Category Archives: Land


I miss the putt-putt sound of a tractor. There aren’t any real working farms left on Whirlwind Hill. Some land is still farmed, and a few cows pastured, but I seldom hear the farmer’s useful machines going up and down the hill pulling their loads. What a nuisance it used to be when I was in a hurry to get someplace only to find myself stuck behind Mr. Cella’s tractor and manure spreader. There was often no way to get around until he took pity on me, pulled to the side and slowly waved me by. But still, I loved that sound and the slow pace of life it implied.

What tractors lack in speed and beauty, they make up for in strength and simplicity, and in the beginning of the twentieth century they became indispensable farm equipment.

The first tractor came to the farm in 1921. Prior to that, horses and oxen did the work. In this grainy photo from around 1914, my grandfather’s hired man, Andrew Rossi, drives a team of oxen down the lane.

Andres Rossi driving an oxcart, around 1914

Andres Rossi driving an oxcart, around 1914

In 1921 my grandfather Ellsworth took a step into the modern world. He bought a McCormick-Deering Farmall tractor.

Saturday, November 26, 1921 – “Cloudy, cold, and stormy. Ellsworth been to Peterland watching a man trying a tractor which he wants to sell.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Tuesday, November 29, 1921 – “Ellsworth has decided to have the tractor and will soon work at Peterland pulling out trees.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Thursday, December 1, 1921 – “Nice day after the storm. Men have gone to Peterland pulling out trees. Ellsworth says it does good work. Hope it will be of great use to him.

Tuesday, December 13, 1921 – “Nice day. Chores done. Men fixing the machine to saw, everything ready. Have commenced sawing. The wood all sawed into one large pile in time to do the chores. A great help.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Here is the original tractor being used in 1939 at the backyard woodpile to saw the wood into usable pieces. This tractor didn’t have regular tires and was used mainly for pulling and for running machines.

Cutting wood from the woodpile with the Farmall tractor, 1939

Cutting wood from the woodpile with the Farmall tractor, 1939

It sat out in the field behind the house for many years, and my brother, who adores tractors, had his photo taken sitting on its front end.

Kirt Crump on the Farmall tractor, 1952

Kirt Crump on the Farmall tractor, 1952

The farm had its own gas pump to keep the tractors going.

The old gas pump on the farm in 1972.

The old gas pump on the farm in 1972.

My grandfather always used Farmall tractors, whose distinctive red color may have influenced the purchase of my brother’s favorite toy.

Carol, Kirt, and Blossom the dog, 1953

Carol, Kirt, and Blossom the dog, 1953

Later on, when my father bought our land on Whirlwind Hill, he bought a John Deere tractor. He used it to rake hay, haul brush, plow the driveway in winter, drag the horses to their final resting places in the back fields, and give rides to his grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

Charlie Crump on the John Deere

Charlie Crump on the John Deere

Charlie Crump and Paul Bryner on the John Deere, 1975

Charlie Crump and Paul Bryner on the John Deere, 1975

It’s not easy to drive a tractor, but young farm boys usually know how to drive one long before getting behind the wheel of a car. My grandfather preferred driving the Farmall to driving the car, and left all the auto duties to my grandmother.

We still have some tractors on Whirlwind Hill. They’re  useful in all seasons, and little boys love to look at them and wish they were sitting high up on the seat and putt-putting slowly down the lane.

Carol and Henry with the new tractor, 2008

Carol and Henry with the new tractor, 2008

Outbuildings #5 – The Woodshed

February Window

The New England landscape in February is short on color. It still has an “Ethan Frome-ish” feeling about it. But it’s a short month, and there are days that brighten its passage. Red appears on February 14th when valentines, roses, and chocolates celebrate the day. My mother always made a cherry pie to celebrate George Washington’s February 22 birthday. We ate our slices after the evening meal garnished with big blobs of homemade whipped cream. I’m sorry the Presidential birthdays were merged into one work-friendly holiday. It seemed right and fun to celebrate George and Abe on their own special days, and then to start looking forward to spring.

"February Window," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

“February Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

Sunday, February 11, 1912 – “Four degrees below zero in morning. Zero at nine o’clock. Severe winter weather. All at home from church.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Sunday, February 22, 1914 – Morning clear. Cold, near zero in afternoon, cloudy. South winds and very chilly. Looks like storming. The traveling very badly drifted. Snow blowing in, filling up the paths.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Friday, February 22, 1924 – “A very nice morning for Washington’s Birthday. The ground covered with snow. Quite a snow and crusty good sleighing and sliding. Hard for autos. Moonlight evening. Good time for sleigh rides. Several horse sleds have been out but no ox teams. How the times have changed since the days of Washington. Very progressive. Ellsworth and Agnes have been spending the evening listening to the President’s speech through Radio.” – Lydia Jane Hall

See also:  April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, and January Windows.

On Monday:  Tractors

House Divided

Long ago I had a dollhouse with a removable front. I could peer into the rooms, and because the roof came off too, I could look down onto the bedrooms, bathroom and staircase. For me this was magic – to be able move the furniture around and pretend that real people lived there. I’m a romantic when it comes to imagining the rooms in the houses I pass by on my walks. The glimpses I get into lit-up nighttime windows give just the barest hint of the lives lived inside.

I thought about my old dollhouse when I read my great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Hall’s will, inventory, and property distribution documents. The actual real estate settlement and uses of the land are still confusing to me. Where exactly was the “Lot adjoining the Garden,” or “The Meadow north of the bridge,” or “The Side Hill and Meadow, under the Rock?”

The thing that piqued my interest and made me chuckle was the description of future use of the “dwelling house and buildings” for the two important women in Aaron’s life – his wife Annis, and his daughter Mary. At the time of Aaron’s death Annis was seventy-five years old. Mary was forty and unmarried. Annis was Aaron’s third wife and Mary’s second stepmother. Aaron and Annis had been married for twelve years when Aaron died. Mary and Annis both lived in the farmhouse, and as far as I know they continued living there. Mary never married, and Annis died in 1844.

I have no photographs of Annis, but do have this tintype of Mary taken in the 1860’s.

Mary Hall, around 1860

Mary Hall, around 1860

Aaron left to his “beloved wife” no property except what she brought with her to his house at the time of their marriage. She was to share the use of the chaise and horse with his daughter Mary.

And she was to have the use of the house as stated here:

We set to the widow Annis Hall, the use of one-third part of the dwelling house & buildings north of the highway towit:

  • The east front room with the bedroom adjoining.
  • One undivided third of the keeping room.
  • The east third of the garret.
  • The south part of the old cellar to the amount of one third of all the cellar room.
  • The south part of the milk room.
  • Her right in the oven, and at the well, with the right of passing to and from the above named apartments and appendages.
  • Also her right in the wood room. [In the written document this looks like “mood room,” and I thought what a wonderful place that would be to have in a house – a place to hide out when you were just in some kind of mood.]

To his daughter Mary, Aaron gave six acres of land, $150, and his chaise. Her share in the house was also specified:

The use of one-sixth part of the dwelling house, while she remains single, towit:

  • East front chamber with the bedroom adjoining.
  • One undivided sixth part of the keeping room.
  • The west end of the garret to the amount of one sixth of all the garret room.
  • The remaining part of the old cellar, with the right to use the oven and the well.
  • Also the right to use the stairs and passes leading to and from the apartments and privileges herein set to her.

I try to picture how the women lived in this way, if indeed they did. Maybe it just had to be put down in writing in case some kind of argument ensued. But it’s hard for me to think of the rooms I grew up with – dining room, kitchen, living room, bathroom, parlor, etc. being used so very differently. I don’t know how many other people were living in the house in 1839 when Aaron died, but the 1830 census counts ten people. By 1939 my great-great-grandfather Salmon had married Cornelia and had added three children to the household – Aaron, Mary Jane, and my great-grandfather, William E. Hall.

I wish I still had that dollhouse. Maybe some day I’ll make a model based on the Hall farmhouse, but for now I’m content to speculate about nineteenth-century domestic life on Whirlwind Hill.

"Farmhouse Rooms," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2015

“Farmhouse Rooms,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2015

On Monday:  Spoons

Getting in the Ice

"Ice," Carol Crump Bryner, 2015

“Ice,” Carol Crump Bryner, 2015

In June 1967 I moved to California for graduate school. Among the many things I learned about the west coast was that no one there called that thing in our kitchen an icebox. It was a refrigerator. In California-speak a pocketbook became a purse, dungarees became jeans, and sneakers became tennis shoes.

There’s a reason we called it an icebox. The one I remember was a big wooden box with a zinc lining, a heavy door, and a compartment for a block of ice. In this photo from our Thanksgiving supper in 1948, the icebox is right behind my head in the farmhouse kitchen.

The icebox, 1948

The icebox, 1948

I remember ice blocks being carried into the kitchen hanging from large metal tongs and then squeezed into their icebox compartment. At that time my grandparents were, I assume,  buying it commercially, but until at least sometime in the 1930’s my grandfather cut his own ice and stored it in the icehouse.

January was the month for getting in the ice. My grandfather waited until the pond ice was thick enough before spending the several days it took to harvest it.

Monday, January 8, 1912 – “Pleasant morning – washing done. Ellsworth preparing to get ice. Went up to Wilbur’s to get his ice plow. Towards evening commenced to snow.” – Lydia Jane Hall

The ice plow – probably pulled by a horse and guided by the farmer – cut grooves into the ice, first one direction and then another until the gridded ice could be sawed into blocks.

Wednesday, January 10, 1912 – “Clear and cold. Commenced getting ice, which is nice and thick. None so thick in a long time. Mr. Cella and son helping them get ice. Busy all day. Nice sliding on the hills.” – Lydia Jane Hall

The blocks were piled onto sleds and pulled back to the farm by horse teams.

Monday, January 19, 1914 – “A dark cloudy day. Looks much like a storm. Our washing not done. Men cutting ice. Got in three loads in afternoon. Ice twelve inches thick. Hard for the old blacks [the farm horses] to pull it up onto the road.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Ellsworth Hall with Little Doll and Old Doll, 1913

Ellsworth Hall with Little Doll and Old Doll, 1913

Wednesday, January 21, 1914 – “The men finished getting ice. The ice house is full of nice ice.” – Lydia Jane Hall

I wish I knew where the icehouse stood. It may have been the building next to the creamery. The ice would have been packed in sawdust to keep it frozen, and used all year.

Saturday, January 26, 1924 – “Much colder. Children at home going out and coming in with their cheeks like red roses. Agnes took Lydia to take her music lesson this morning. After dinner helped Edith clean kitchen and dining room and bake cookies. Men cleaning out the ice house getting ready for the ice, which they are expecting soon.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Lydia writes about two of the ponds used for ice cutting.

Tuesday, January 11, 1921 – “Ellsworth is cutting ice. Brought in six loads of ice from Mr. Leete’s pond. Mr. Leete and Charles Argonnis helping him.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Friday, February 8, 1924 – “The men are getting ice from our little pond down in the meadow. Mr. Ives is working with them. They are putting it in his icehouse. Ours is filled. They put it in – nine loads today.” – Lydia Jane Hall

One of the problems of the old-fashioned icebox was that the blocks of ice often had dirt and plant matter in them that made a mess as they melted. But the winter ice for me was all about skating and sledding, and I loved being able to peer down through the ice to see the frozen detritus. We skated on the little cow pond next to the lane until the late 1950’s when my Uncle Francis built a larger pond just up the hill from the smaller one. It was there that my cousins played hockey and I had a skating party where a friend fell and knocked out his front teeth. I’m sure my grandfather would have wanted some of that splendid ice for his icehouse, but these days I’m not sure if he would ever find ice that was twelve inches thick.

Skating on the big pond. The farm on the hill belonged at the time to the Farnam family

Skating on the big pond. The farm on the hill belonged at the time to the Farnham family.

On Monday:  Have you Counted your Handkerchiefs lately?

January Window

Garrison Keillor said in one of his “News From Lake Wobegon” segments – “January is hard on people.”

Even though the daylight hours begin to increase, the promise of spring seems far off. The mornings are cold, and the nights are colder. The ice and snow that makes winter such a joy for children can be trying for the elderly. My great-grandmother, Lydia Jane Hall, saw winter life on the farm from her seat by the window. She lamented the frigid temperatures that made her suffer, but also praised the beauty of a deep January winter.

"January WIndow," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

“January WIndow,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

Monday, January 29, 1912 – “Cold. Snowed all day. Washed. Put out clothes, but didn’t dry. Brought them in frozen stiff, and dried them in the house. Ellsworth cutting cornstalks.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Tuesday, January 25, 1921 – “Very cold this morn. The night was so cold and the wind blew fearfully – couldn’t sleep. My room so cold. Agnes took the horse and carriage. Took Lydia to the dancing school. Said she wasn’t cold coming home.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Tuesday, January 22, 1924 – “Very cold morning. Below zero. Children going to school. Men getting wood and working in the barnyard. Work going on indoors as usual. Very cold – making beds upstairs – hands ache with the cold. Cloudy in afternoon – wind rising which makes us think and hope there is no blizzard coming. Night here and we are tucked away in bed with the bright moonlight shining.” – Lydia Jane Hall

See also: April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December windows

On Monday:  Electricity

Skating on the Cow Pond

In late April, the spring at the south end of the cow pond turns green with new life. The skunk cabbage, adder’s tongues, and violets unfurl in their usual spots and last for a heartbreakingly short few weeks. When I walk down the lane past the pond, I hope to hear the call of the red-winged blackbird – a sound I so associate with this place that to hear it anywhere else feels wrong.

These days there are no cows stopping for a drink of water on their way to pasture. My brother keeps the pond’s banks clear of grass and cattails and the land free of the milkweed with its boat-shaped pods.

The cow pond in 1924

The cow pond in 1924

This one small spring on the Whirlwind Hill farm feeds a pond that served as a watering hole for the cows and a place of year-round entertainment for children. The August dragonflies hovered over the water as we sat watching and waiting for our red and white bobbers to get tugged below the surface by a fish. We were told we could catch frogs with red flannel attached to a piece of string, and we spent hours bent over the bank of the pond with our lures. I can’t remember catching either fish or frogs, but I still feel the warmth of the sun on my arms and the luxurious sense of time standing still on a long afternoon.

When the leaves turned color in the fall we walked with our great-grandfather Joseph Biggs down the lane past the cow pond looking for hickory nuts. We gathered them in our baskets and brought them into the farmhouse kitchen where they rested for several months behind the stove until dry enough to be cracked open and eaten.

And in winter we skated. As soon as the ice formed a thick enough layer, we put on our wool sweaters, thick socks, bulky snow pants, bulkier jackets, itchy hats, and never-warm-enough mittens and walked to the pond carrying our skates. We learned to skate when we were three or four years old on double-runner blades. Later the boys played hockey and knocked their teeth out. The girls made figure eights and skated backwards. We all played “crack the whip.” I skated until I had frozen toes. I skated until I had frozen fingers. And one day I skated until I had waited too long to take off my skates and walk back up the lane to the farmhouse bathroom. I didn’t care. Skating was joy.

Cousin Nancy and Carol skating on the cow pond, 1953

Cousin Nancy and Carol skating on the cow pond, 1953

On Monday:  Dolls and Poodle Skirts

December Window

As I turn over the calendar on December first, I think of this nursery rhyme I read to my children when they were little:

“The north wind doth blow, and we shall have snow,

And what will the robin do then, poor thing?

He’ll sit in the barn, and keep himself warm,

And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.”

Snow and cold and darkness were hard for my great-grandmother, especially when she became dependent on a wheelchair. In her journals she laments the absence of loved ones, but also takes joy in the presence of every-day comforts – a furnace, some sunshine, and her grandchildren.

"December Window," Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

“December Window,” Carol Crump Bryner, monoprint

Sunday, December 1, 1912 – “A nice day. My mother’s birthday – Ninety-two years old. Would like to see her today. She is a well preserved old lady, her great trouble being rheumatism which keeps her from getting around freely. I truly sympathize, being twenty years younger than she is in years, but sometimes think not so many in feelings. Snow still on the hills.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Friday, December 30, 1921 – “Nice day. Quite cold, below zero this morning – windows covered with frost. Couldn’t see out of them. The North window still has some left on it. I have been sitting in the Sitting room this morning in the sunshine to keep warm, the children with me. With the furnace fire and doors closed was very comfortable.” – Lydia Jane Hall

On Wednesday:  Afternoon Coffee

Giving Thanks

This is my eighty-fifth “On Whirlwind Hill” blog post. It doesn’t seem possible that I’m two-thirds of the way through this one-year blog.

The arrival of this Thanksgiving week reminds me how very grateful I am for the support of my family, my readers, my friends, and my aging computer. Writing a blog involves ego, humility, tedium, excitement, curiosity, joy, and occasional panic – (“Did I really publish THAT?”) Reading blogs written by other people reminds me how very much a beginner I am. I’m amazed at how generous and interesting and accomplished are the bloggers I follow, and how long some of them have been at this. I learn oodles of wonderful things from them all.

Doing “On Whirlwind Hill” is one of the scariest and most fun projects I’ve ever done. I often think about church ministers and pastors who sit down each Saturday to write a sermon for the next day. One of my readers is a pastor, and she must be continually thinking about how to make her congregation listen and relate to her preaching. Like her, we bloggers are preachers in a way. We all feel that we have something important and unique to say, and spend hours figuring out not only how to say it, but how to keep at it week after week.

So thank you to all my fellow bloggers, to the loyal readers for their kind and welcome words, to my family for roots past and present and future, and to the friends who teach and encourage and egg me on.

On Wednesday I’ll talk about Thanksgiving with a capital “T.” It was the biggest holiday on the farm, steeped in years of tradition and history.

"A View from Whirlwind Hill," Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor, 2014

“A View from Whirlwind Hill,” Carol Crump Bryner, watercolor, 2014

On Wednesday:  Thanksgiving

Outbuildings #3 – The Turkey Pen


“The real work on the farm happened in the barn, in the fields, and in the house. Some of the outbuildings were so specific in purpose that they were often hastily erected or moved, and as quickly abandoned when seasons or activities changed. Others had longer lives and a more major presence. They were spread out around the property in an almost haphazard way. A few of them I remember from childhood, but others I know only from photos.” – Outbuildings #1, Outbuildings #2


The Turkey Pen

For this photo the turkeys came out of their pen and gathered around my grandmother, Agnes Biggs Hall, when she came to feed them and fatten them up for the winter. They seem exotic and prehistoric. The only turkeys we see now near the farm are the wild ones who appear once in awhile in the fields like groups of dark-suited men standing with their hands behind their backs waiting for a train.

Agnes Biggs Hall and the turkeys, around 1922

Agnes Biggs Hall and the turkeys, around 1922

On Monday:  Giving Thanks

Walking Down the Lane

Walking is my meditation. The rhythm of the steps, the slow passing by of scenery and people, the time alone to think, all bring me peace of mind. I needed some of this calming activity recently and was lucky to be where I could take one of my very favorite walks – down the lane on Whirlwind Hill.

"Lane," Carol Crump Bryner, engraving, 1976

“Lane,” Carol Crump Bryner, engraving, 1976

Starting at the barnyard across the street from the farmhouse, the rutted path we called “the lane” meandered past the cow pond and the stone walls and barbed wire fences that delineated the lane from the open fields, joined up with another lane called “Strawberry Hill,” and eventually ended at the property known as “Peterland.”

Unlike the romantic and sometimes dark and sinister country lanes of Miss Marple and Thomas Hardy, our lane was used mostly for business. It took cows and tractors and horses and farmers where they needed to go. It connected the pastures and the orchards to the barn. And it provided a pathway to the pond for children carrying their fishing poles or ice skates.

"The Lane to Peterland," Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil

“The Lane to Peterland,” Carol Crump Bryner, colored pencil

But when fall comes each year I remember the walks we took with our great-grandfather, Joseph Biggs, who traveled from his home in Glastonbury, Connecticut to spend summer and fall weeks at the farm. He was a kind man with large hands and a bristly white mustache that tickled us when we kissed him hello. He smoked a pipe and wore suspenders. While he was at the farm he tended gardens, dried dishes, and entertained his great-grandchildren.

Me and Grandpa Biggs, summer 1947

Me and Grandpa Biggs, summer 1947

If he visited in October, Grandpa Biggs did “nut duty.” We went with him when he walked down the lane to gather hickory nuts. Into our baskets we put the light brown gems that lay tucked among the fall leaves. Our grandfather Ellsworth let the nuts dry out in their baskets behind the kitchen’s wood stove. On winter evenings he sat in his rocking chair by the stove and cracked the hard little shells one by one with a hammer, then slowly picked out the sweet nutmeats and ate them as he rocked. No one seems to have the time to pick out hickory nuts anymore, but for my grandfather it must have been, like walking is for me, a kind of meditation.

Hickory nuts and shells

Hickory nuts and shells

Over the years the old laneway has changed its course, but when I took my calming walk a few weeks ago, the trees still stood in their places to show the old route. Nuts continue to fall from their branches and add their bounty to the old path’s autumn tapestry .

Hickory nuts in the laneway, fall 2014

Hickory nuts in the laneway, fall 2014

On Wednesday:  Autumn Leaves