Shady Grove
Textile Treasures of the Poore Family Homestead Historic Farm Museum

Patricia L. Cummings

















A treasure trove of antiquarian delights await visitors to the Poore Farm
Museum

For those who love to learn about New England’s rural past, there is no better
place to visit than the Poore Family Homestead Historic Farm Museum located
on Route 145, Stewartstown, New Hampshire, not far from Canada. Named by
the editors of
Yankee Magazine as one of their 2013 “Best of New England –
Editor’s Choice” destinations, this location has something to interest everyone!
This article presents an overview of the homestead, as well as samples of the
surprising number of vintage and antique textiles used there over the last two
centuries.

Today, we are able to catch this glimpse of rural life, as it was lived by the
Poore family, due to the efforts of John Calvin Kenneth Poore (1885-1983) or
“Kenneth,” as he was known, He was the third and last child born to Emma
Courser Poore and her husband, John Calvin Poore, a Civil War veteran.
Kenneth’s grandfather, Job Poore, purchased the farm in 1832 and his
descendants continued to live there for more than 150 years.

A lifelong bachelor, Kenneth died at the age of 98 but not before he established
a foundation (in 1979) to preserve the 100 acre land tract, buildings, and their
contents for the sake of history. After the items that served three generations
were carefully catalogued, the homestead museum opened to the public in 1994.
Originally, the 1 ½ story home, built in 1825 by Moses Heath, had only a living
room, a parlor and five bedrooms. During the 1840s, the addition of an ell
created “a modern kitchen, a pantry, a summer kitchen and carriage portals.”  
At the same time, the large hearth in the living room was torn out in lieu of
wood-burning stoves situated throughout the house for more efficient heating.
Any wood burned came from harvested lumber on the property; logs split by
axe.

Not Gone Far, Just “Away”

Upon entering the home, one feels as though the inhabitant has just stepped out
and shall return shortly. “Kenneth” slept in the same bed in which he was born.
He managed to live for almost a century with no electricity, no central heating
and no running water. Dairy products and meat were kept cold by being
immersed in cold mountain water, carried to the house into a “spring box” by
wooden pipes made from hollowed-out logs joined with pitch. The water was
diverted into a cast iron bin that sits in a small room right near the kitchen.

Kenneth never owned a car, preferring to be carried to Colebrook, the nearest
town, by a horse-drawn buggy. The only “modern” convenience he appears to
have had was a telephone. At night, he read by lantern. He is remembered as a
5’4"man of slight build who, nonetheless, loved to eat eggs and potatoes fried
in bacon fat, as part of his daily breakfast. He trained himself in photography
and his writings were published in a local paper.

Farm life requires that every day be one of work. The mountain land, carved
into a working farm by Poore’s ancestors, was home to eight cows, oxen,
horses, sheep, pigs, goats, geese and chickens. The garden provided vegetables,
hops, and wheat and Kenneth supplemented his diet by trapping and hunting.
Today, many old time plant varieties, including red currant bushes, grow in a
large garden under huge Maple trees.

Textiles at Every Turn

A wide variety of textiles are present in the house. Three unfinished scrap quilt
tops to which backings were added, but no batting, present the tell-tale hues of
double pink, Indigo, brown and white, black and white, and red and black hues,
as well as typical print designs including a Crescent Moon print. These fabrics
all indicate a 19th century time period. Some of the fabrics were recycled from
men’s shirts.  

A two layer flannel coverlet is held together at the seams by rows of
embroidered Herringbone stitches, a stitch commonly chosen to similarly
decorate Victorian-age Crazy Quilts. Another coverlet features embroidered
flowers. Woven spreads are placed on a bed and draped over a piece of
furniture in the kitchen.

In one room, 19th and 20th century aprons, some of which may have been
fashioned from cotton feedsack bags, hang on a wall and are also placed on a
shelf. Tea towels, including two with Redwork designs, are displayed on two
large clothing racks. Crocheted potholders, some with three-dimensional
crocheted flowers, fill up a small trunk, and embroidered potholders serve as
artistic statements, placed here and there. An embroidered roll warmer sits
open and waiting for hot rolls to be dropped into it.  Old dresses hang in one
room, many of them white.

In one bedroom, a handmade hooked rug with the maker’s initials, “E.H.” and
the date of “1866” is now laid on top of a bed for easier viewing. A pillow case
that was previously patched to extend its life now hangs on a wall. Someone
has painted a face design on it. To one visitor, the face resembles Michael
Jackson!  The pillowcase may pre-date the star by decades!

More Textile Items in the Barn

Stored in the barn is a loom that was used to create strips of carpet that were
sewn together to create a “wall to wall” carpet for the parlor. That loom is still
used today by a weaver who demonstrates her art from time to time. An
“American” brand, treadle sewing machine keeps the loom company when it is
not in use, as does a yarn winding device. Glass cases in the barn feature
textiles, thimbles, unfinished lace projects and other goods, including old-
fashioned writing pens. An old poster that advertises an upcoming Grange
supper reveals the importance of that organization in the town.

A History Lover’s Delight: Enchanting Ephemera

The family’s letters, diaries and other ephemera, are saved and transcribed in
large notebooks, available for visitors to read. While Jim investigated the
grounds, on which there are hiking trails and a building that will serve as a
nature center, I sat at a picnic table, pouring over Civil War letters.

The letters are heartwarming, heartbreaking, and provide insight via first-hand
historical accounts. The soldier’s longing for home, the need for boots, and the
report of freezing cold nights were among the messages conveyed home. One
letter speaks of finding a stash of sugar in the woods that belonged to a Rebel
general. Told by a Union commanding officer to leave it alone, the soldiers
guarded it, nevertheless. Food consisted mainly of hardtack, better known as
tooth-breakers, and bacon (more like pork “shoulder” in today’s terminology).
Soldiers felt lucky when rice, beans, milk, or peaches were served. Reports
sent home mention certain bases by name, men leaving on furlough, and of
being encamped near the home of Robert E. Lee. Of course, the letters
sometimes reveal the horrors of war and death. All of the letters are riveting!
The penmanship is breathtaking! Addresses, written beautifully on envelopes
with pen and ink, in those days before the invention of ball point pens, could be
mistaken for an advanced form of Calligraphy!

Diary Entries

A few letters are published on the museum’s website, including the following
diary entry by Hattie A.M. Poore, age 14. On September 16, 1885, she wrote
“Agusta Owen had a quilting/she had 2 quilts on.” This indicates that
cooperative quilting bees were happening in the vicinity, at that time, as was
not uncommon in other rural communities of New Hampshire.

The motto, “Use it up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without!” comes to
mind when viewing everything that has been saved in the old house. The frugal
occupants re-purposed anything that ever came in the door, according to
Richard Johnsen, Executive Director. Nothing at all was just thrown away, if
another use for it could be found. In Hattie’s diary entry of August 29, 1885,
she says, “I ripped up one of Aunt Ellen’s dresses to day (sic). I am going to
make me a slip.” Another example of a recycled textile is a red and white
Canon brand kitchen towel that was re fashioned into a hot pad by binding the
edges with Buttonhole stitch using red embroidery floss so they would not ravel.

An Opportunity

The museum is frequently visited by school children for field trips. Older
students volunteer their time to do chores as needed. Recently, a staging area
was built where concerts are performed and plays are presented, bringing
cultural entertainment to local citizens. The importance of this museum site, in
terms of history, is not lost on local residents.

The Poore Family Homestead Historic Farm Museum is located in a beautiful
part of New Hampshire’s north country, just four miles past Beaver Brook Falls
Natural Area with its glorious natural waterfall (and ambient cool mountain
breezes on the day in August when we were there). Even with a GPS tracking
device to guide us, we initially drove right past the museum, as there is no
roadside sign to indicate its presence. The house and barn set back from the
road.  On the return trip down the road, Jim recognized the place only from
photos he had seen online.

Representative of Life as it Used to Be

If one is tired of only seeing expensive historic artifacts that belong to the well-
heeled, this museum which records the history of ordinary country folk will be
like a breath of fresh air.

Many thanks to Richard Johnsen who serves as the Executive Director of the
Poore Family Foundation for North Country Conservancy, a 501 c (3)
organization. He and the Board of Trustees are attempting to preserve the
legacy of J.C. Kenneth Poore at this historic site, a place that is worthy of
visiting again and again.

The museum is open from June 1 to September 30:  weekdays from 11 a.m.-1
p.m. and weekends from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Donations are sorely needed and can
be mailed to: The Poore Family Foundation, 438 Fish Pond Rd., Colebrook,
NH  03576. For more information, please visit www.poorefarm.com or call
(603) 237-5500.

The entire original article I wrote is published on their website.


2014. Patricia L. Cummings, Quilter's Muse Publications, Concord, NH.