Mr. & Mrs Lawrence M Holden
of Fort Covington, NY
by Ms. Lisa Cousineau – 1998
The interview began at a dinner my mother had planned for her cousin Mr. Lawrence Holden, before he was to return home. He is eighty-seven years old and lives with his son, Carl, in Rochester during the winter months. He is originally from Fort Covington, NY on the Canadian border, where he owns and used to run aprosperous dairy farm.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: Hi Mr. Lawrence, thanks for agreeing to do this interview for me.
Mr. Lawrence Holden: Well, what would you like to know?
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: Well, basically I would like to get your life story. I figured you would be a good person to interview since there aren’t too many dairy farmers around any longer.
Mr. Lawrence Holden: Well, that’s an awful lot of information.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: We’ll start out small. Where were you born?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: I was born on March 31, 1911 right in the house that I live in now.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: Did your father build that house?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: No, it was built by Martin Holden, my grandfather. He came over from Ireland with his wife and settled in Fort Covington. My father was the seventh of eight children, David. He married my mother, Mary Cotter, in 1908 in Hogansburg, NY, and then ran the farm. Mother was his second wife. His first was Ida Hackett and they have three children. But they are all no longer alive.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: How big is that house?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: Well, let’s see. The square part is 30×30, and the newer
part is 20×21, I believe. As you know it is two stories and all wooden. The new part was added by my father, after he took over the farm. It was in May and all the men and workers had moved the house off its foundation. It was after the planting was done. Well, anyway, on the fifth of May there was a monster of a snowstorm. Covered the wheat fields so bad; thought the crop would be lost. Come three, four day later, the wheat was growing high again and green.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: Why are those ceilings so high? Or is that just in the kitchen?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: No, no, that’s throughout the whole house. Back then they believed that it was better for your health. All the germs would rise up and there’d be no need to open a window. Also, the lumber was cheap and easy to come by.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: Mom found in one the books that your grandfather (Martin) used to work in an. Ashery. What was that?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: That’s true. He worked there in town. When the land was first being settled, there were quite a few trees all over the place. Well, they were cut down and cleared with the help of horses or oxen. Whatever the people had, and were brought into town to the Ashery [place where potash or “black salts” is made (see Making Potash in Franklin County)]. There they were set fire and burned. The ashes in Fort Covington were gathered into barrels, on Drum St., and taken to the old condensory. Boats from Canada were then loaded, and sailed up to Montreal where different products were made with the ash.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: How big was the farm while you were running it? What was its most productive time?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: At it biggest, I had 200 acres and about 85 head of cattle.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: Do you have any cattle at all today?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: No, not anymore. David still has a few head though. (David is Lawrence’s oldest son and lives on the neighboring farm. He works for ALCOA [Aluminum Company of America in Massena, NY], a factory, and still owns some cattle).
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: How about your school years. What can you tell me about those?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: Well, grades one through six, I had two other kids in my class. The school was a mile from my home. It was located at what is now George Polton’s place. It sat vacant for ’bout eight or ten years before it was bought for one dollar. They then had it moved, on blocks with a low boy (county trailer) and snow plow, up to Fort Covington Rd. where it still is today.
I later went to Fort Covington High School, where there were four in the
graduating class. (Lawrence finished first). My grandfather always said that Lawrence should have gone to college because he was so smart. Instead, Lawrence stayed home and took over the farm. When I asked him why he didn’t go on to college, he said the farm was more important).
I asked Mr. Lawrence Holden about the wages of a dairy fanner. I was shocked at how low they seemed for all the work. In June 1.932, you would milk till 4 o’clock, and receive 40cents/100 lbs. (about 35 quarts). At the condensory in town, the truckers who shipped the milk, got l0 cents/100 lbs. The producers got 30cents/100 lbs.
In 1929, gravel was being found on the land. Many farmers agreed to
having their fields dug out. Those who did the shoveling worked for 50cents/hour and shoveled up to 6 loads per day. While Lawrence’s land did contain gravel, he chose not to sell it. Frank Holden, my grandfather, did allow gravel to be dug from his land, but enforced that the men could only go so deep before they had to stop. The one time they did go beyond Frank’s measurement, “he gave them hell.” He also made sure that the hole was refilled when the men were finished. Now, when you drive along the farms, there are many fields with ponds in the center. This was due to the gravel being taken out beyond the point of repair. I believe that Frank’s farm was the only one that did not have a single sinkhole.
Mr. Lawrence Holden also increased his acreage at one point. Much of the land was forest and couldn’t be used for farming. He wanted to make that land useable, so decided to clear it. After the trees were cut and cleared away, he still had to deal with the stumps. Anyone could buy dynamite right in town cheaply. You could buy fifty pounds for just $8, with 10 sticks in a box. After the stumps were blown, he had added another 100 acres to his farm.
Mr. Lawrence Holden was married on April 16, 1941 in Quebec, Canada to Noemi H. Quenneville. She lived on the neighboring farm across the border in St. Agnes. After her marriage to Lawrence, she became a schoolteacher in Fort Covington. Lawrence and Noemi had five children, Mary (died of spine bifida as an infant), David, Carl, Deanna, and Charles. Noemi became ill in 1975 after she contracted Saint Louis encephalitis from a mosquito bite. She died in 1977.
Mr. Lawrence Holden: My first car. Well, that would be in 1929, Chevy touring car with side curtains and disc wheels, 2l inches high. Drove only in spring and summer weather. Didn’t have any plows so used a horse and cutter (sleigh) in the winter. Those roads were in tough shape come springtime. Was just as easy to use a horse instead of a car.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: How about electricity? Did you always have that?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: Oh no! Didn’t get that ’til 1945. FDR [President Franklin D. Roosevelt] gave us that with his Rural Electrification Program, right after the War in ’45. Also got indoor plumbing at the same time. That’s when I began to really operate the farm. In 1949 we got an oil furnace, just had a wood stove and chopped the wood by hand before that.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: What about appliances? Radio, television…?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: I heard my first radio in 1924. We were visiting up at my sister’s place and her husband, Clifford, had built one during the winter. You could get the design right in the magazine. He used an old car battery (last about a year); cardboard (salt carton), wrapped with copper wire, and only had one station, WGY in Schenectady. That was up by Long Sault Island, but was flooded during the Sea Way Development. Had to listen through an ear phone and we had on the Democratic Candidate nomination in New York City. It was done all alphabetical by state… “The Great State of ________casts number of votes for ” In New York, it was between McAdoo and Al Smith. We had our first radio at home in 1927 so to listen to the nomination conventions. I remember in December 1941, we usually got WOR in New Jersey with Gabriel Heater. He was telling us about people working in the Japanese embassy in Washington that had a bonfire and were burning papers on the sixth evening. The next day at noon, came in from finishing the milking, and sitting down for lunch, turned on the radio and FDR was addressing congress, declared state of war against Axis Powers. Then I headed back to work.
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: During the war, was it hard to get supplies?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: Everything was rationed. Had to have coupons for gas, sugar, flour, and just about everything else. In Canada, if you owned bees, you were given 100llbs. of sugar to keep the honey harvest and feed the bees. (I asked Mr. Lawrence Holden if he had ever gotten supplies from Canada during the war, such as sugar. He chose not to comment about that. MY mother spurred my question when she volunteered that her father, Frank, did bring goods to the States from Canada. My grandfather also smuggled cows now and then. When I asked Mr. Lawrence Holden if he ever did, he answered, “Well, they may have wandered across once in a while.” There was no fence along the border as there is now, so people just walked across).
Mr. Lawrence Holden had an interesting story about the border at one point in the conversation: “Turns out that the border line is wrong up around the Trout River.
In 1923/24, we were unloading oats at the barn when a bunch of men came up to us. Turned out they were U.S. Army engineers measuring the borderline. Well, these guys asked David (Mr. Lawrence Holden’s father) if they could get some water. He said sure and went to get a pitcher for the hand pump and well out front. He gave the guys the water, and they asked if they could sit over by the tires and eat their lunches. Well, they went and sat down, and David decided to ask them about the borderline. ‘I’ve always heard that this borderline, as established, isn’t in the right place.’ Turns out its 1,000 feet to the South. The closest place is in St. Regis, Quebec.”
Ms. Lisa Cousineau: How come?
Mr. Lawrence Holden: At the time it was drawn, all the workers had axes or saws. They drew the needle on the compass off course. Life on the farm was a grueling task. At harvest time, Mr. Lawrence Holden has a few hired hands, but over all just himself. He would begin the milking around 5:30/6:00 every morning and would be finished by 7:00/8:00 that morning. In the wintertime, he would sleep in a bit and called that his Florida. The milk was stored in 30 & 50 gallon cans. They drank straight from the pails since there was no pasteurization like today. He milked by hand until they received electricity in ’45. Other firsts for the farmhouse was a telephone in 1942/43 that was a party line. Sometime in the ‘5O’s, they got a television from Bernard Fleury over in Westville Center. Bernard was a storeowner and a close friend of my grandfather’s.
In 1991, Mr. Lawrence Holden celebrated his 80′h birthday. It was held right in the town of Fort Covington, at the Knights of Columbus. Over 200 people were able to attend. My mother always said that the whole town must have been there. The people included his children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends. I find that pretty remarkable for someone who is eighty years old.
Two years later, Mr. Lawrence Holden had to have major surgery on his heart. He had a pig’s valve put in to replace a badly damaged valve. He had the surgery in Burlington, Vermont and his recovery at his son’s home here in Rochester. After the surgery, Mr. Lawrence Holden began to spend his winter’s here in Rochester. He now walks about two miles every day as part of his therapy.
Mr. Lawrence Holden was a good informant, but was able to offer more stories about those around him that himself. He frequently went off on tangents about my grandfather or someone else in the town. While his stories were educational and entertaining, they did lead us off our central person. I’m glad Mr. Lawrence Holden agreed to an interview with me and shared as much as he did. In a way, he is like a town historian. Almost anything you ask him, whether it be about mild dumping or the only bank robbery in the town, his details are impeccable. He is a rare and valuable source of knowledge and information.
Clilck on Link for PDF of Transcript
From St. Mary’s Cemetery in Fort Covington
Lawrence M. 1911 – 2000
Noemi H. QUENNEVILLE His Wife 1916 – 1977
Obituary Watertown Daily Times Jan 10, 2000
LAWRENCE HOLDEN DAIRY FARMER
Lawrence Holden, 88, Burns-Holden Road, died early Saturday in Arnot- Ogden Hospital, Elmira.
Mr. Holden owned and operated a dairy farm.Born March 31, 1911, in Fort Covington, son of David and Mary Cotter Holden, he was a graduate of Fort Covington High School. He married Noemi Quenneville on April 16, 1941, at St. Agnes Church, St. Agnes de Dundee, Quebec. She died Jan. 1, 1977.Surviving are three sons and their wives, David and Kathy, Fort Covington, Carl and Judy