Speech in 1868 Expresses same Ideas as Today
By Grace Story Webber, Cairo Township Historian
Published in the Catskill Daily Mail June 24, 1953
Newspaper article courtesy of Linda Larsen. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
This is the 19th in a series of articles published by the Daily Mail about the history of the town of Cairo.
A copy of transactions of the New York State Agricultural Society just came to my attention and I have gleaned the following excerpts from an address given by Solon Robinson at Cairo at the fair of the Greene County Agricultural Society in 1868.
It is interesting to note the same ideas are still being advocated but in a far different setting.
Mr. Robinson begins: "I am known to some of you as an agricultural writer and as one who has frequently spoken before agricultural societies. Yet I am a stranger here. I know nothing of the peculiarities of farming in this country. There may be some good farmers, which I could point to as models, if I knew them. There may be others which I ought to skin as badly as they skin their farms, and hold them up as examples to be avoided. Let them rest easy I donít know them. I cannot raise a laugh at some miserable farmerís expense. Indeed, I have nothing for you to laugh at. I shall make this talk to the farmers practical, interesting and instructive.
Every person who owns, or occupies land, if it is only a garden spot, should be acquainted with its formation, and what constitutes productive soil meadows have been mown, until they are not worth mowing. Although they still give a small yield of hay, it is worthless stuff. No man can afford to mow land that produces less than two tons of good rich hay per acre.
The more the earth produces the more it will; the more it is worked the richer it becomes; provided you do not carry off the crops until its strength is exhausted. Plow in the sunshine, air and dew, and mix them with the earth while you pulverize it finely, and it will improve.
Let me impress upon your minds this one great geological factóin the beginning there was no soil....nothing like what we call dirt. This has all come from the disintegration of rocks; and fertility depends upon how far this is advanced by natural causes, or by the aid of manís skill.
When you have worn down the Catskill mountains, and used up all their substance in growing food crops, you have not even made a beginning of wearing out the earth. The great source of fertility will never be exhausted. Plow deep, you cannot cut through the crust, nor exhaust the source of fertility. The more you grind these rocks the more they will produce.
We are apt to speak of wheat as a crop peculiarly suited to "new land." As you understand the term, so it is. But that is not new land. It is only newly cleared of timber, and is filled with potash, which the wheat must have.
It is no wonder that it was long ago written by a wise man that "bread is the staff of life," when we cast our eyes over the world and see how much life rests upon that stuff.
It is not necessary that man live by bread alone, because wherever the soil is capable of producing breadstuffs in the highest perfection, there the people can enjoy rich fruits and the best of meats in great abundance.
Upon such a soil, too, except in the early period of its occupation, the people will be mainly well housed full fed, and finely clothed, and surrounded with ample conveniences and comforts of life.
Let it be borne in mind that the growth of wheat by any nation of people is one of the strongest evidences that civilization is advancing, and the people as a whole are improving in morals, intelligence, religion, and happiness. Where wheat come in, savagism goes out."
Mr. Robinson gives in detail the growing of wheat and its influence on the peoples of the earth.
He then continues:--"And here is another serious question for a large number of farmers. In all, the old States, we have destroyed the forests to such an extent that we have not timber enough for our necessities. This universal sweeping away of the forests has greatly affected the climate condition of the country. Mill streams have dried up, and mills gone to decay. But worse of all, the shelter of the birds has been destroyed. We have already lost several varieties of fruit either from insects or change in the character of the climate and our food crops are so meager that the people would starve if they did not find supplies in other regions where land of the destroyer has not yet exhausted the land of its original fertility.
The importance of planting trees to produce fruit, timber, fuel, shade, shelter, and to promote health, is no longer to be ignored. We must reclothe our hill-tops with forest to break the blasts of winter. We have cut away the trees from rocky hillsides, from ravines and broken wastes spots. We must begin to plant in the generation, or the evils will come upon the next.
Look at the stock seeking shelter in the woods from piercing winds. See how they gather in sunny nooks, or behind rocks and clumps of brushes. Be assured that some of our crops would do the same if they possessed the power of locomotion. Even our hardiest winter grains are noted for being most productive "under the woods." That is, where there is dense belt of timber upon the coldest sides. In truth, shall we not say that every crop grown, every field we cultivate, even where used for pasturage, is better for this wood-land protection from northern blasts.
Good Roads Needed
I have recommended trees by the roadside. I recommend good roads still more earnestly. In a neighborhood where they are neglected, you will find a shiftless population, and the land deteriorated in value. As a general rule, our way of managing the public highways belong to a bygone, semi-barbarous age. (Do we hear remarks like this today?)
Some future generation will look upon this, full of wonder at our system of making roads, to see how we climbed up hill, when we might go around them; and how we labored to fence roads for the very poor economy of pasturing them; or children will learn to make roads comparatively level, and of material that will not wash away in every shower, and they will find it economical to grow grass and trees upon the borders. (This was in 1868)
Here, I have only time to ask you to think, Have you ever thought how much the character of children are affected by the house in which they are born and grown to manhood?
It is a crime which should entitle a man to sever punishment to compel his wife to do the slavish labor of a farm house in one that is inconvenient and uncomfortable as some of them are.
In the first place, the kitchen should be one of the most cheerful, light and airy rooms in the house; for it is in that room that "Mother and the children" spend most of their early life. It should be cool in the Summer and warm in the Winter. There should be a shed at the back door and great spreading shade tree a few feet distant.
An unfailing supply of soft water should be within ten feet of the fire. A cistern can be built for $25 that will hold fifty barrels of rain-water. It is only to dig a hole in the ground and plaster it with cement, two coats. No brick walls are needed; and two barrels of cement will plaster a cistern six feet wide six feet deep, and that will hold 1,260 gallons of water.
Fuel should be equally convenient. The very best cooking range or stove is none to good for a farmerís kitchen should be furnished with coal a ton of anthracite coal will outlast two cords of wood."
Mr. Robinson continues:--"when ever womanís rights are fully established in this country, it shall be made justifiable cause of divorce for any farmerís wife, whose husband fails to furnish her with a washing machine, clothes-wringer, mop-wringer, coffee-roaster, coffee-mill, and another upon a larger scale for cracking wheat and corn. A meat cutter is also indispensable; and a newly patented bread mixer is a convenience. A small grindstone is a labor-saving implement, it should be in every kitchen. Patent churns are patent nuisances. Every well furnished kitchen should have a clock.
It is pretty near the height of folly for any farmerís family to attempt to keep house without a sewing machine. In some families, a knitting-machine would be a great acquisition. All of the articles, I have mentioned, and some others, are as necessary to her as mowers, reapers, winnowers, horse-rakes, and horse-forks are to him. One of the greatest pleasures to a woman if to have a house that she is not ashamed of inside and out.
If you needed to build a new house, remember what great improvements in the mode of building have been made. Fifty years ago, the raising of the house forty feet square, two stories high, summoned all the men for miles around. There is no such thing as framing, tenons, mortices, braces nor heavy timbers. The carpenters today commence up on one side setting up light studding and nailing on the boards, and so work around and upward.
Care In Selection
Be careful in the selection of your site. Look more to the comfort of you family, than the contiguity of you house to the pig-pen. Do not build so close to the highway that its dust and noise will be an increasing annoyance. Design your house for convenience. You will find it most pleasant and most healthy to have the apartments which will be most used, upon the southeastern side, where you can see the morning sun. Have piazzas upon the same side.
When you get your plan of the size and shape of the house, and the relative position of all its parts submit it to your wife. If this course had been adopted in all cases, we should not now have such a number of inconvenient dwellings. I have known many a farm that would not sell for as much after a new house was built, as it would with the old one. Time and money were wasted, for want to knowing how to build."
Mr. Robinson concludes with these words:--"The earth and air are both full of riches, but they will never come to the sluggard, nor to the abusive husband, whether of the earth or woman. Both require better treatment than they sometimes receive. Both require thoughts, which I hope my words will have a tendancy to arouse. If so, then my labor is not in vain. My earnest desire is to give my aid toward the improvement of the soil and the mindÖ.to the elevation of the character and condition of the agriculture of my country.