Julius T. Smith
Julius T. Smith was interviewed by Mary Giles on December 3, 1975. He spoke about his farm and his bird watching.
I’m talking with Julius T. Smith, well known in Westport for his farming, newspaper columns and his leadership in the Paskamansett Bird Club.
At one time, Westport farmers were specializing particularly in chicken farming. Yes, and the last big one has gone out of business. He was Gifford, down on Horseneck Road. He was the last big grower. He’s gone out of business, there’s no money in it. People eat chicken and eggs, but he can’t make a new dollar on an old one. This is his last year. He’s going out of business.
I wasn’t a chicken grower, but my mother was (in New Bedford), and she did very well at it. She made money at it. I know she sold her chickens at the end of the season and she was satisfied. I think it was fifteen cents a pound. The eggs varied with the season. Sometimes you could get sixty cents a dozen, even in the old days, but when they were all laying, eggs were pretty cheap, twenty-eight or thirty cents.
Mr. Tripp worked for us when we first came here, and we paid him by the week to help with everything on the farm. That was 1921. I worked in New Bedford in the dry goods store for $2.25 a week. ‘Course I didn’t work all day. I worked from half past one until half past six, and then Fridays, I worked until 9:30 at night and Saturday I worked all day, and all I got was $2.25. It must have been thirty hours a week for $2.25. You couldn’t figure it by the hour, it would be too small to find. You can’t compare that with today. You say that back in the 1700’s the men working hard on the roads got fifteen cents a day.
Most other towns, Fall River and New Bedford, towns all over, have their history all written down, but we don’t have much record here. That’s why we’re trying, for the Bicentennial, to find out as much as we can about Westport’s past.
I raised vegetables, all kinds. Anything that people’d want to eat. I raised in the vegetables line. I had one little corner of my garden that I planted specialties in. If they sold, then I went into it big. I know I took in red cabbage one time, and it didn’t sell, ten bushels. That load I didn’t get money for. When they were making up my books in February, they said, ‘There’s one load here that isn’t paid for.’ I said, ‘Does it say red cabbage on it?’ It was a big load, $250.00.
I took my things to Providence from this farm. When I lived in New Bedford, I took them to different dealers in New Bedford. Our Sunnyside Farm was in New Bedford, just over the line. The Dartmouth line went right in back of the shed. In fact, they built the shed crooked so it would be on the line. The prices had probably gone up a little when we took them to Providence (as compared to New Bedford), but hardly noticeable.
I think celery was the thing we made the most money on. We raised celery early, and we raised it late. We raised it all season long. ‘Course, we raised lettuce all season long too. We planted it in the cold frames in April and that would be ready in June. That’s the earliest, but they wanted celery all season. We couldn’t keep it over; we’d bleach them with paper, and well, it worked pretty well, and one crop would follow another, and it would be pretty regular. The latest about Thanksgiving. Of course, we’d have our hothouse tomatoes. They came out about Christmas week. We only had three weeks a year we weren’t doing anything. Then, we went to Florida, but we didn’t have time to plant down there. We only went down two or three times, to see whether it was worth going down for. I had a good bunch of workmen and I wanted to keep them going all year, but I couldn’t. When we were going strong, we’d have fifteen.
We had workmen at Sunnyside Farm, and then again here at Turtle Rock Farm. They were usually young fellows, and I’d give them $9.00 a week ($1.50 a day). Mr. John Tripp owned the farm before me. He was a great man, a great man. He must have stayed ten or twelve years, maybe longer. I paid him and he paid the others. The fellow, who drove the tractor, got $1.50 a day (about 1923). I raised him to $2.00 a day before 1940. I think I paid John Tripp a steady salary. It was $2.00 a day. He was my manager. Today, I would probably have to pay him $3.00 an hour.
Mr. Smith, do you know that in order to get a boy to mow my lawn, I have to pay him $4.00 an hour?
Four dollars an hour! (Laughing) I can’t believe it.
Well, in the bird club, we see new birds that we didn’t see before, and some of the old birds are gone. (Long pause) My mind don’t work so…The bluebird is almost extinct, and the new bird that’s taken it’s place it, a long name, I can’t think of it.
We used to catch scup and flat fish and Tautaug, a good eating fish. In the fall, we’d go spearing for fish. They’d come in late October, and you’d spear them from the shore at night, with a lantern. A night fish, although I saw them the other day fishing in the daytime, throwing their line in, but we used to spear them. We’d get bass and bluefish. We liked them alright, but we didn’t get them as often. I never went lobstering. In the old days, we’d get scallops for 75 cents a quart, and I bought some the other day and I paid $3.00 a pint. There was an old fish that we used to get right here in the river that we don’t get anymore.
I think there are as many deer here now as there were fifty years ago, and foxes the same. There are more foxes here now, I think, than there used to be, because in the old days, everyone had fowl that foxes used to bother, so they used to shoot the foxes. Now, they don’t shoot anymore. There are just as many possums and raccoons as there used to be. We had a family of raccoons living in the barn, too lazy to build a house. They raised the whole family in the barn, up in the loft. In New Bedford I have a friend who does good birding right in his yard.
None of the winter birds bred when they are here. They go north. Most birds go south, so it wouldn’t be bad for their families not to feed in the winter here. They couldn’t have families, the Juncos, Cardinals, etc. Even the Chickadees don’t breed until summer.
The birds we see most often here are, I haven’t been keeping a good list this year, well, we saw a Crossbill the other day, and the osprey, the snowy egret, the green winged teal, the blue grey gnat catcher (that’s one we have on the farm. We come in early April). We don’t do anything to attract the wild birds. I feed them out here. Other birds I’ve seen this year, the year started off with a titmouse. That’s anew bird that’s coming. The red winged blackbird likes water. The scarlet tanager is right here on the farm. They’re hard to see, because they like to live in the woods. The list of this year also includes the titmouse, the tree sparrow, the house sparrow, the dawny woodpecker, the herring gull (they like junk), chickadee, cowbird, bluebird, junco, crow, gull, golden eyed duck, swan, sparrow hawk, Wilson’s snipe, buffle head. That’s the way I’ve started 1975. I’ve got 17 on a page, so that’s 51, then, there’s the cardinal, Savannah sparrow, horned grebe, whitethroated sparrow, goldfinch, grackle, house finch, mourning dove, mallard duck, ring billed gull, great blue heron, red breasted maganser, bald eagle (in February), purple sandpiper, common loon, white breasted nuthatch, evening grosbeak, field sparrow, common scoter, horned lark, fish crow. Down at Horseneck you can see horned larks in flocks. You’d have a great time if you belonged to our club. We’re always glad to get new members. Josephine Fernandes, she’s a sparkplug. You’ve got to have a few sparkplugs!
When I was a child, we played croquet and tag, and most of the things children always do.
You asked me about doctors, when I first came. I couldn’t tell you. Nobody needed a doctor in my house. We weren’t doctor minded.
We too, the Youth’s Companion over the years. We always took the Standard (New Bedford Standard Times). I know my mother went beach plumming down at Horseneck, and she didn’t get back before the paper came. It was quite a case. There was a murder, a man that drowned his chum. Put a weight on him and pulled him down. He lived on the corner of Main and Charlotte White Road.
The winters aren’t changing. They vary a little, but not much.
One thing farmers always respected, was your heap of seaweed. I never had one touched – ever.
As far as I know, Westport is a very peaceful place. I never heard of any of these boundary fights.
The Bell School had a lot of uses. We used to put on shows there and dances. We had some great times. We had whist parties there, big parties, ten tables. We had some great times when I came. Whist was the big game. I go to a whist party once a week now. Bridge hadn’t come in when I came here. The dances were wonderful. All we had was the radio. Irving Brightman, he just passed away last week, he furnished the music. My whole family all went. There was a big family of Jennings, they lived up at the Head, up on Reed Road. They were a nice family. In fact, when I moved out here, I bought my raspberry plants out and planted an acre, and I went to Mrs. Jennings and asked if she would take care of the raspberries, put them in boxes and crates and take them to market. She and her children would pick them. That worked out very well. I tried strawberries, but strawberries like an acid soil, and vegetables like it sweet.
I’ve had fellows working here that liked to hunt, foxes and rabbits. You have to have dogs for that. One fellow liked to go bird hunting. He had bird dogs. That was Walter Kirby up at the store, the Kirby Store at the Head, just the other side of the River. The Kirby Store sold groceries and grain. We went to town in a wagon when we first came. We bought our first car in the year we came out here in 1923. It was a Ford. We didn’t use it to go to New Bedford in. We found this farm and we had a surrey, and we went riding in the surrey and found the farm. I liked the fellow that I bought it from. It was her father. Audrey (Mrs. Smith) was born here. Her father was a wonder.
Is this little book yours? I didn’t know you had one of my books. (Turtle Rock Farm, by Julius Smith, illustrated by Ruth Edwards.)
My brother was in the War in 1914. I heard that he was killed. I said, ‘Well, that’s getting pretty close to home.’ I went up to enlist, and they wouldn’t take me. I was raising vegetables, so they didn’t take me. He wasn’t killed, but he was hit by a bullet, that went right through him. I wanted to go because I was mad about my brother more than (being) patriotic. Being a farmer eliminated me from both wars, by 1940, I’d be quite old and they probably wouldn’t want me.
My wife’s grandfather was a whaler. His name was Ashley. He just went on a whale ship. He’d been to the Sandwich Islands. He’d go on short voyages. This was in the 1870’s. They were still whaling in my time. I used to go down to the docks in 1915, and the place would be full of whale oil. I’d see the whaling boats and smell the oily smell. It smelled good.
When I came out here, the mills were running. My uncle lived up there I mill village in the white house on the corner. He was the blacksmith, and his name was Smith too. Saturday, after work, he’d jump on his bicycle and go to Fall River and buy his groceries. That wasn’t according to Hoyle you know. He was supposed to buy them in that store. He saved that way, and he did about what he wanted to do. Ruth Edwards’ husband’s family was one of the families who owned the mill.
You asked me about eeling. Well, you have spear. There’s a spear. It goes right into the eel and you hook him and you can’t get it out. Then you go punching for more. You get the eels right here in the river. They go into the mud in the night. Jim Vaughan supplies them with eels. He lives down on the river.