosis, the fact remains that there were hundreds of abandoned properties in New Hampshire. The book's introduction attempts to address the elephant in the room directly:
A printed image of a farm landscape entitled "Intervale at Conway"
"Doubtless the question arises, why are these farms vacated when circumstances seem so favorable to their occupancy?" Many possible reasons are provided, all of which provide alternatives to the inferiority of the local soil: extravagant habits of the owner; the attraction of the society of city life; even that the previous owner has become so wealthy that they have invested in a larger, even more successful business elsewhere. Regardless of how fantastical the explanations may be, or how desirable the properties are presented, it's still a hard sell; thumbing through hundreds of descriptions of deserted farms doesn't leave one with an impression of prosperity but, rather, desperation.

To see whose farm was up for sale in your town or county, come to Rauner and ask to see NH Imprints M35 1890.

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