Friday, August 23, 2019

Before the memory fades: Alley E. Hawkes, 1885 – 1970: Windham’s gentleman farmer

Alley E. Hawkes (photo byDr. Sidney Branson) 
By Walter Lunt

In the not-so-distant past, Windham was considered a farming community. Local farmers produced everything from milk and beans to cider and potatoes. That is, just about everything consumed at the family dinner table.

These same dusk-to-dawn workers also contributed heavily to local civic and political institutions. Scores of farms, large and small, dotted the Windham landscape from the 18th through the mid-20th centuries.

Among the many standout yeoman of Windham’s recent past was Alley Eugene Hawkes whose farmland, at one time, stretched from the four corners at Windham Center, on both sides of the road south down Windham Center Road for about a half-mile. The expanse totaled more than 150 acres, much of it dedicated to crop land.

Born in Windham in 1885 near the farmstead he would own and operate for decades in the 1900s, Alley was brought up learning the art of husbandry; knowledge accumulated from the generations of Hawkes’ before him. The Hawkes family name extends back to Windham’s earliest days when, in 1740, Ebenezer Hawkes helped build New Marblehead’s first sawmill at what is now known as Mallison Falls in South Windham.

Family members gathered recently at the farmhouse on Windham Center Road, located across from the Nash Road intersection, to share their fond memories of the family patriarch and the days when the farm was a way of life.

Alley married Dorothy Hall in 1914, the start of a loving 56-year union. The family would swell with the addition of eight children and 27 grandchildren. Nearly all grew up knowing the ways of farm life. the time of their marriage, Alley was working the Windham Center farm with his father, Frank (the namesake for one of Alley’s eight children. The younger Frank and a brother, Dick, would later carry on the family business following Alley’s death in 1970).

Early on, according to Alley’s daughter-in-law June Hawkes (wife of Dick, who is now deceased), the homestead was a dairy farm, known as Brookside Farm.

“Alley would milk the cows very early, then he had a delivery route. He delivered milk to South Windham (a thriving business area at the time).”

In the following years the farm expanded. More acreage was devoted to growing vegetables and an apple orchard was established.

“He worked 7 days a week. But not all-day Sunday – that was family day,” said June.
A farm stand was opened on route 302 in 1932. It soon became a popular stop for residents and tourists (The Windham Eagle – May 13, 2016).

The following year, 1933, Alley and son Dick opened a cider mill on the Windham Center Road farmland adjacent to Black Brook. Like the farm stand on route 302, the small shed-like structure became a local landmark. Family records show that over its 60-plus years of operation the mill pressed over 700 bushels of apples and produced approximately 19,000 gallons of cider – initially in glass jugs, later in plastic containers. Upon the death of her husband in 1992, June took over operation of the mill. She recalled that one of the favorite cider recipes involved a set combination of Macintosh, Red Delicious and Snow apples. One customer requested a red beet be added to every few bushels “to keep the color correct.”

The cider mill closed in 1996 following 63 years of continuous operation.

Apples from the Hawkes orchard were sold at the 302 farm stand and, at one time, to Windham schools for their lunch program. The cider was also sold to numerous other farms in southern Maine and in New Hampshire. best known as a successful, progressive farmer, Alley Hawkes is remembered for his many inspiring human qualities. He was a Quaker; a congregant of the Society of Friends Church in Windham. He also participated in the Grange, Freemason’s and Kiwanis Club. He served on the Windham Town Budget Committee for many years.

“He was an innovator,” said grandson Jim Hawkes. Determined to harvest the earliest peas in the state, he developed a “hot-cap,” which he set over each seedling. He planted over 1000 hills by hand, telling a local newspaper, “It’s a lot of work but my roadside stand customers have the earliest peas in the state.”

Jim said his aunt once told him how Alley tried to sell canned corn. “He’d strip the corn off the cob, can it, then try to solder the top on. It didn’t work, what a mess!”

But new ideas intrigued Alley. On trips to California to visit family, grandson Jim Quimby said, “He’d spend as much time visiting farms as he did family.”

On one trip he encountered a new type of hay rake. Tines attached to rotating wheels moved newly mowed hay into perfect rows for the baler. He bought one and had it shipped to Maine. Quimby said it attracted the attention of neighboring farmers “who would come around to see what he had.”

Granddaughters Mary Vandenburgh and Becky Hawkes remember how old-time values prevailed. Said Vandenburgh, “The girls worked inside, the boys did the outside work.”

Both Vandeburgh and Hawkes still laugh at what they called “no co-ed picking.” Harvest time often necessitated additional help from the girls. When that happened, the girls stayed together picking one crop, the boys another. No gender-mixing allowed, per order of Alley Hawkes.

Legions of baby-boomer boys worked the Hawkes Farm in the 50s and 60s. One is hard pressed to hear an ill word about Alley. He was direct and gruff at times, but always meant well. Multiple generations respected and appreciated the gentleman farmer on Windham Center Road.

One worker recalled his teenage years on the farm, “He (Alley) would put up with a reasonable amount of fooling around, but then when he spoke you straightened out fast. Not because he was intimidating or mean, but because you respected the man.”

Both family and former workers recall he rarely, or never, fired anyone. He cared so much about his young workers that he felt a responsibility to nurture them, particularly about work ethic. Often, he would yell, “Name, Go Home!” The boy would leave for the rest of the day and return the next. There was, it seemed, always a second chance.

“Sometimes if a boy didn’t show up for work,” said June, “Alley would check up on him – not to lecture him, but to make sure he was okay.”

“(Alley and Dick) instilled in me a work ethic and a sense of fairness, “said Quimby, “they didn’t have to preach to you, they lived it and it made you want to be like them. They taught by example.”
Without the need for questions prompted by the reporter, Quimby went on, “He had a reverence for the soil. Some would say ‘dirt,’ he would always say ‘soil.’ I can still see those arthritic hands pressing down on a seedling.”

He produced a picture. Alley is shown bending over a great pig, its leathery snout inserted deep inside a pail of food held by Alley. “This is one of my favorite pictures of Alley. He loved animals and had a special way with them. (Even) feral cats would come up to him.”

Quimby jumped to another topic as the memories kept flowing.  “He loved Pepsi Cola. He would always have one at the end of the (work) day. He’d keep cases of it in the woodshed off the kitchen. We’d (the grandchildren) sneak in and take one, hide somewhere and drink it. I think he must have known, but never said anything to us.”

One former worker, who is now 73 years old and who prefers to remain anonymous, remembers a steamy July morning in 1963 when he and a friend arrived at the Hawkes farm a few minutes after 8:00 o’clock. Already hot and sweaty, both boys dropped their bikes on the lawn and stared out at the dusty multi-acre gardens in anticipation of a long, uncomfortable work day.

Alley approached the boys from behind, and in his folksy down-on-the-farm speech pattern asked, “Well, good ahfter-noon. You boahs ready’t go to whurk today, or do yah need go back home for some mo-ah rest?”

Coming from Alley, the message was not a sarcastic lecture. It’s meaning and intent was clear to both boys:

You’re late. Please don’t be late again.

It’s summer. It gets hot. Deal with it.

Come to work rested and ready to work.

Another lesson on work ethic received and understood.

Granddaughter Jeanne (Williams) Rogers remembers a hot, sunny day when she was eight years old.
“Grampa (Alley) was getting ready to mow a field, and he asked if I wanted to go along.” She didn’t want to go, but decided her grandfather wanted company so she agreed. Sitting on the tractor, straddling the hood, she remembers thinking, “I just want this to be over. I want to go home.”

Suddenly and abruptly, Alley stopped the tractor in the middle of a half-mowed row. Rogers said he got down from the tractor and reached into the tall grass. He stood up holding three baby field mice in his cupped hands.

“Did you see these?” he asked his granddaughter. She had not. Rogers said he then carefully placed the tiny creatures on the mowed side of the row, climbed back on the machine, and continued to mow.
“I was so fond of him,” said Rogers, “what a kind soul he was.”

When asked for their most prominent memory of Alley Hawkes, all seven family members interviewed for this article had the same initial response: the necktie.

Granddaughter Diane Loring responded firmly, “I remember him always wearing a necktie, whether out in the garden, milking cows or wherever.”

Pressed for the reason, no one could say for sure. But Jim Hawkes and Mary Vandenburgh speculated that he considered himself a businessman, so he dressed like one. Jim said that perhaps it showed respect and pride for his profession and that it may have been an influence from his father.
Whichever, it is to this day a distinctive and memorable feature of the man.

Alley Hawkes was a charter member of the Windham Historical Society. Conservation and preservation in his beloved community was a life-long priority. In the month following his death in 1970, the W.H.S. newsletter memorialized his passing: “…our heartfelt sympathy to the (Hawkes) family and to his many friends and relatives in their personal loss…and to the whole town of Windham. This smiling, pink cheeked farmer whose high-quality farm produce won a lasting reputation with uncountable summer visitors…was truly a town ‘father.’"

No comments:

Post a Comment