Wayne Independent - Honesdale, PA
Harvest and Heritage Days
- Page 12
Farming in Wayne County
By Peter W. Becker, Wayne County Historian
Written for the 1998 Wayne County Bicentennial edition of The Wayne Independent and updated in 2019

The lot of the farmer has never been easy, but the ones whose hands are dirty in the good earth and their company is more of their livestock than the fashionable crowds, are feeding the world and have the satisfaction of their bond with family, with the earth and of dependence on God. In Wayne County it is no different, and their history is long and proud, although faced with possibly more challenge to their way of life than ever before.

Their bold silos pierce the pastoral skyline like the proudest skyscraper; their cattle traffic the fields to their way to the barn every morn and night as faithful as morning and evening rush hour in downtown Honesdale or New York City. From early morning till way past dark, every day of the week, the farmer is at what he loves; somehow, he keeps going, as best as he- or she- can. Often keeping tradition of several generations alive, they scarcely know a holiday let alone a vacation. The few with the most modern of tractors, complete with satellite hookup, traverse hill and dale and plow the field for corn or to cut the hay. In tune with the latest agricultural science, he churns the soil his great grandfather plowed by hand, with the pull of a horse or oxen. He goes past the rugged field stone wails his ancestors pried out of the ground rock by rock under the sweat of the sun, building boundary fences that have endured generations.

Fiercely independent, the typical farmer with hesitation has worked together with other farmers in agricultural organizations, meant to further their common interests.

His cows are carefully bred. Although he hears there were once many more dairy farms across Wayne County, today the fewer herds are producing a  record amount of milk. Other farmers raise beef cattle, including buffalo, and others tap maple trees, mingle with honeybees or raise horses. Every Wayne County Fair, his children beam with satisfaction showing off their prize 4-H sheep, pigs and cows. Despite all this, he knows his difficulties and longs for the consumer to understand.

Perfecting efficiency to the bone, the Wayne County farmer today, as elsewhere, is faced with tremendous pressure from unstable milk pricing formulas, debt load, trying to keep his machinery going patch by patch, crazy weather, losing the younger generation to easier ways of making a living, and temptation to sell prime, time-honored farm land for housing lots owned by people who want a piece of the country.

Still today, farming is Wayne County’s number one industry, followed by tourism. Although there are about 190 dairy farms left in 1998 in Wayne County, there were 1,944 in 1958. That’s 10 times as many, 40 years ago. It did not seem so long ago that a drive in the country in Wayne County meant field after field of mooing Holsteins and other varieties. They still can be found, and are a pleasure to see, but the view is increasingly fragile and the agricultural exhibits at the Fair seem more precious in this light.

Farming was practiced by the Indians who lived here and was brought with the white settlers who had to raise food to eat. There was a time when even in downtown Honesdale, the outbuilding in back was not the garage but where the family kept the cow. Central Park, which once had a fence around it, was used by the community to let their family cows graze. An early ordinance passed after Honesdale was made a borough in 1831 provided fines for allowing swine, sheep, cows or horses to run at large, and decreed that livestock should not be led along the sidewalks. Barns, stables, hog stys and privies were finally made to be no closer than 20 feet to a Honesdale street.

Recalling the drovers

An early farm occupation was the “drover,” who led cattle and other livestock down the road to city markets, long before the days of the cattle trucks and refrigerated trains bearing meat. In the early 1800’s, every few months the drovers and their helpers were seen in Wayne County, snapping whips and watching not to lose their wallets stuffed with cash. Local farmers relied on the drovers to help them make it through financially. An exciting sight, the drovers would lead the cattle, sheep, pigs and fowl beginning in New York State and added to the procession as they went. Hundreds of animals paraded down Main Street, Honesdale, blocking the entire dirt street. Others went down the old North-South Turnpike (Routes 296, 196 today) through Waymart and Hamlin on the way to Easton and Philadelphia. The Milford-Owego Turnpike (State Route 2003 in Wayne County, today) carried a toll of 25 cents for every 20 cattle or 40 sheep or hogs, 6 and 1/4 cents for a horse or two oxen.

Reaching New York City, the animals were hurried through the city streets to the slaughterhouses. Three or four men were desired to manage a drove of cattle strung out a mile or more in length. Two men and a dog could handle hundreds of sheep. Pigs were a nuisance, straying into corn fields. The thousands of noisy turkeys were a particularly amusing sight for children and others who watched the animals go by. A man with a bag of corn threw kernels down in front, and the turkeys followed. At night, the turkeys would head for the nearest fence, tree or any available roosting place to sleep till sunrise. Fox and other predators were known to attack, but other barnyard fowl were known to abandon their keeper and joined their feathered comrades during the march. Jake Ames of Wayne County drove a flock of sheep numbering over 2,000.  Hostelries and inns did good business along the way.

Prior to mechanization, Wayne County farmers of the mid-19th Century still flourished, with farm hands moving through the hay fields with flails, moving in rhythm. They raised sheep, cattle, oats and buckwheat. Without the benefit of machine, they grew corn, barley, peas, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, garden vegetables, fruit and clover seed. They produced butter, maple sugar, molasses, honey and beeswax. Neighbors joined skills to help erect a church fence, rebuild a barn lost to fire, move a house or hold a wood-chopping bee.

As the men raised cattle, the women skimmed the milk, worked the butter and churned the cream, all by hand. Children helped from everything from milking to feeding to driving the hay rake to going on the wagon to Honesdale or Hawley to sell or trade their produce.

Weather preserves helped a farm family get through winter, but some of the awful blizzards in Wayne’s histo-...

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