Poore Family Farm | Here in New England
“We wanted to get back to the land,” Rick adds, “but Kenneth was already there. He’d never left it.” Once Kenneth told them, “I don’t know about this country, but with you young people maybe there’s hope.”
We enter the house gingerly. With the help of volunteers, young and old, they’ve strengthened it, bolstered it, put in electricity so that visitors can see better, but its hard life shows. We go to the bedroom where Kenneth slept on a straw-mattress rope bed; into another bedroom with women’s clothes hanging from a line, all pressed as if waiting for someone to slip into them; into a parlor; and slide our way into the kitchen, which looks as if Kenneth has just left on an errand. In a corner hangs a calendar from 1953.
“He had the same breakfast every day,” Mark says. “He had overalls on, he had his longjohns on. I don’t care if it was July or January, he wore the same clothes. He’d start a fire in the woodstove. He’d boil potatoes in the pot. He’d put coffee on. He’d fry some bacon. He’d take the bacon out, then fry the potatoes in the bacon grease. And he’d put the bacon back in and crack an egg in there. He’d eat all that for breakfast. Then he’d eat a doughnut with a piece of cheese and a second cup of coffee. He’d do that 365 days a year.”
They warn me to watch my head as they lead me upstairs to a room that looks out to the garden. In 1975, when Kenneth Poore took a fall and could no longer care for himself on the isolated farm, Mark moved into this room. He tapped maple trees, pumped water, shaved Kenneth, shared his table. “I was a mystery to my father,” Mark admits. “He couldn’t understand what I was doing here.”
In 1979, when Kenneth was 94, he told his friends of his vision and his hope. His vision was that somehow the homestead could be preserved after he died. With a lawyer’s help, he formed the Poore Family Foundation for North Country Conservancy. When he died, the land and the buildings and all the things they held would go to the foundation. But a foundation is merely a name on paper. His hope was that his young friends would be the ones to keep it alive. Mark said he would. Rick said he would. Others said they would. On a summer day in 1983, Kenneth Poore suffered a heart attack, lingered a few months, and then died in October.
He was buried in a plain wooden box in the cemetery whose stones he had kept clipped, beside his father and mother. Mark and Rick and their friends dug the grave by hand. They were now responsible for a farmstead that had stayed untouched since long before the Civil War. A house and barns, all falling down. No money. They had made a promise, but they had no idea how to keep it.
They call the next decade “the dark years.” They had a foundation but no training: raw material, but no clear plan for how to make it a living museum. Rick crawled into attic eaves, looked beneath beds, searched outbuildings, finding boxes and trunks filled with papers and clothing, diaries and journals. So many things; unpacking them was like sweeping sand from a beach. Every foray into a dark corner, every climb into a barn rafter, unearthed something more. Mark moved back to the city for a while, and the homestead proved impossible to keep secure. Even today, 30 years later, Rick will receive a call or a letter saying that someone has found a Poore family keepsake in an attic where it didn’t belong, and it makes its way home.
In 1994, with little meaningful progress toward opening a museum, and with even the local newspaper urging Rick and the others to give up the dream, the state attorney general took the foundation to court, seeking to dissolve it, wanting to sell the land and the buildings, with the proceeds going to other nonprofits that seemed to know what they were doing. “It was do or die,” Rick says.