Hoosick Township Historical Society
The Mystery of the Wood Farm and the Magic
by Marie Sheldon Hine
Uncovering the mystery of the Wood Farm becomes more puzzling as the years go by and few are here who remember its former glory. For me it was a magical place indeed and I doubt there was another farm in the state quite like it. Reams have been written about the world renown Walter A. Wood Mowing and Reaping Machine Company, but little information is available concerning the extraordinary Wood Farm.
The Wood Mansion above Main Street, Hoosick Falls was erected in 1855, nineteen years after the first Mr. Wood arrived from New Hampshire to start a company. Thirteen acres of landscaped park surrounded the mansion and in the rear of the grounds was the farm property of 600 acres.
An early lithograph of Hoosick Falls, dated 1889, shows the arbor vitae or white cedar lined private drive from the mansion up the hill to the farm and the greenhouse, as well as the spruce lined main entrance to the farm from Abbott Street. (See Illustration) The lithograph drawn by L. R. Burleigh of Troy, New York clearly shows some of the original buildings with the exception of the unique cow barn, milk house and ice house which must have been added at a later date.
If this is a true rendition of the farm buildings at the time then the additions were built after 1889 and it seems likely that Dorothy Harrison Wood had something to do with planning the additions. As noted in the Town and Country magazine article, Mrs. Wood took great interest in animal husbandry and at the Hoosick Falls Farm she bred cattle with an eye towards increasing milk production. The milk barn was a model of innovation and efficiency; the special concrete floors were smooth and light as marble and could easily be washed down. Legend has it that the workers wore uniforms and the sanitarily produced certified milk was shipped daily to New York City. The unique milk house contained a boiler room and steam plant with the mechanical means of sterilizing the equipment. Remember this was shortly after the turn of the century and long before pasteurization.
I grew up on the Wood Farm and by the time I left in the 1940s it still held public interest. The agriculture students from High School still came each year to study modern dairy practices, and Wood Farm still made the news.
The “growing up” here and the magic is the story I want to tell and perhaps along the way we can solve some of the mysteries of its beginnings.
The Gates at Wood Farm It was an impressive sight to approach Wood Farm from the Abbott Street entrance. On each side of the entrance were handsome stone curving walls perhaps five feet tall and ten feet in length. Attached were the wrought iron gates. Spruces lined the drive up to the farm at the crest of the hill. Half way up the driveway was the gardener’s home and the gardens on the right.
The 1876 Beers map of Hoosick Falls and the 1911 Survey map do not show these entrance gates and I do not know when they were built. They were much in evidence when we bought the farm in 1921 and by the time I could climb up on the wall and swing on the gates the mortar around the stone was beginning to disintegrate. As children we were not allowed to go beyond these gates. Neighborhood children were encouraged to visit us but we were constantly admonished to....”stay on our own property!”
The Calhoun Family bought the farm in 1947 and Mr. Calhoun says there were no sign of stone walls or gates at that time. Did grandpa sell the iron for the War effort (WWII)? What happened to the stones?
The Farm House Gate
The farm manager’s house was connected to the farm buildings by a covered archway. Across the archway was a pair of tall wooden gates.(see Illustration) Little sister Clara must have been at a crawling age when she attempted to escape and caught her head under the gates. I recall tense moments with grandpa and dad together lifting the heavy gates carefully to release sister without injuring her. Those gates disappeared shortly thereafter. This archway can be seen clearly in the photographs.
On the left side of the archway was the farm office. The tall English oak desk from this office was left with the farm, G’ma moved it to the dining room where she displayed her fine china behind glass doors. Dad was especially fond of this desk and took it to North Petersburg with him in 1943. Sister Ann Adriance Riedel has this desk in Key West, Florida with interesting writing and figures on the bottom of one drawer and lettering W.A. Wood
The Courtyard Gates
The gates shown in illustration were seldom closed. Mainly they turned back against the tall wooden fencing on either side of the opening to the courtyard. On the far side of the courtyard was another large opening and the gates could close off the area in which many exciting things happened as I will relate later.
As you entered the courtyard, the first large building on the left was the hay barn. Then, at the corner, steps led up to two long halls at right angles to each other. One led to stairs down to the lower level (before you entered the hay barn) Under these stairs an unusual feature-a small room with a flush toilet connected to the water tank over the garage and the windmill. By 1921 when we arrived the water tank/windmill had been detached as the Farm now enjoyed town water supply. The hall straight ahead led to two chicken houses on the right facing south. Back out in the Courtyard were the pig pens and bull pen. These extended back outdoors into yards surrounded by horizontal iron pipes.
Then came the arch opening south. From there a road extended down a hill to Wood Brook and Wood Pond. My friend Liz McEvoy notes she and her husband often used this route as a short cut from Abbott Street to the Country Club where they were active members
Stretching high across this south opening arch was a long log beam which could be rotated in fixtures at each end. Near the ends of the beam hung a heavy rope, one on each side, and at the end of each rope was a huge metal hook. Here a whole cow or pig could be strung-up and butchered. The animal could be raised or lowered by the rotating beam. Here also we youngsters engaged in a forbidden activity. We’d hook the hooks together, cover the sharp points with grain bags and swing as high as the sky, as long as we weren’t caught. It seemed we could almost touch Ball Street in one direction and the Country Clubhouse in the other direction.
Continuing on to the right of this arch were the machinery sheds. One machine in particular was the object of much fascination. I think it was a threshing machine. It was a huge box like thing that was hauled out through the south arch once a year and joined to the tractor engine by a belt. The whole thing shook and shivered in great, noisy, abandon and after being filled to the top it spewed forth from different orifices, grains, chaff, powder and dust quite unlike the stuff tossed in on top. To a youngster it was magic and like a circus cage it was red and gold.
Next we come to the southwest corner of the courtyard and step up through a doorway into a machine shop or tool room with windows and work benches along the south side. Along the walls hung scythes and assorted saws. It was a bright, cheerful room and a farther door led across marble stones, past a small ash(smoke) house to the farmhouse kitchen.
Our “secret door” was here in the tool room obscured behind the courtyard door. This door opened onto stairs up to a store room and a vast attic that extended over the sheds on the northwest. From here we could jump from a window onto the new chicken house roof or in the other direction adventure over the sheds to the huge water tank (which at one time watered the whole farm before the advent of town water). Clutching the top edge of the water tank we could scooch around until we came out over the long garage which continued along to the house attic. So spooky and spidery we seldom ventured this far.
Back in the courtyard, to the right of the tool room door, was the wood shed and saw mill. There was a grinding wheel here also. To this day I can close my eyes and hear the high pitch whine of the circular saw and the metallic sounds of tools pressed against the grinding wheel. I can see the tin can dad balanced over the grinding wheel after he had whittled a wood pick to fit in the hole he had made near the base of the can to feed just enough water in a steady drip to the grinding wheel. There were always scythes to be sharpened. If there was any symbol to epitomize dad’s work it would be him holding a scythe. Dad was as adept and artistic at swinging a scythe as a bull fighter swinging his cape. It looked so easy I tried it when I was older-to no avail. After this mill was an empty stall then the entrance to the garage.
In “Memories of Hoosick Falls” written by Elizabeth Powell Conry, who lived on 11 Abbott Street in Hoosick Falls from 1912 to 1927, described her memory of the Wood Farm. “At the end of our street were the iron gate entrance to Wood farm, flanked by curving stone walls, inside of which was a large wooden stand where they left the big milk cans. The David Scott family lived in the caretaker’s house and at the end of the road was the Wood Farm - cow barns - an arched barn with hay lofts on either side. Beyond that were pens where they kept the bulls, and the road curved down to the wooden plank bridge over Wood’s brook and Wood’s Pond. There were several buildings on the farm - three houses - a sheep barn way up on the hill - another group of buildings off Ball Street, an ice house. - Another road led down the hill to the Wood Mansion overlooking Wood’s Park. In my day the mansion was empty, but Mrs. Dorothy Wood (later to found the Seeing Eye in Morristown, N.J.) visited periodically. I remember seeing her walking her big police dog thru the village. There was a brick walled garden behind the house.
People Connected with Wood Farm
The rough sketch shows the main farm building with the farm manager’s house as one continuous element or structure along the crest of the hill. The separate buildings on the right just inside the entrance gates, was the Dave and Josephine Scott farm and greenhouse. Elizabeth Powell Conry in her excellent “Memories of Hoosick Falls” called this the caretakers place (the house still stands). According to their daughter Jean, Mrs. Walter Wood II with her chauffeur, Walter King, spent some time in England and Scotland looking for just the right men to take charge of the miles of landscaped acres, drives, vast flower and vegetable gardens. This is how Dave and his brother George Scott came to America, probably around the era of World War I. When Mrs. Wood sold the farm she made sure the two brothers got a good deal. George built greenhouses off Danforth Street and became a successful Hoosick Falls Florist. Dave kept the little farm with greenhouses and a small dairy and peddled fresh vegetables to Hoosick Falls residents. I grew up with their three children, Charles, Margaret and Jean. I can still hear Josephine calling out with her thick but lovely Scottish brogue.