The Peterson Farm
The following was written for the New Haven Register on April 20, 1980, by Israel Amitai; it was saved for many years, and recently it was sent to your Historian by George W. Coxeter. It is a fascinating firsthand account of one family’s life on a West Haven farm, and what life was like one hundred years ago. The Peterson Farm was located where the soccer fields are today, on Bull Hill Lane:
“Fred and I said we would stay single and take care of our mother. Mother went to Florida the last eighteen years of her life. She went in June and didn’t come back sometimes until Christmas. She passed away about 20 years ago. My father has been gone now for 70 years. He was 49 years old when he died. All my brothers and sisters are gone. I was the middle one. They lived all over. My one sister’s son is a fire chief in West Haven Center, Joe Howell.
I never visited Sweden. My mother went back; she was gone for six months. I had to stay at home and work. Sometimes it would be 10 PM before we would quit. We never hired anybody, only me and Fred. Well, sometimes we would get a few of the guys together. Our largest amount of cows was twenty head. They were mostly Holsteins. Holsteins are better milkers. A Jersey gives rich milk and a Holstein gives poorer milk, but more. A Holstein gives 3-5% butterfat, while a Jersey gives 7%. This old cow I got, Betsy, gives 7 percent butterfat.
For school, we walked over to the western district. You know that (junior) high school over there, way over on Morgan Lane? That little school house there on the corner (of Benham Hill Road), well that’s where we went to school. I never went to high school. I had to stay at home and go to work. My brother Henry was the only one to go to high school. He was next to the baby. Nobody went to college. Had my father lived, we would have all been through college. In 1907 he had $1500 cash money in the bank. He was out plowing at $4 a day at 10 hours a day. That’s all the pay you got. I used to walk from here to Orange Center to pick potatoes at $1 a day and my dinner, 10 hours a day. I was about 14 or 15.”
Peterson takes pride in everything around him. The house, the barn, the hen house, and the machery. He is particularly proud of the improvements he’s made.
“There was no electricity here when I was born; we lit the house with lamps. We cooked with a stove here, and one in the other room, and one in the kitchen. Three stoves. We were the only ones with electricity in the house for 20 or 25 years.
I used to milk 50 cows a day around here. I used to milk our 20 and then go over to Buck Olds’ and milk 30 more. That was twice a day. I like to milk.”
A visit with Peterson is more than just an opportunity to learn about the early days of Connecticut or West Haven. When we drive to the Peterson farm on Bull Hill lane in West Haven, near the border with Orange, we travel into a faraway time.
Adolph Peterson symbolizes dedication to hard work and love of his surroundings. Above all, he loves to work. At 84 years of age, he still puts in a full day of work on the farm and cares for himself.
“I get up at 6 AM, put on my shoes, go out in the barn and feed and milk Betsy. I bring the milk in the house and dump it in a jug. Then I go back out and feed the chickens. I have three different kinds of feed that I give them. Then I come back in the house and have my breakfast. I have oatmeal, coffee and bread, every day the same breakfast. I like my oatmeal. Sometimes I have a sandwich or cook up some potatoes for lunch.
“I don’t eat out. I have a lot of soup up there. I am too lazy to eat out. I just cook up a pot of soup. Sammy (a friend and a neighbor) does all the wood cutting now. I don’t cut wood anymore. In the evening I play a little solitaire, watch television, and go to bed about 8. I get up at 6 every day, rain or shine, seven days.”