The History of Agriculture in Kent
A century ago, the town of Kent had a completely different appearance. The hills were bare of trees, and crisscrossed with miles and miles of stone walls and barbed wire fences. Where we now have tidy subdivisions with fancy houses and manicured grounds, there were once cows, hundreds of them. Maybe thousands of them.
There were also pigs and chickens, goats and sheep. The farmhouses and barns were surrounded by fields of corn, hay, rye, wheat and…tobacco! Yes, tobacco. Tobacco was an important crop in the northwest hills. We usually think of the Connecticut River Valley when we think of tobacco, the flat fertile valley lands covered with acres and acres of tobacco tents and long, low barns.
But tobacco was also grown here on our hills as a successful cash crop at the turn of the last century. However, it is a labor intensive crop, and after WWI sufficient help was hard to find, with the result that the tobacco industry died out in our area.
Another cash crop quickly moved in to take over the void left by the demise of the tobacco market. Got Milk? We sure did in Kent. Dairy farms, already common in Kent, quickly spread throughout the town, some small, some large, but all feeding a growing population of city dwellers who could not keep the necessary cow or two in their back yards.
The arrival of the railroad and subsequent development of refrigeration techniques made it possible to transport great quantities of milk farther and farther away from its source. Initially, creameries were built, usually near the railroad depots, to collect and process the milk. There was a Borden Creamery by the present South Kent Post Office, the foundation of which may still be seen. Eventually, modern technology permitted the raw milk to be hauled directly from the farm in ten gallon cans to the milk platforms near the train tracks where they were placed on the daily milk train.
Refrigerated trucks then replaced the trains, making the transportation of raw milk even more lucrative. High butterfat content brought the highest price, and our fields were dotted with herds of Guernseys, Jerseys and Holsteins, each breed known by its local keepers to be the highest butterfat producer!
Former Kent Historical Society President, Susi Casey Williams, compiled a list of dairy farms that she can remember from her childhood. With her list, we begin to shift away from our long focus on the iron industry in Kent ( a subject very worthy of historians’ attention, but by no means the only interesting part of Kent’s rich history). So sit back, relax and enjoy this virtual tour of Kent as it appeared a half century ago.
And, when you’re done if you have any comments, additions, corrections or questions, please let us know!!! Dairy farming was the principal occupation in Kent from the early 1800s until the 1950s – the iron works thrived in the mid-1800s, but the ore petered out. When I was, say, about 8 years old (1947), the following farms existed:
In town, the Casey farm on Lane Street, which also ran the McBee farm (pigs & chickens) near Ackerman’s house, the “summer barn” on North Main Street and the hay barns down by Kent Center School; the Templeton Farm on Maple Street where elderly housing is now – the barn is now The Nutrition Site & Masonic Hall; Lew Bull’s farm next to the old Town Hall – the barn became The Milk Pail Restaurant.
On Skiff Mountain, going up the hill was the Gurnsey Richards farm (Boone Moore’s); then the Ladd farm on the right, where the Connerys live now; on top, on the left where Tom Sebring & Steve Vaughn live now, was the Patrick Kinney farm; turn right, and at the Marvelwood School was the big Rawson Farm where they raised black angus (their lands extended to the stables, and over toward Jerry Tobin’s); going past the little one room school house, there was a Tobin Farm on the right (now Nichols); at the bottom of that hill was John Tobin’s Farm (now Austi Brown’s); then, going up toward Jerry Tobin’s, you first came to the Luther, later Paul, Skiff (Gunn) farm on the right (now occupied by Walter and Margaret Gunn Kane), next was the Tobin Brother’s farm, also on the right. Bill & Jerry Tobin both built their houses on farm acreage.
Taking that left at Skiff Mountain cemetery onto Dolldorf Road, which becomes Appalachian Trail Road, the land all belonged to the Kinney farm, until it conjoined with Gurnsey Richards’.
Going to Fuller Mt. Road & taking a right down the back way to Macedonia, there was Myra Hopson’s farm (now Pond Mountain Trust where Paul and Beth Dooley live and where my Dad often rode a big Morgan stallion), then the Card farm and a Wathley farm (now Jorrin). I don’t remember any farms along Macedonia Brook Road, until you got to Dell Eads’ – that was a Chase farm (Red Horse Ranch) and the magnificent barn was Vern Eads’ office and storage for his drop forging equipment.
On 341 toward NY State from Eads, there was the Edwin Chase farm on the right (big gray house still there where the Lawrence Chase family lives), followed by the Posselt farm on left, where we sometimes got Christmas trees.
Turn around on 341, and head back east toward Kent School – where there was another big farm (Kent School Farm) that the boys used to work at (now a soccer field, hockey rink, etc. & the new headmaster’s house) and where I kept a horse for a while. It burned, I think in the 70s. Down Schagticoke Road, there was the derelict Fuller Farm, first home of Kent School.