Harpswell Historical Society

Incorporated 1979

929 Harpswell Neck Road
Harpswell, Maine  04079

The Harpswell Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, identification, collection, preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of materials relating to the history of Harpswell and its people.

Table of Contents

Historic Park 
and Museum

Links to 
related sites


Occupations in Harpswell Maine in the Early to Mid 1900's

Living on a Farm

By students of West Harpswell School

A 2001-2002 Harpswell History Project

Growing up
Living on a Farm

Living on a Farm

Mary and Eleanor Wilson are sisters who were born and grew up on the family farm at High Head in North Harpswell. Their farm was surrounded by water on three sides. It was near the end of High Head and the farm was two miles from the main road.

The farm house at High Head was built in 1881 for Elizabeth Curtis, her son John W. and daughter Rebecca, all adults at the time. (It replaced a which was built during the Revolutionary War times, smaller house on what is now lot 71, east of the lilacs.)

Mary and Eleanor's parents were Elmer Wilson and Katie Curtis Wilson. The farm that the Wilsons owned was first settled by Katie's ancestors in 1762. These early settlers came from Hanover, Mass. and before that from England.

Near the farm was a mill. It was a grist mill and it was run by water power.

Tide Mills: Several early Harpswell grist and saw mills depended on the tide for power. One of the earliest mills which is believed to have been so operated was located on the Cundy's Harbor Road, just north of the Bethel Point Road. Another was located at the entrance to Basin Cove on Harpswell Neck. Still another was located on Mill cove; the causeway on the High Head Road is built on the top of the dam for this mill.

The Wilsons had a dairy farm. They had Jersey cows and hens. They had a sheep named Pollyanna. Most of their cows were named. They also had a dog and cat.

Mary and Eleanor Wilson's dad sold cream and milk which he took to Brunswick to the train station. Then it was sent to Turner Center.

The Wilsons grew a lot of vegetables. They had two apple orchards and they also went to the grocery store to get food. The two girls helped their mother and father milk the cows. Mary drove the tractor and they helped during hay season. They usually didn't get paid. The two girls enjoyed their farm most of the time. They gathered eggs to help at the farm.

There was always work to be done on a farm: caring for the animals, raising crops, spraying apple trees, cutting wood for the stoves, haying and weeding, preparing silage for the cows, milking the cows (by hand), and transporting the cream to Brunswick.

Mary and Eleanor's mother worked on the farm. Every morning was very busy. It began early. The cows had to be milked twice a day. They had to work in the garden and mow the hay. It was hard because they didn't have electricity.

The Wilsons always cut wood in the winter.  The Wilsons had a homemade plow so they could get to the main road. When the roads were really bad they used a horse and wagon.

In a way they did have electricity and in a way they didn't have electricity. They had a machine in the cellar, but usually it didn't work. They also used lamps.

Their mother's family would have used a horse and wagon for equipment. Sometimes they used wooden racks. Their father used a tractor and a hay loader. Their mom's side of the family would use pitch forks. Their dad would have used a fork that lifted hay.

The Wilsons had a bathtub in the barn. It was the only bathtub on the farm. They used the bathtub for a water tank so that the cows could drink water.

Mary and Eleanor would play together a lot. They would play with their cousins sometimes. The cousins lived in North Harpswell. The nearest house was one mile away and the main road two miles away. Mary and Eleanor played with dolls and small metal cars. They made villages out of bricks. They had a little red wagon and a bow and arrow . They didn't have a lot of toys. They liked to go for walks on the beach. They also liked to dress up in old clothes from the attic. Sometimes they would go to Portland and Massachusetts They called their friends there "Aunt" and "Uncle."

Mary and Eleanor went to school at North Harpswell School. They did not walk to school. Their dad would drop them off at school. They had no homework. They liked school.

Mary and Eleanor had no Girl Scouts. Once they put on a play with the school and they also had church activities.

On April 14, 1943 there was a big thunder shower. The chimney of the house was hit and the barn was hit by lightning. The fire started at 4:30 in the morning. The father woke up the rest of the family. Everyone got pails of water and they worked hard pouring water in the attic. Suddenly Mary looked out the window and saw that the barn was on fire. The father ran out to the barn and found that the cows were all dead. They had died instantly. The father told the family there was nothing they could do. So the family got what they wanted to save, like bank books and important papers. They had to pull the grandmother out to the shed in a rocking chair because she was blind. When they were all in the shed they heard a "Meow." It was their cat. They saved the cat and dog. At the time the family was not scared because they were in shock. After that the family went to live with their grandpa George Wilson.

After the fire their father worked as a janitor at Longfellow School. Following the fire there were some good things that happened. Mary and Eleanor said that more people were around and their parents didn't have to work so hard. Mary and Eleanor went to Brunswick High. Mary also went to Gorham Teachers College and they both attended Providence Bible Institute.

Mary and Eleanor have not always lived in Harpswell. Mary lived in Gardiner, Me, where she worked as a librarian at the junior high school. Eleanor lived in Providence, Rhode Island where she was a college librarian.

Twenty years after the fire two men came to buy land and make house lots. That's how all the houses were built on High Head.

Besides the differences on High Head, Mary and Eleanor mentioned that there are a lot more people in town now. The roads are better and there are a lot fewer farms, but better equipment now.