By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion
In May 1842 Herman came from New York City to learn farming from Mr. Owens near Ithaca. He wrote in his diary that he was sad to leave his friends, though trying to overcome it. By June 18, he was already waiting for the Smiths to visit him. Herman usually called the Smiths “the boys,” but their names were Augustus and William. We do not know what their relationship with Herman was – they might have been friends or relatives. The Smiths arrived at the Owens farm on June 23 for a five day visit. They brought letters from Herman’s parents, a compass (which he said was very welcome,) and “plenty of candy.”
In September, Herman wrote that ”Mr. O. has consented to receive the boys (Smiths.) I am very glad of it as they will be some company for me. …” He spent December and January away from the farm, and did not keep his journal during those months. Returning to the Owenses in February, he brought the Smiths with him and they quickly settled in. The three young men arranged and catalogued their books (Herman said they had 101 books, all the best works on agriculture, history, biography, “etc.”), got weighed in Jacksonville (William weighed 130, Augustus 124, and Herman 160), bought a bureau in Trumansburg, and got measured for frock coats.
On March 1, Herman wrote “Today is my twenty-first birthday. I can hardly realise that I am so old, yet so it is.” The three young men took a wintery journey to Ludlowville to buy a wagon on March 14. They stayed overnight with friends, and “Went to bed by a fire, quite a luxury for us and duly appreciated.” The following Sunday, “On our way through Jacksonville A. [Augustus] got a letter from Pauline. While reading it, and when he had reached the 8th line we were somewhat interrupted by the cutter turning over and emptying us into a snow bank. I held on to the reins and was dragged along by the reins for a few feet on that part of the body usually denominated the abdomen. We picked ourselves up and tried it again. Before however reaching home we were upset 3 times.”
Summer eventually came, and marked a year for Herman on the Owens farm. On June 9, Herman “Left home with Mr. Owen for Waterloo and to look at some farms. . . .” A Mr. Strong showed them around a farm owned by Mr. Malbone, “a very eccentric man, subject to fits of hypochondriacism.” (We are not sure if this Mr. Strong was William Kerley Strong of Rose Hill. Herman did know him.) Since Herman’s father and Uncle Jacob had previously seen and approved this farm, Herman decided to buy it - “Could hardly sleep for thinking.” On Saturday June 10, he purchased the farm for $10,000. His new property was south of John Johnston’s farm and Herman named it Lakeland.
Meanwhile, the boys were thinking of buying Mr. Van Gieson’s farm nearby. Mr. Van Gieson was a brother-in-law of William Kerley Strong, who built the larger part of Rose Hill. Though the parties came to a tentative agreement, when the Smiths went to Waterloo to make it official, a lawyer told them that Mr. Van Gieson did not have a clear title to the land. Herman was very disappointed. Eventually the boys bought a farm at Canoga, near Cayuga Lake. We estimate that the boys’ farm was around ten or twelve miles from Herman’s, and there seems to have been a fair amount of visiting back and forth.
Throughout the summer, Herman worked on his farm house. On August 16, he wrote “To all who may read this I would give one piece of advice – never repair old buildings.” On September 14, he commented “House leaks considerably.” By October he was referring to the old house and the new house. He also noted when “all carpenters went to training” – apparently this was militia training.
Herman hired workers, including Matthias from the Owens farm, and a married couple named Pearcy for $180 for a year. In September he wrote, “Alexander & James left for the west.” (At this point the west may have been somewhere around the Mississippi.) Alexander and James were probably farm workers looking for better opportunities.
As final touches to his new house, Herman fixed up the boys’ room (though the Smiths had moved by this time to Canoga,) and got a puppy from the nearby Dey farm. On December 2 he wrote - “I put down the oil cloth and carpets. We are now all in order.” Just before Christmas, Herman left for New York - “Stayed two weeks in city. On Saturday, 30, became engaged. On Monday, 8th, left city....”
Up next, the farmer takes a wife.