By the 1920s and 30s, there was widespread agreement that small-scale farming in New England was in steep decline. Yet a surprising number of people went “back to the land” in those decades, many of them prompted by the hardships of the Depression years and the availability of cheap land. They were also inspired by dreams of self-sufficiency, desires for a closer connection to rural living, and concerns about the directions that capitalism seemed to be headed in. Among the families who came to Wendell in search of these things were the Lewises of Maine, who bought an old Yankee farm on West Street in 1932 (above) and proceeded to teach themselves how to be farmers. Continue reading
In 1771, the colonial government of Massachusetts surveyed the taxable property in the colony’s 152 towns. Since most people were farmers, the survey focused largely on acreage cleared and cultivated, livestock owned, and the value of the property. Wendell didn’t exist as a separate town yet (it incorporated in 1781) but searching for individual names of people known to have been among the first European-American settlers gives us a glimpse of some of these earliest farms.
One of the properties in Wendell (then part of Shutesbury) was being cleared by 28-year-old Ebenezer Johnson, the son of an already-settled Wendell farmer. By 1771, he had cleared just a single acre, back-breaking labor in an era before backhoes and stump-pullers. We don’t know exactly where in town the Johnson family’s properties were, but it’s a safe bet that even after his first acre, Ebenezer had accumulated plenty of material for the kind of stone walls that typically lined an upland farmer’s fields in this part of the state. Continue reading