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  • Writer's pictureIthaca Heritage

Land, Two Barns, a Milk Can and Generations of a Family

I have a very deep connection to Tompkins County. Of particular note is land in Dryden that has been in my family since 1815. Rural-ness is in my bones and embedded in numerous memories. I grew up on a former farm in Lansing just a mile down the road from my Grandma and Grandpa Howe. I had the opportunity to hay with my Grandpa as a teenager and to help Grandma with various tasks. I came to love the cow barn and the horse barn. Every night we would take our small milk can and go up the road to get milk from Grandpa. It is with respect that I now drive around Lansing while acknowledging the various emotions as I look at all the development that has happened in the town over the past 50 years.

I am fortunate to still have car time with my mother (age 94), and it seems as if every few minutes she will look out the window and give some reference to a family connection with a home, building, cemetery or landscape. I often say to folks that I know where my people are buried.

Some context:

In the early 1950s, my grandfather had twelve dairy cows, four head of young stock and about 100 hens. He grew corn, wheat, oats, buckwheat and hay. He was also a beekeeper. About half his income came from a portable sawmill behind the house. The first tractor on the farm was a Fordson in 1918, the last horse on the farm was in 1947. The first car, an Overland, was purchased in 1916. A macadam road was build past the farm in 1919. Electricity came to the farm in 1939, about the same time that a telephone was installed. Running water was installed in 1947. An article written in The Tompkins County Farm Bureau News in 1951 stated:

“The farm, originally part of the Indians’ hunting ground, drawn as a bounty by a minister for services and sold to a man with a pioneer spirit, has been called home to the same family for over 130 years. Some of the members have turned to other sources of income, such as lumbering or gun making, but always the farm has been the mainstay to furnish most of the living, at least part of the income and a comfortable home. A large number of people can trace their ancestry directly to Squire Howe who first tilled this farm. Lessons learned from members of this family have had their influence on the community. Prospects are that another generation will eventually take over this farm and carry on the traditions of the family.”

My father did become a part-time farmer but not on the Howe homestead. Instead, he bought a farm a mile away a few years after returning from service in World War II. When he sold that farm when it proved to be too much with a young family, he bought the place across the road -- a deserted, overgrown farm. When our family used the forty acres at all, it was used for recreational purposes. There are other “chapters” to the story but suffice it to say that now my brother owns most of the land that had been part of the original farm and lives there. Our family gathers there. It is a gift that we can still walk on the land that has been in the family for multiple generations.

A few artifacts serve to remind me of my relationship to land and farming. There are still a few guns in the family made by Henry Townley Howe, my great-great-grandfather, and one of the guns is part of The History Center’s collections. I have the milk can that we used every evening. And, in part, because of the two barns I helped to start the NYS Barn Coalition. I have lived in major cities but my early life embedded an appreciation for rural-ness.

Rod Howe, Executive Director

The History Center in Tompkins County

Originally written for the blog by Rod Howe.

Published August 7, 2018.

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