Burton Coon was a lifelong Milan farmer and unofficial local historian. His family farm, “Trail’s End,” was on the road now named for his son, Webster Coon, in Milan, at Shookville. The home stands today but remodeled. From 1846 to 1988, three generations of the Coon family farmed in Milan. After spending his days,
“High on the mountain, pure fresh air,
Torrid nor arctic finds us here,
Beautiful day so bright and clear,
And you can see, oh, everywhere-
Burton Coon returned to his Trail’s End farmhouse to write and publish articles about topics on the farm and around the town. His descendant Bonnie Wood shares some of Burton Coon’s articles in “On the Farm” and her books Stone By Stone: Building a Farm and a Family 1846-1988 and Memories of Ol’ Red Hook From the Burton Coon Collection.
Blog Post #13: 2018 JUL 16 ~ A Walk
“A Walk in Winter” by Burton Coon is the ideal article to read on an oppressively humid day. As we recall those winter days just a few months ago, we come to the same conclusion. Regardless of the day, when “you descend the hill, cross the barnyard and follow the little path up to the house, …you slip into the old armchair, tired but happy and conscious that after all ‘there is no place like home’”.
There is something about a walk to take away concerns and thoughts of responsibilities. Whether observing the deer and turkey families to the neighbor excitedly exclaiming that he saw a “large black bear” yesterday or the sound of “the woodsman’s ax which speaks of home and a cheerful fireside” in the winter, the path you choose will be the right one.
“Don’t plan to go anywhere. Just go over the hill and wander in whatever direction your fancy leads. You will know better where you want to go when you get in sight of it”. Take the first step to explore the familiar and sometimes the unfamiliar in this world around us.
Image: “Hello” Annual for the Year 1893 Epworth Gleaner Red Hook NY page 6.
Blog Post #12: 2018 JUL 13 ~ The Garden of the Heart
Burton Coon writes about two gardens in his articles, “In the Garden” and “Memory of Mrs. David S. Funk”.
In the kitchen garden on the Coon farm, Burton straightens up to rest after hoeing and “‘Little Alf’, the Angora cat, runs up [his] back and over [his] shoulder”. The horses are in the pasture lot; the vineyard ‘is loaded with grapes”; and varieties of beans, beets, cucumbers and so many more vegetables are plentiful.
In his tribute to Mary Funk, a family friend, he describes his “surprise to find down among the weeds and grasses and vegetables [of the garden] the most beautiful flowers- roses and pinks and lady’s slippers and gladioli and zinnias. And their fragrance filled the air”. He likens this to those special friends living amongst us who give of themselves. “Thank God for the sweetening influence of their lives.”
Burton derives “satisfaction” from his work in the garden and describes how “in the garden of the heart there bloom the finest graces- love, tenderness, sympathy, neighborly -kindness, generosity, and that most rare and beautiful flower of all- self forgetfulness”. Let us nourish both gardens which provide such delight in our lives.
Blog Post #11: 2018 JUL 11 ~ The Old Peach Tree and Old Friend
Burton Coon reminisces about the old peach tree “in the little lot back of the barn” and an old friend, the postman Robert G. Moore, in his article entitled “Here We Are, Robert”.
When he questions, “tell me why it is that we wait until our friends are dead and then kiss them”, we reflect on our own friendships and empathize with Burton. Perhaps “we take it for granted that our friends know our feelings toward them”. Perhaps we state simply, “I liked him”.
As time passes, “The old peach tree is gone- so is Bob”, and we realize “that bit of memory is very [so very] precious to [us]”. Like Burton, we may also have that stump or that artifact that triggers these “precious” memories.
For a synthesis of friendship and the farm garden, see Blog Post #12 for a discussion of “In Memory of Mrs. David S. Funk” and “In the Garden” where Burton acknowledges that “down in the garden of the heart there bloom the finest graces- love, tenderness, sympathy, neighborly -kindness, generosity, and that most rare and beautiful flower of all- self forgetfulness”.
Image: “No Letter” page 25 of Annual for the Year 1893 Epworth Gleaner Red Hook NY
Blog Post #10: 2018 JUL 2 ~ A Lesson From Nature
“Yes, life is good – just to live”, Burton writes as he reflects upon Nature- “the tree, the wayside flower, the insect, and the farm animal”. He focuses on how Nature is content whereas Man tends to be discontent and to desire what it is that he does not have.
It is not the location or the environment in which Man finds himself but his “intimate possessions—namely, his conscience, his character and his will”* which should reign superior to all worldly goods. When Man does “remember that the center of human progress is moral growth”*, he becomes content in his “simple life”.
Burton’s mention of Wagner’s concept of “the simple life” affirms his own feelings of satisfaction on his farm in Milan. Despite youthful dreams of various careers away from the farm, Burton accepts his responsibilities by first completing his daily chores and then sharing his beliefs and his thoughts on the world around him in his writing.
On a side note, a reflection on a recent week spent in Manhattan accentuates this notion that content is measured within oneself and is not a product of a romanticized view of any locale. Although it is pleasurable to travel to new and/or different locales, true content blooms within whether on the farm, in the suburbs, or in the city. Let’s be mindful of this beauty.
*Excerpt From: Charles Wagner. “The Simple Life.” iBooks.
Blog Post #9: 2018 JUN 29 ~ Then and Now: Life on the Farm
“It might be interesting to live for the next 100 years just to see what will happen,” Burton speculates as he compares farm life when he was a young man in the last decades of the 19th century to a time sixty years later.
Recalling his days on the farm observing his father “an independent man in the social and economic life of the nation” and “helping his mother make candles from the tallow of the beef that was butchered” brings back treasured memories of when the farmer had “time to think, to look up at the sky, and off to the hills to contemplate the deeper things of life”
He wonders, “what next?”, yet we can study life on the farm in the 20th century and even into the 21st century. As we consider the farmer’s life on the farm now, what are our thoughts? Let’s take a moment to contemplate how the farms in Milan today differ from those of the past, how the lives of the farmers today differ, and how the role of the farm in the community differs. Then, let’s reflect on the similarities. Despite mechanization and advances in technology, does farm life still provide the “time to think, to look up at the sky, and off to the hills to contemplate the deeper things of life”?
For further discussion on “the deeper things in life”, see Blog Post #10 for “ A Lesson From Nature”.
Blog Post #8: 2018 APR 1 ~ Trail’s End Farm Notes: A Farmer’s Treasures
In his “Trail’s End Farm Notes” column, Burton highlights the struggles and the joys of the farm family who are “continually wondering what will happen next. What will the season be? Will the crops be bountiful? And if so, will there be rain enough? Or too much?” As he reflects back on his lifetime on the farm, he concludes that his “memories are worth more than all the treasures of Egypt”. Burton captures the value and the beauty of the farmer’s life in his description of these treasures. Although Burton discusses another century, his words remain meaningful today. Photos below of Milan fields today.
Blog Post #7: 2018 MAR 24 ~ 1893 Annual: Recipes and Advertising
When Burton Coon was 23, his family received this 1893 Annual from local merchant P. E. Fraleigh, the husband of the former Lucy Augusta Tipple. Burton probably did not realize then that the merchant would become his brother-in-law when he married Emma Schultz Tipple eight years later. It is likely that both the recipes and images were of interest to the Coon family. Almost one hundred years later, Bessie Anspach Coon donated the volume to the Town of Milan. Today the recipes popular at the time, advertising with the names of many local merchants, and the images are of historical interest.
Blog Post #5: 2018 FEB 14 ~ The Simple Life
In the fourth installment of his “Fifty Years Ago” column, Burton Coon reflected, “Happiness springs from contentment. Contentment depends upon the adjustment of one’s self to one’s environment. And so of course the environment must be congenial. It was so with the farmer of fifty years ago. A man of simple tastes, he had settled down to enjoy the simple life, with his family around him.”
After “plowing and fitting the ground for corn”, the farmer and his wife would take a brief vacation visiting friends and family. “The day would be spent talking about the crops, comparing ideas about farming, hearing and telling about friends and neighbors. And as the afternoon drew to a close, they would wend their way homeward with fresh courage for the battle of life. It was in this simple fashion that the farmer took his vacation, nothing showy, nothing expensive, nothing fatiguing, just a change of scene and a comparison of ideas along the line of his work.”
Oh, today is the day to enjoy “the simple life” on an impromptu vacation day before returning home “with fresh courage for the battle of life”.
This image of Alsike clover (pictured below), a potential choice for “seeding down to clover”, was preserved in Burton’s scrapbook.
Blog Post #4: 2018 FEB 7 ~ From the Garden to the Kitchen
In the third installment of his “Fifty Years Ago” column, Burton Coon reminisced about spending precious family time drying fruit and making home-made yeast cakes in the late 1870s.
In the next generation, Burton’s daughter, Esther Coon Rider, continued canning and would send me down to the cellar to select a chosen jar for dinner. I especially enjoyed her vegetables with meatloaf on a cold day on the farm.
I plan to try her recipe for oatmeal macaroons scribbled in the cook book “A World of Good Eating” (pictured below):
1 cup of sugar
¼ cup of butter
a pinch of salt
2 cups of oat flakes
Blog Post #3: 2018 JAN 28 ~ Early Fortune (Plows and Potatoes)
Farmers: Does the Early Fortune potato live up to its name? According to Burton in his memories of the farm “Fifty Years Ago”, “the only factors entering into a potato crop seemed to be the seed, the soil, the weather and cultivation.” He continued explaining that “at least three of these factors were controllable, so it was 3 to 1 that the farmer would have a good potato crop.” Mother Nature notwithstanding, those are pretty good odds.
Blog Post #2: 2018 JAN 22 ~ Spring Work on the Farm
Burton “thought that perhaps some of the younger generation might like to know what we old ones used to do on the farm.” Based on his memories dating back to the late 1870s, his first installment of “Fifty Years Ago” included specific wages for the hired men who worked at Trail’s End each year starting around the first of April. He then proceeded to comment on the lack of a compulsory education law and the hiring of not only men but also young boys as farm hands. -Wonder if our younger generation could imagine a day in the life of a young farm hand in the late 1870s? The barn at Trail’s End was built by Burton’s father William W. Coon (pic below). It is no longer standing, but the original stone foundation still remains on Webster Coon Road in Milan.