1916 photo of the Miller barn and their first truck. A corn crib is on the left. Crates for cabbage or peaches are piled in front of the barn. Photo from the collection of Ken Dodge..

Mr. and Mrs. Miller both originally lived in Elmont, not far from one another and just north of the Methodist Church. Both families moved a number of times before finally settling down. My grandmother's family, the Wenners, bought a farm on Route 112 just south of the Port Jefferson railroad station where they remained for the rest of their lives.

Shortly thereafter, my grandparents bought the farm in Middle Island, March of 1906. How they heard of the availability of the Petty farm is unknown but it may well have been through the Wenners. When my grandparents purchased the farm it included 100 acres of scrub oak and pines north of the Whiskey Road. That land was worthless to my grandfather and he sold it shortly thereafter. In all the time they owned the farm nothing was ever done with that land that he sold.

According to my mother's memoirs, my grandfather had intended to grow the same sort of produce that he was familiar with and had grown on the farm in western Long Island. However, the land wasn't suitable for that kind of crop. The local farmers told him that the land was orchard country. He followed their advice. However, orchards don't start producing crops overnight and the first half a dozen years was a tough struggle. What he grew in those early days to make ends meet I have no idea.

The orchards consisted primarily of apples and peaches. Many other types of fruit trees were grown in small numbers and primarily for home use. The birds got more use out of the cherry tree than the humans. The picture of the barn with the Floral Hill Fruit Farm sign was taken in 1916, so it's clear that the orchards were well established by then.


The Miller Farm, north of Middle Country Road. Photo from the New York Public Library.

However, in all the years that I can remember, potatoes, corn, cauliflower and cabbage were the primary crops. My grandfather also grew hay, oats and buckwheat for the horses. He never owned a tractor. Finally, there was a garden whose produce was used for family consumption. In general, in the early days, if you didn't grow it you didn't have it to eat.

For example, it wasn't until
Roosevelt's rural electrification program that electric power was available in Middle Island in 1935.

"Necessities" that we take for granted today just were not available at the turn of the century. A washing machine was a scrub board. A dish washer was a dish pan and a pair of hands. A clothes drier was a line and pins. A vacuum cleaner was a hand propelled carpet sweeper. My grandmother's sewing machine was powered by a foot treadle. Their phonograph was wind up and the quality of the sound wouldn't be tolerated today but it was the only music available then. A corn sheller and potato sorter were hand powered.

A sharpener for tools such as scythes and axes was foot powered and wasvery similar in form to a current day exercise bike, although the farmers didn't need any additional exercise.

A kerosene lantern was used for light. Most of the electric appliances of today didn't even exist. However, the biggest impact of no electric power was probably lack of refrigeration. There was no way to keep perishables for more than a few days. Pfeiffer's store was a source of dry goods. Patchogue and Port Jefferson were over an hour away with horse and buggy on dirt roads.

To a large extent, what you grew was what you ate. When corn was in season, you ate corn. When peaches were in season you ate peaches. Some vegetables like potatoes and turnips were stored for long periods in cold cellars. Some vegetables and fruits were canned. Chickens and eggs were produced on the farm for home use. Never the less, the varied diet we take for granted now was almost nonexistent. Something as simple as ice cream was a luxury. I can remember my father making it by hand with cracked ice and salt as the refrigerant. When it was ready, you ate it.

The lack of good roads and transportation had another impact on Middle Island farm life. In this case my mother was sufficiently concise that I can quote her as follows.

"Shipments to the markets was another problem. The distance from Middle Island to the New York or Brooklyn markets was too far to go by team, and so the produce had to be shipped by train to those markets or by boat to Bridgeport. When the produce reached the market, a commission man took over the shipment and sold for whatever the market that day would bring. After shipment costs and commission fees, the farmer frequently received next to nothing for all of his hours of work, fertilizer, seeds, and taxes on the farm."

There were a number of other aspects of life on the farm that no one today would tolerate. There was no central heating in Miller farm house. A wood or coal burning stove provided all of the heat and was also used for cooking until the thirties when a bottle gas stove was also installed. Until electric power was available, there was no hot water except what was made on the stove.

Another difference between the Miller farm and one today was the lack of any form of irrigation. The farmer was totally at the mercy of the weather. I can remember one really bad drought when my grandfather and I went down to Bartlett's Pond during W.W.II and bailed water into some barrels on the truck for use back on the farm to set out cabbage plants with the hope that rain would come in time to save them. A farmer did whatever he had to do to succeed. It was hard work!

Picture of an advertising circular for the Miller Farm. From the collection of Ken Dodge.

One year after the orchards were established and the farm was dependent on them, there was a very late frost. All the flowers and small peaches were destroyed. It was too late in the spring to plant most other possible sources of income, with the exception of Turnips. All of the local farmers apparently were forced to do the same thing. As a result, there was a glut on the market and no one could sell the turnips and most were left to rot in the ground. The long and the short of it was that they went for a year with very little income. It was a tough life but in spite of the hardships, hard work and persistence triumphed in thelong run.

Written by,
Mr. Ken Dodge
(grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Miller)

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