EDITOR’S NOTE: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo, along with the story behind it.
Walker Fitch rolled up to me driving a piece of equipment covered in manure. I fully expected a brush-off, as I had dropped in unexpectedly. I was sure he would be too busy; there would be plenty to do. It was an icy-cold morning so, frankly, I was fine with having to shoot and scoot.
“I heard about you,” he said. He knew why I was at the farm, located in Milford. Nancy Fitch Schooley must have tipped him off, as she sent me directly to him.
She had provided some information to the milfordhistory.com site, where I found the old photograph. “The larger boy in the foreground is my dad, Guy Fitch,” she wrote. “Beside him is his brother, John. The lady is Phebe (their mother) and the boy in the wagon is another brother, Wallace (Wallis, who died in January, 1978). It must have been in the early 1900s.”
Walker Fitch showed me around.
“This used to be the Duxbury School Farm. It was property of Massachusetts. It used to be 500 acres,” he told me, looking out of the milking room’s front window. Dust covered a collection of bicycles, old draft-horse harnesses, wood and tools.
Records show Deacon Ebenezer Pearson settled on the farm in 1762. Pearson’s grandson, Dimon, sold it to Walker Fitch – an ancestor – on Nov. 1, 1858 for $7,000.
“Walker Fitch bought it off the Pearson family,” he said. “That’s who I’m named after. He came from Marlborough, N.H. As far as I can recall, that big tall barn used to be on the other side of the road. They took it down and they reconstructed it here,” Fitch said.
“Then they built this,” he said, about the middle part of the set of buildings. “The house is the oldest.”
Fitch said the middle section of the barn didn’t have a foundation; it sat right on the ground and rotted out. It was rebuilt about two years ago. Milk was bottled upstairs. Someday, he said, he’d like to insulate and heat it – maybe turn it into a woodshop for his wife.
Fitch considered tearing it down. “My grandfather and wife didn’t want me to,” he told me.
When his grandfather Earle died in 2007, Fitch said, they gave him a horse-drawn ride to the cemetery.
“These people who build new houses, I’d rather rebuild what we have,” he said.
The barn, he explained, used to be a three-level structure. He showed me where the second floor was pulled out years ago.
“That’s where the cows used to be,” Fitch said. He explained that cows used to be kept on that floor. The third story, of course, was for hay and the manure was shoveled into what was then the cellar – now the ground floor. Nowadays, the cows couldn’t be up on a raised, wooden floor. Seems disaster would sometimes strike when the floorboards rotted and collapsed, leaving the poor animals to hang.
In the 1950s, Fitch said, the family built a tie-stall barn.
They had this guy. They say he didn’t spend much time in school, but didn’t lack for engineering prowess, either. He cut all the beams off and tied them across with steel rods. Huge square posts used to run the height of the barn, from the roof down to the floor.
“He tied it all in and the building supports itself,” Fitch said. “It’s never moved. I don’t know how he ever came up with it.”
On the other side of the concrete block firewall is where the cows are now milked. “My grandfather (Earle) used to milk 10,” Fitch said. “He did it by hand. Back when I was a little kid, if you had a 10,000 pound (yearly) average, that was a good farm. Now they’ve got to be closer to 30,000. You’ve got to milk more cows,” he said.
Fitch has Holsteins and “a few Jerseys for color,” he joked. “Right now, we’re up to 26,000. We’re projected for 27,000. It fluctuates. Sometimes they just milk better one year than another,” he told me.
He milks twice a day. ”Yup, early, 5 o’clock in the morning. Four o’clock at night. Takes about three hours to milk (for) one person,” he said.
“I like old buildings. I always thought it would be really nice to go back in time and live in that era, but I’m a huge fan of penicillin and I like running water,” he joked.
Outside is a tall pile of freshly-split cordwood. “That’s the only form of heat we’ve got in the house,” Fitch said. “Right here there used to be an outhouse. It was a two-seater. My father talked about it. He said you didn’t go to the bathroom at night unless you really had to.”
“On a night like last night, you’d run out as fast as you could. He said it was horrible if you got sick, if you got the flu or something like that, where you had to keep coming out …”
Fitch pauses. “Yeah, running water’s pretty nice.”
“My father (David) remembers they used to have the Saturday wash tub. My father’s only 73. They’d put it in front of the wood stove. Guy Fitch was the first person to put in a bathroom in this house.”
Carrying on the family business? “It’s like anything else. It has its good days and bad, no matter what you do. I guess I get bored easy. This keeps me busy.”
Walker’s been doing it for 20 years full-time. He once worked for Donald Hawes at the old Spaulding Farm. “I learned more from him than I ever did in college. Boy, he was a hard son-of-a-gun to work for, but knowledgeable? And a wicked nice guy,” he said. “Even after he sold his cows, we were still friends.”
“Well … you always think about doing something else. I guess one thing that keeps it interesting is, yesterday I was doing electrical work, so I’m an electrician. Something will break and all of a sudden, I’m a carpenter. Last year the pipes froze, so I did some soldering, so I’m a plumber. I’m a mechanic. I drive tractors. I can drive a 10-wheeler,” Fitch said.
“You live your life through the seasons,” he explained, “working in fields, harvesting in summer, in the fall buttoning things up. Now we’re doing firewood, selling hay to make ends meet.”
Walker is the fifth-generation Fitch to work the farm, which he said is mostly woodland and covers about 100 acres. He has a daughter, Audrey, and a son, Kaiden, and his wife, Sarah. They would be the sixth generation to work the farm if they went in that direction.
“My wife’s convinced they’re going to farm together one day,” Walker Fitch said. “If they did, I could die happy. But if they wanted to do something else, I’d probably be just as happy. As long as they’re healthy, I don’t care.”
Sarah and Kaiden have come home. The boy waves to daddy and me before disappearing into the house. His dog pops out and gives me a greeting, too. A lot of time has passed. We shake hands. It’s time for me to go and Walker to get back to work. No time to waste; there’s plenty to do.
Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or DHimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter @Telegraph_DonH.