HST296E: Reading Notes, 31 March 2005

Merrick, Elliott. Green Mountain Farm.

Depression: 1932 - that dream of farm, hard work and moonlight, rocks but an amazing view.
The romantic penniless writer and the love of place. "the wild and the civilized side by side, and we here in the middle, picking and choosing a little of each." (p. 182)

It is easy to see why this book/style became such a blueprint for the back to the land ethos of the 70s. It's a double hit: there is the whole notion of moving at ease in the landscape, harsh though it may be, and the nostalgia for the 30s/40s when such a thing might have seemed more possible. The buggies, the pace as described by Merrick.

Contrast to Gilmore's sentence in "Reading Becomes a Necessity", "Gradually they were frozen into their homesteads, where they would remain for over a third of the year. The bleakness of the Vermont climate, with its starkly contrasting grey-white and dark green..." (He then goes on to discuss how this led to reading as imginative escape and bliss.)

A few highlights:
pp. 20-21: the description of the farmhouse they move into is every antiquarian's dream! The old people who never threw anything away, old clothes, old wheat hulls, old newspapers.

p. 23: the description of Chester (crusty Vermonter) and his building practices (making a paper pattern for cutting a strange angle on a board) ties in well with the notch marks found on barns (and his tip of laying all the boards and then snapping a line on the eave is one we learned too!)

p. 36: "To be happy in this country you must be like the Eskimos and welcome the snow."

p. 40: men on the town: being poor enough to be supported by the town coffers. Noble, honest and hard-working

pp. 69-70: his neighbor, Zach Tyler, describes how the intensive farming of the west has destroyed the Vermont farm economy. First wheat, then butter, then fluid milk:. He mentions how the money made from creameries went back into the town in the form of commerce and taxes. A very telling argument with parallels to both manure and WalMart.
He also talks about the soil conservation program against which New England voted. The midwest "with their one-crop system and thier mis-management and their greed--they've got their land about half ruined. So now the government's goin' to reward 'em for it, and we got to help foot the bill."

p. 92: visiting NY, comparing the city to the country, to the former's detriment

pp. 142-144: description of skiing at Stowe and on Teardrop - lyrical as ever.I mention it just because...

pp. 145: summer people

p. 163: water problems, freezing pipes; "The problem of the house is a small matter, but for a dairy farmer with forty head of stock the loss of barn water is something else again. He has to toil like a galley slave till spring, and his milk check will be diminished."

p. 176: Burlington, once the largest lumber port in the USA, now a rotting remnant of wharves where poor kids fish

pp. 192-194: he talks about how they have learned to garden. they originally did it by the book, now they know what "really" works from experience. So much for the scientific advice material!

pp. 196-197: The main philosophy: "Everyone knows that what ails our economy is the distribution system and the great spread between the producer and consumer. It looks to me as though the way to beat that is to provide certain easily produced necessities such as vegetables, for yourself. . .why be a helpless one if one can avoid it?"
"We have found that the only time we lose money on our farm work is when we raise stuff to sell. When we eat it ourself we get it for less than we could buy. . .Probably the smartest thing we could do to make a profit on our farm would be to build a few summer cottages to rent, and thus import our own market."

Brown, Dona. Inventing New England: Regional Tourism in the Ninteenth Century. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995.


"The pursuit of sceneery linked a crucial pair of nineteenth-century "isms." For the consumer, scenic tourism softened the hard features of an industrializing society with a veil of romanticism." Ex: mountain streams, mill on one side, stairs to hotel on the other "On the other hand, the business of scenery was capitalism, pure and simple. Indeed, it was the cutting edge of capitalism, marketed with the most advanced techniques, served by the highest of high-tech transportation systems and building methods." (p. 4)

Tourist experience as a "separate sphere" from work and daily life (p. 6)

"Tourism played a key role in creating a consumer-oriented society and economy". . . converting middling artisans, shopkeepers, and professionals with their "tradition of self-denying soberness and frugality to a consumer ethic that sought liberation and fulfillment in purchases" and decoupling leisure from vice. (p. 6)

"By the mid-nineteenth century, everyone with even a remote hope of achieving middle-class status understood that a vacation was as essential to that status as owning a piano and a carpet." (p. 7)

Late 19th: recreation of New England, founder of industrialization, into its antithesis: Old New England, pastoral, simple, white. The book is a "case study of the process of 'inventing' a region." (p. 11)

mentioned as needing further study: Vermont farm boarding houses catering to school teachers and saleswomen

"Nineteenth-century tourists turned away from the allure of the marketplace to travel straight into the arms of the marketplace." (p. 13)

1) Tours Grand and Fashionable

Saratoga! Blurring social lines, moving from tours of war and other sites (prison) to scenic.

2) The Uses of Scenery

Early tourists to the White Mountains came for the scenic experience, to write about it and display appropriate sensibility. In so doing, they developed the infrastructure: "Developing the tourist industry also "developed" tourists: It transformed masses of people into scenic consumers, while it simultaneously made the scenic experience available to them on easy terms." (p. 60) (This nicely parallels Tolbert's Constructing Townscapes argument about trains, towns, and commercialism in mid-Tennessee)

3) Cottage Heaven

summer vacation spreads to the masses, camp meetings, cottage camps

4) Manufactured for the Trade

nostalgic touring, Nantucket, quaint islanders then creating quaint architecture, "quaintification" copied throughout New England

5) That Dream of Home: Northern New England and the Farm Vacation Industry, 1890-1900

Frank Rollins, governor New Hampshire: Old Home Week, 1899
following articles outside NE on decadence and decline of region: rural flight/rural blight, isolation, poverty, degeneracy.
Small industry failing, farming taking over but not doing well, farms abandoned
well...not really. population moving to towns, yes, but farms that were abandoned were probably only on marginal lands. Farmers were adapting to lower prices and western competition by shifting from wool/wheat to dairy and more intensive farming on good land

Old Home Week goals:
Early 19th: northern New England perceived as backwater
Late 19th: northern New England seen as "real" New England (as opposed to immigrant, industrial infested coastal NE)

Old Home Week practice:
In first few years: 70 NH towns, 40 VT towns participate
" The real task facing its organizers was to make rural northern New England seem like 'home' to everyone" and to associate going to Old Home Week with returning to their own childhood." (p. 142)

The states were ready: "In the year's before Old Home Week's debut, these northern states had taken the innovative step of building governmental infrastructures to attract tourists and to shape tourist demand to fit their own specifications." (p. 142)

Fertile Farms and Summer Homes

1890s: new tourist destination: pastoral, nostalgic farms: VT becomes the champ of NE

VT Board of Agricutlure, formed in 1871 to preserve farming. They championed farm tourism as a way to do this. (Victor I. Spear) Pamphlet to sell abandoned farms: originally targeted to farmers (brown wrapper), then targeted to summer home buyers (flower wrapper) Also, sell farmers on idea of "crop" of tourists (see Merrick, above!) Part of the move to high-end rural-pure Vt-brand farm goods: maple sugar, fresh dairy, veggies, even fresh air

High-tech agriculturists object: "we should be farming scientifically--switch to high labor dairying"

Come Home to Your Mother

"It was not the founding fathers but home and mother who called Vermont's visitors back to the past." (p. 146) Not the patriotic war fighters, nor the rugged NH rocks, but the softer side (which, given the landscape actually makes sense)

Building on former advocation of Board of Ag (1872) to make the farm more "home-like" to keep the kids n the farm (re: Those Who Stayed Behind)

An ambivalent critique of their contemporary world: be the "haven in the heartless world" but make your farming produce like the "heartless world" i.e. be commercially aggressive, but not too greedy. Of course, if they hadn;t left they wouldn;t have made the money to "come home" on vacation.

New England Decadence

Reformers: the best and brightest have gone west: what's left are the dregs (they see them as similar to urban poor)

"The notion of the decline of New England rural life was based in fact on a shared belief in a sort of golden age, when New England's institutions and values had created a democratic rural utopia, whose beneficent influence har radiated out over the entire country." (p. 152)

NE as nation's aquifier from which the urbanites plan to suck living waters. (like Victorian women sending their home-refreshed men out into the big bad world)

The Summer Boarder

2-3 visitors in a home, B&B with good home food, wife and kids stay all week, husbands for weekend. They want R&R though, not real farm work

Plain Country Fare

Advice to hosts:
Most work is in women's realm but they may have also pocketed the $$.

But who is in charge? guest/host or master/servant

And for fun:
The Dream of Home
Sir Thomas Moore

Who has not felt how sadly sweet
The dream of home, the dream of home,
Steals o'er the heart, too soon to fleet,
When far o'er sea or land we roam?
Sunlight more soft may o'er us fall,
To greener shores our bark may come;
But far more bright, more dear than all,
That dream of home, that dream of home.

Ask the sailor youth when far
His light bark bounds o'er ocean's foam,
What charms him most, when evening's star
Smiles o'er the wave? to dream of home.
Fond thoughts of absent friends and loves
At that sweet hour around him come;
His heart's best joy where'er he roves,
That dream of home, that dream of home.

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, created/updated: 31-March-2005
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