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Poore Family Farm | Here in New England

Yankee Plus Dec 2015


Poore Family Farm | Here in New England
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Web Extra: View more photos of the Poore Family Farm.

Imagine a house that held everything that you’d ever touched. The books you read; diaries and journals; your toys; your clothes; your shoes; the board games you played and the jigsaw puzzles you pieced together on winter nights by the glow of lantern light. Baseballs plucked from the weeds after Fourth of July games, when the town men challenged the country boys; the quilts that warmed you as a child and that still warmed you when you were old. The school papers you wrote; the maps that showed a world that seemed too big to ever grasp; the letters and cards that friends and family sent you telling of births and deaths and news from afar. The clothes you wore as a child, and those you wore as a grownup; the newspapers that recounted the comings and goings in your town from the day you were born to the day you died; magazines with cover stories on President Teddy Roosevelt. Every button that ever fell off; every fragment of cloth and string; pots that boiled beans and pans that fried bacon. Tools that helped you make a living; carts and buggies and harnesses and horseshoes and yokes for oxen; receipts for anything you ever bought, telling a story of hard times deeper than the numbers.

Then imagine the same house holding the life of your grandfather and of your father, too, who was born in 1835. And your mother; a sister; a brother. All the things needed to live a hardscrabble farm life in a five-bedroom house that had never known indoor plumbing, electricity, or running water; where the food was cooled in a room that stood above a clear, cold spring. And all the things that entered your life never ever left. Because if you paid for something, you needed it, and if you needed it, there would always be a way to use it. Always. The leather sole of a boot worn to the nub would resurface as a door hinge; a piece of wire mesh nailed to a stick killed flies. Layers and layers of stuff, a stratified human geology waiting to be unearthed. What would that look like?

On this summer day in Stewartstown, New Hampshire, seven miles north of Colebrook on Route 145, in Coos County in the far north of the Granite State, I am about to find out.

The sign for the Poore Family Foundation for North Country Conservancy, which everyone calls simply the Poore Family Farm, comes up abruptly. It’s a clean summer morning, puffy clouds, bees buzzing, the smell of newly mown grass leading to walking trails through land that stretches for 100 acres on both sides of the road. I see a few cars parked in a shaded area, and a truck with Pennsylvania plates, bicycles tied to its roof. On a small rise is a pretty flower garden and a farmhouse and barn.

Richard (Rick) Johnsen and Mark Winer wait by the information booth, the size of a lemonade stand. A sign requests a donation to tour the grounds and the homestead/farm museum, but nobody is ever turned away. They’re six-footers, in their early sixties: Rick with the ponytail he’s worn since his youth, Mark in a white ball cap and a Poore Family Farm T-shirt. Their New York accents haven’t been dulled much by their nearly 40 years in the north.

Rick hands me a map–a walking tour of all the outbuildings, with highlighted details. “A lot of people just want to wander,” he says. “Others like to be guided.”

“I want to tell you about Kenneth Poore,” he begins. “We’re here because of him. John Calvin Kenneth Poore was born in 1885 and died in 1983. He lived here his entire life. Mark knew him first, but I’ll give the spiel.” But before he says another word, a man bounds up to us.

“Can I interrupt you guys?” he says. His voice fairly trembles with excitement. “I don’t know who you are. I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I’m on my honeymoon, and I’ve just spent the last hour here. And it’s unbelievable, fascinating. Without a doubt, this should be preserved with every ounce of effort. You have to sell the rights to HBO and they’ll make a series. All the stories here!”

His name is Chris Lisowski. He tells us he’s 35, a high-school art teacher and artist in the Pittsburgh area with hopes of one day teaching kids how to renovate old houses. He and his wife have been biking in Vermont and are now taking the North Country route to Maine. They saw the sign and pulled in. I ask what has him so excited. “You’ll see it,” he says. “It’s a step back in time. It’s a hoarder’s dream. Everything in there is history.” He’s quiet for a moment, trying, it seems, to contain himself. “The letters–I just sat there reading the letters. You can’t stop looking at stuff!”

Hours later, as I drove away, after I’d walked through the house, the barns, the sheds; walked through the fields and woods down to the stream; read the letters and heard the story of Kenneth Poore and the young people he embraced and who embraced him, and the promise they made, I thought that there may not be any other place like this anywhere. This is history peeled back, stripped of ceremony, as if the spirits of those who lived here still hover. If only the teacher from Pittsburgh had known how all this had come to be, all that he’d seen and touched. How excited would he have been then?

In one sense, the story begins with Moses Heath, “a Paul Bunyan-like character, ” Mark says. Heath cleared the land and built the first structures in the early 1820s, until he sold the farm to Job Poore in 1832, who left it to his son, John Calvin Poore, Kenneth’s father, who, when he died in 1918, left it to Kenneth. “They were not rich people,” Mark says as we walk to the farmhouse. “The rich people had the bottomland, the riverland. These are the hill people. This was the far north. They came because they could homestead.”

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.


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