Thursday, October 12, 2006

Backward Glances

Not quite the final chapter on this early Kerry breeder, but here is a little history into an interesting man...

From Backward Glances, Volume II by Howard C. Mason. Starts on page 42...

"Now we come to what was one of the largest and most productive in Warren County: the Fred E. Stevens farm, most of which is now included in the Warren County Airport.

Edward Stevens, father of Fred, came ot this County Line Farm under rather amusing circumstances. He had been farming for some years on a place near Clarks Corners, Saratoga County which is still called the Stevens place by some although it is now owned by James Smith. Mr. Stevens learned that the County Line farm was to be sold at auction. Always careless with his dress but never careless in his speach, he appeared at the auction looking more like a tramp than a man of substance. The auction began and Mr. Stevens kept raising the bids. As he was unknown to the auctioneer, the auctioneer called him aside and asked him if he understood the terms of the sale - cash!

Mr. Stevens replied, 'I do, and whatever the amount I bid I am prepared to pay.'

It was finally knocked down to him for $16,000 and he had the cash to pay for it right in those ragged old blue jeans. This story has been told to me several times by persons who attended the sale.

Some years later, after Mr. Stevens had built up a fine herd of Holstein cattle, he decided he should have a superior bull to head his herd. He boarded the train for the State Fair in Syracuse dressed in the same clothes he wore working around the farm. While there he selected a young bull from one of the exhibits as the one he wanted. He then found the owner and asked the price of the animal. The owner looked at Mr. Stevens over and said, 'Mister, these are not common cattle. They are high blooded animals. The price of the bull is $1500.' (a fabulous price in those days)

To the man's suprise, Mr. Stevens withdrew the money from his pocket and paid for the bull on the spot after recieving the proper transfer papers.

Leaving the fair, he rode home in the express car with his prize animal to the Sandy Hill RR station. From there he proudly led his bull up the County Line Road to his farm.

I relate this story to describe what sort of man Mr. Stevens was. he knew what he wanted, saved for it, and got it.

If I have created the impression that Edward Steven was a sort of eccentric character, I will hasten to add that while he may have done some things in an off-beat or unusual way, he was the soul of honor in all his dealings with others and was highly respected by all who knew him. His sterling qualities were reflected in his son, Fred E. Stevens, who caried on the farm enterprise together with his father until the latter's death about 1911.

In addition to the fine herd of Holstein cattle they had, Fred secured a herd of Dutch Belted Cattle as well as some of the little Black Kerry cattle from Ireland. The Stevens' marketed their milk at retail mostly in Glens Falls. Along with the milk business, they grew immense quantities of vegetables, notably onions, as some of their land was peculiarly adapted to that crop. Near the barn every year Fred raised a field of enormous vegetables purposely for the county fairs.

Beginning with the first fairs in the 20's of August, he would start out with a carload of prize-winning vegetables and two carloads of his best cattle, making the circuit of the fairs in the eastern-seaboard states, going as far south as York, PA and Hagerstown, MD. He always finished at the Danbury, Conn. State Fair which to this day is held every year in the month of October. Incidently, this is one of the oldest fairs in the country. You can rest assured that Mr. Stevens brought home his share of the prizes from these trips for he always had something worth showing.

In 1907, however, misfortune overtook him. He was repairing the horsefork, or hay carriage, in the peak of his barn when he fell abouth thirty feet to the floor below. From that day on he was paralyzed from the waist down. When he learned that doctors could do nothing for him, he went right on with the milk business. For many years he was a familiar sight on the streets of Glenns Falls where he would ring a large bell and the housewife or her children would come out to the wagon for the day's milk.

That same bell came in quite handy one night when he was returning home. At the foot of the hill south of his farm, there were dense clumps of bushes on either side of the road. Suddenly, two thugs leaped out of the bushed and demanded Mr. Steven's money. Did he give it to them? Instead of that, he began ringing his bell and frightened the highwaymen away. He continued on his way home without further incident.

Once he told me that he never missed a day on his milk route for thirteen consecutive years!! When past 90 years of age, he gave up the milk business only because Warren County took most of his farm for the present airport. The fine herd of Holstein cattle was sold at auction.

The famous auctioneer, R. Austin Backus of Mexico, New York, conducted the sale. I was present when Mr. Backus opened the slae saying that in all the years he had been in the business of selling cattle at auction, he had never known a case, where a person so handicapped as Mr. Stevens was, had carried on an enterprise of that size so long and with such apparant success.

I knew Fred Stevens for many years and have spent many enjoyuable evenings conversing with him. He loved to help people to help themselves. No one will ever know how many he helped get a start in life, or if down on their luck, to get a new start. He once told me that he could never remember ever turning anyone down who came seeking employment. He said that 'On a farm of this size I could always find something useful for them to do.'

To be sure, some didn't stay the first day out, others stayed for years.

Fred believed in the dignity of labor and that every man was a capitalist, even though his only capital was the labor of his hands. In his benefactions he never let his right hand know what his left was doing.

Anonymity was almost an obsession with him. I recall that the late Albert Hovey, with whom Mr. Stevens had business dealings for many years, told me he wanted th write up a story of Mr. Stevens' life for one of the leading magazines. But he would not allow it. 'No publicity,' he said.

He believed the least governed were the best governed and was much opposed to the NRA (Blue Eagle) which later was declared unconstitutional, I believe. He said, 'The government may tell me how much to charge for my produce, but as yet they can't tell me that I can't give my milk away!'

During those terrible depression years he said that if there were children or aged people in a family, he never stopped leaving the usual amount of milk, and with no thought of ever being paid for it.

Considered a bit old fashined by some, yet as soon as any new method or new machine had merit, he wasn't slow to discard old for new. His methods and management mush have been sound for his farm was fully as productive at the end as when he began.

Mr. Stevens' widow, an invalid for some time past, still lives in the old farm home.

For the reasons already cited, and many more, I believed Fred Stevens was one of the most remarkable men who ever lived in Warren County. At the time of this death, the Rev. Walter J. Benedict delivered his funeral sermon or oration. His closing remarks were classic. He expressed my thoughts as I would like to have if I had his command of language.

I wrote to Mr. Benedict for a copy of those remarks, as I felt they would be so fitting in closing this article. The following is Mr. Benedict's reply which is self-explanatory:
'Your very kind letter with its comment upon the life of Fred Stevens is at hand, and all you say about Fred is true. His life is worthy of a biography. I have never known a man of greater courage and faith and the way Fred lived has been one of the greatest inspirational influences upon my ministry. God has his own way of helping his children, and through Fred, and I think probably without realizing it, at a time in my ministry when I desperately needed his help he helped me.

When I conducted his memorial service, I had the things written out I wished to say, but following that service someone asked from them and I gave them to that person. I do not know who it was. And of course I cannot recapture my tribute after these years.

I am truely sorry. It will be a great thing for you to write his life and nothing you can say about the magnitude of his injury or handicap or the greatness of his faith in the face os suffering or the tenderness of his spirit will be an exaggeration. Sincerely Walter J. Benedict.'"


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