Life on a Rocky Farm

Rural Life near New York City in the Late Nineteenth Century

By Lucas C. Barger
Other Peter A. Rogerson
Introduction by Peter A. Rogerson

Subjects: New York/regional, American History, Autobigraphy
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438446028, 190 pages, April 2013

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Foreword by the Author
Editor’s Introduction
1. Introduction
People of Putnam Valley
Exodus of Youth as a Cause of Abandoned Farms
Successful Farmer on Smooth Farm in Rocky Country

2. What Grandpop Said
3. Handcrafts—Ways of Making Money
Ship Timber
Railroad Ties
The Axe
Hoop Poles
The Squaw Man
4. Incomes Directly from Nature
Roots and Herbs
Honey from Bees
Fruits and Vegetables
Dried Apples
Maple Syrup
Other Income—Summer Boarders
5. Life of the Rocky Farm Women
Griddlecakes, etc.
Women Fishing
Making Bread
Wife Instructs Husband Variously
Picking Geese
Women’s Work—Flax
Woolen Goods
Knitting Sheath (“Shathe”)
Dress Fashions (Men’s and Women’s)
Dyeing—Children’s Work, etc.
Making Soap
Lighting Facilities
Matches and Fire
House Cat
6. Life of the Rocky Farm Men
Sowing Grain
Swamps and Marshes—Cranberries, Blueberries, Garden Truck
Poison Sumac and Poison Ivy
Farmer’s Breakfast
Comparison of Western and Eastern Farming
7. Sports and Animals
Game—Squirrels and Rabbits
Various Animals
8. Country Store and Election
Country Store
9. Education, Religion, and War
The Red Schoolhouse
Religion and War
10. Frolics
Frolics (Bees)
The Buckwheat Frolic
Corn-Husking Frolic
11. The County Fair
12. Social Life
Church Socials
Dance, Music
Appendix I. Country Dialect
Appendix II. The Visit
Appendix III. The Quilting Frolic

A folksy look at farm life in rugged Putnam Valley just as it was being transformed by industrialization and mechanization.


Life on a Rocky Farm couples Lucas C. Barger's (1866–1939) eye for detail with a folksy, anecdotal style to give us a remarkable and memorable depiction of both the traditional ways of farm life, and the challenges the farmers faced as the times changed. Previously unpublished, Barger's first-hand account of farm life near New York City begins in the late nineteenth century. Little had changed for well over a century in the hilly and rugged terrain of Putnam Valley, where Lucas grew up as a member of the sixth generation of Barger farmers. But as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, industrialization and mechanization decreased the demand for farm labor and farmers had to come up with alternate ways to make money.

For a long time, supplemental income came from varied means such as beekeeping and using the local forest resources to provide railroad ties, ship timber, and barrel hoops. Wealthy summer boarders from New York City also provided some extra income, but despite the short distance, transportation remained arduous, and population growth did not occur until high improvements were made in the 1930s.

Peter A. Rogerson's transcription reflects the flavor of Barger's original writing, as Barger himself said when he was first attempting to publish back in 1939, "I read something along back, that a publisher wrote, and he said, 'Do not change your style. ' He claimed the style was sometimes the best part. And I guess that is what you are getting at. If you can call my scribbling a style, and you think it 'odd' use it any way you like. For my main intentions were to write an odd book as I told you once before. "

Peter A. Rogerson is Distinguished Professor of Geography at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He is the author of several books, including Statistical Methods for Geography: A Student's Guide. He lives in Amherst, New York.


"Life on a Rocky Farm is a captivating first-hand account of agricultural life in nineteenth and early twentieth century Putnam County, NY … Barger describes tasks vividly and colorfully in his own unique style. " — Historical Geography

"Happily, this meandering, idiosyncratic account delivers … providing readers with a valuable narrative of Northeastern rural life in an era of decline. " — Hudson River Valley Review

"[The book] provides some insight into longstanding folk customs in the Hudson Valley, but it is more poignant for its sense of impending change and loss. " — Agricultural History

"This book explores the world of small-time farming before the modern age. Lucas Barger takes the reader through all aspects, from ways to raise income, to what the roles were between men and women. Each chapter has its unique focus. It is an interesting look at a life that is no longer around. " — San Francisco Book Review

"Barger's tales are a treat and a treasure. " — Chronogram

"Life on a Rocky Farm offers a glimpse into rural life in a hilly, resource-poor section of New York State. The place is remarkably close to New York City, yet there is little hint of city influence felt there. That a poor, backwoods lifestyle could exist so close to the great metropolis, for so long, is interesting in and of itself. " — John C. Hudson, author of Chicago: A Geography of the City and Its Region