Vintage Views: The practical farmer

  • The Walker Farm in Concord is pictured in the year 1905. James Spain postcard collection

For the Monitor
Published: 7/10/2021 3:00:06 PM

As the wilderness was settled and the early colonist began to arrive in Pennycook they were greeted with forest, abundant natural resources and fertile soil along the intervale bordering the Merrimack River. The first colonists arriving from the Massachusetts Bay Colony were subjects of the crown and destined for the unknown with their families.

The Native Americans had farmed the fields along the Merrimack River for many years prior and the land was ready to plow, plant and harvest efficiently in a very short period of time. This land known as Pennycook, then Rumford and now Concord is farmed to this very day. The soil is as rich as the history, the crops as plentiful as the legends from the past.

One of the first settlers to arrive was the Rev. Timothy Walker. The good reverend was loved and supported by the new community, in addition to attending to the needs of the people with his farm he also provided spiritual guidance for a period of 52 years during a time when it was both sought and very supported. He worked his farm and was very productive, living nearby in our present-day historic district on North Main Street in his house surrounded by a garrison. When he passed away, he left the Walker Farm to his son, Judge Timothy Walker. The years continued to pass with the farm remaining in the Walker family when Judge Walker’s son, Captain Joseph Walker, became the third owner of the farm. Captain Walker had a son named Joseph B. Walker, the only surviving member of the Walker family. Young Joseph B. Walker found himself alone when he was just ten years old when he inherited the entire Walker Estate from his father.

Joseph B. Walker, the young lad at the end of the line of inheritance, was indeed a very smart child and knew the importance of growing up educated so that he could manage the impressive Walker estate. Upon the death of his father, he was assigned a legal guardian and set about completing his primary education in Concord as he walked the open fields that he was destined to someday farm. As he matured, he enrolled in Yale Law School and performed very well academically. Graduating from Yale, the new attorney returned to Concord and opened his very own law office with thoughts of a successful career in practicing law.

While Joseph was young and growing his guardian rented out the Walker Farm for a period of 20 years, collecting rent and managing the property. It is unfortunate during this 20-year period to see the farm fall into disrepair, the buildings and fences falling apart while large portions of the once pristine fields were overgrown with brush. The production of hay and crops suffered terribly for the two decades it took Joseph to mature, become educated and return to his beloved Concord and the farm his great grandfather built within the wilderness, nestled beside our very own Horseshoe Pond.

With Joseph B. Walker settled back in Concord managing his new law practice we find a man driven, a man with the ability to succeed with any task he might be challenged. Joseph as well as his fellow citizens in Concord held the Walker heritage in very high regards. The family had given much to the community and there was a special place for the Walker Farm in the hearts of many, especially Joseph.

It was just two short years after Joseph established his law practice in Concord that he struggled with his career. His success with law was quite evident, but the farm continued to beckon him continually. The Walker legacy was calling and Joseph set a strong ultimatum for himself, was he destined to be an attorney or was he to become a farmer?

The farm was in need of work, his law practice to continued to grow. Though he struggled he quickly came to the conclusion that his life would be more content living as a farmer than an attorney.

Once his decision was made, he set about closing his law practice and assessing the needs of the 350-acre Walker Farm. One hundred of his acres were on the Merrimack River intervale, with a large portion that could be plowed. His plan was to increase the fertile grounds with a manuring process to yield better crops of corn and grain. As he walked his farm, the place where he would spend his remaining life, this very intelligent farmer thought about productivity and profits.

The Horseshoe Pond we see before us today was once larger and certainly deeper, that is until Joseph B. Walker set his plan into action. There were 30 acres surrounding Horseshoe Pond that were either under water or very damp, too damp for planting crops.

Joseph thought about a remedy for a period of time to convert the wetlands and water covered fields to productive fields. He concluded that he must drain Horseshoe Pond to a level that would increase his productivity as a farmer, and that is exactly what he did.

Being a practical man, he devised a strategic plan to decrease the pond level and increase his farm acreage. In 1857, Walker cut a large deep ditch from the east end of the pond across the intervale for a distance of a half mile to the Merrimack River. The intervale being bounded to the north by the river created increased height of 14 feet above the established summer high water mark. It is from the Merrimack River the land gradually slopes southward to Horseshoe Pond. It was about 75 feet south of the river that Mr. Walker commenced his digging to install his plank drain. The south end of the drain was eight feet deep while the north end of the drain was fourteen feet deep. The white pine used to build the box measured eight inches by twelve inches allowing free flowing water to drain from the pond to the river. The concept worked very well and for over 14 years.

With his plan implemented, Joseph B. Walker increased his fields for planting by 30 acres with a value of $100 per acre in the year 1871. He harvested 120 tons of hay with the addition of his 30 acres of fields, selling just over one half of the hay for $18 to $30 per ton.

As the 19th century concluded, the Walker Farm kept four large oxen, six cows, two horses and at least twenty heads of cattle. All of the oats and corn were used to feed the farm livestock with greener pastures being developed further via manure distribution. Mr. Walker sold the milk produced by his six cows at his home on North Main Street recognizing a profit of about$75 each month. This practical farmer continued to rotate his crops while increasing fertile ground, seeding about 12 acres each fall to yield second crop hay each August, the hay was prime feed for his cows during the winter, further enhancing his flow of milk.

Attorney Joseph B. Walker kept a very frugal eye on his farm, increased production led to increased profits. This educated attorney spent his remaining years managing his farm, living the life that he chose to keep his family legacy alive.

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