Early farm life photos spark discussion

On a rare Monday afternoon meeting of the Mapleton Historical Society, Kyle Smith, program assistant with the Wellington County Museum and Archives, shared photos of early farm life in Mapleton Township.

Floyd Schieck opened the March 2 meeting with a reading on Attitudes by Charles Swindoll. He then introduced the guest speaker, Smith, who gave a brief outline of his presentation and asked the audience to contribute any knowledge they had about life on the farm in the late 1800s to early 1900s.

The first settlers in the township were free slaves from the south arriving in 1820. They settled in the Queen’s Bush area around Glen Allan and were considered squatters. Few were able to purchase the land they settled due to a lack of financial resources.  European settlers followed shortly behind and purchased the available lands the free slaves had settled.  Clearing the land was a daunting task. Smith showed a photo of four women standing inside a stump. Most stumps were six feet across. Besides clearing large trees, settlers also had to clear scrub brush and secondary trees from forest regrowth.

By the 1860s, anyone living in a log cabin was considered to be living in poverty. The more prosperous residents built frame houses or covered their log houses with clapboard. A chicken coop was an essential part of the farm, along with a sugar shack. Maple sugar, not maple syrup, was a family’s source of sugar.

A photo of the Edwards brothers from 1920 depicted a long line outside a very large outhouse. Jean Campbell stated the outhouse was located at Moorefield ball park. The Edwards brothers were a mischievous bunch who were known to pose for unusual photos throughout the township.

Frame barns were always built before frame houses. The stone, lower level of bank barns were cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A hill leading to the second level allowed easier access by equipment. The first fences were made of stumps lined up in a row. Stumps rotted easily and were replaced by rail fences.

Other photos shown by Smith included Glen Allan Hardware in 1902, an early fieldstone house located outside of Stirton, the 1894 Drayton market and the first reaper, from the 1890s.

Of interest to the audience was a 1925 Rothsay Public School photo. The picture of the school, located on County Road 10, showed a hilly gravel road leading to the building. Students walking to school had to go up hill going to and returning home from school. The school has since been converted to a residence.

A discussion followed the showing of the original farmhouse located in the trailer park near Drayton Heights Public School. The house was a combination of fieldstone, brick and wood. The original being fieldstone, with additions on the rear of the building made of brick and a wooden porch added onto the front.

Technology and the introduction of mass production of products changed the rural countryside in the 1940s. Previously, a farmer made use of the resources he had on the farm and built his own pens out of wood. With mass production a farmer was able to purchase steel pens for the barn. That type was cleaner and made chore time easier.

Land had to be cleared and houses removed during the construction of Conestogo Lake. Houses were jacked up and hauled to another location, using the same methods in use today. The audience told Smith that the army used the area of the future lake for dynamite training during the clean-up process.

Smith’s talk ended with a discussion on agriculture-related articles that he brought from the museum. Items included a garlic press, apple peeler, nutmeg grater, peanut butter pail, cow bell, potato ricer and chicken feeder.