In 1983, Kenneth Poore’s dying wish was to have his family farm in Stewartstown, N.H. (pop. 1,012), turned into a museum. That wish came true in 1994, thanks to the town’s residents and the Poore Family Foundation for North Country Conservancy.
The farm’s history is a rich one. It came into existence when Poore’s grandparents moved into the wilderness in the mid-1820s, only five miles from the Canada border and settled on the 100-acre farm. Poore’s father, John Calvin, also lived there, as did Poore, until his death at age 98.
Because Poore left the farm and its deteriorating building, but no money, years of financial difficulties passed before the grounds were open to visitors.
“It was in horrific condition. They all needed work,” says the foundation’s Executive Director Rick Johnsen of the eight buildings in various stages of collapse. “The blacksmith shop, the woodwork shop and the hops barn were all down,” he says. Fortunately, dedicated townspeople, volunteers and craftsmen came to the rescue to keep the Poore family’s agricultural legacy alive.
Today, the farm, known as the Poore Family Homestead Historic Farm Museum, stands as a monument to tough New England farmers. Last year, the farm was brought to life for nearly 2,000 visitors, who walked through to see first-hand how New Hampshire farmers lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
During those times, the family farm was completely self-sustaining, providing food, clothing, shelter and income. If the Poores wanted a nail, they went to the blacksmith shed and made it. When they needed a shirt or a rug, they wove it. That required a loom, so they made one.
Dottie Lee, a nurse and self-taught weaver, visited Poore with her father as a child. Now she provides weaving demonstrations, using the loom made by the original owner of the farm in the 1820s. His initials are on the loom.
“The older ones talk about having seen their mothers or grandmothers weaving,” Lee says. “And the children are amazed to find that sweaters did not come from stores.”
The main barn houses a display of tools, farm implements, oxen and horse wagons, churns, rakes, and thousands of other artifacts used in everyday life through almost two centuries.
New England frugality is no myth, as evidenced by what was saved, from Depression-era corn flake boxes to the dozens of letters John Calvin wrote from Civil War battlefields. But nothing is for sale here. Instead, the foundation will refurbish the farm’s buildings as money allows.
Raising money to keep the farm operating is a constant effort, Johnsen says, and includes events—from bluegrass concerts to old-fashion ice cream socials—on the grounds. The New Hampshire Historical Society also contributed $10,500 to the cause.
Still, volunteers do most of the restoration work. Each spring, Eugene Reid brings his Canaan, Vt. (pop. 1,078), high school carpentry class to work on the farm, which is an eye-opening experience for the students. “We look at those traditional methods and tools, and we use them,” Reid says. They harvest timber on site and discover that “a good sharp plane and ax work fast.”
They’ve helped stabilize the main house, which still isn’t safe for visitors, who must view it through the windows. The main barn and small barn also have been stabilized, but all that remains of some buildings is a “footprint”—the outline of the foundation—from which students hope to re-build the original structures.
But for all that remains to be done, volunteers have made the museum, which ended its 10th season in September, a living institution, a treasure trove and a window on history for people of today.
“It keeps people connected to the past,” Lee says, “and I think generations need to be linked together.”
For more information on the Poore Family Farm, log on to www.poore family.homestead.com.