Archive for October, 2010

CRANBERRIES: MARSTONS MILLS CLAIM TO FAME

October 31, 2010

CRANBERRIES

 

Marstons Mills greatest claim to fame is its cranberries. The lush swamps of the upper river in Newtown were the birthplace of the modern large-scale cranberry industry.

 

The first local cranberry grower was Russell Hinckley of what was to be Gifford Farm. However, he overlooked the potential of his own fine swamp, and picked berries on Sandy Neck, where he gathered 12 bushels to win first prize in the 1849 County Fair.

 

By the 1860s several Newtown families farmed cranberry bogs on the upper reaches of the Marstons Mills River. At the western source of the river, Luther Hamblin built a bog on land he had acquired in 1858; the bog is still harvested by the Hamblin family.

 

Another pioneer was Isaac Sprague Jones, who was born in 1801 in his father’s 1786 house where River Road curves west. Mr. Jones set out cranberries next to his house on an acre and a half on the west side of Muddy Pond, which was originally located between River Road and the ponds, and on 5/8 acre on the other side of the road. His nephew Thomas Jones Jr. also had a small bog to the south on Muddy Pond.

 

At the north end of this marshy area a bog of nine acres was planted by his second cousin Jedidiah Jones, whose son Frederick worked it. It was inherited by “Uncle Jikker” James Crocker, husband of Jedidiah’s granddaughter.

 

All four of these small bogs were probably created by the time of the Civil War.

 

In 1864 Newtown’s swampy potential was recognized by outside investors. Captain Samuel Nickerson of Cotuit brought in his nephew, the successful whaling master Seth Nickerson Jr., and Capt. Alexander Childs, as well as the Harwich pioneer cranberry growers Emulous, Zebina and Benjamin Small.

 

They bought a bog on the west side of Muddy Pond from Thomas Jones, Jr., and gave an eighth interest to the only local investor, Nathaniel Hinckley, owner of the downstream grist mill who vigorously defended his rights to the flow of water.

 

The transformation from the small individual bog of a few acres to large scale production was the product of the enterprise of Abel D. Makepeace, known as the Cranberry King. Before 1875 he had a harnessmaker shop at the west end of Hyannis, where there is now a pretty town-owned park.

 

Abel Makepeace was a great experimenter in crops, growing turnips and potatoes, as well as a variety of berries. At the back of the park is a swamp, the headwaters of Stewarts Creek, where he first tried to grow cranberries. What was needed was a big swamp.

 

In 1875 Abel Makepeace made his first investment in Newtown, in 87 ½ acres of Muddy Pond, which he bought from Thomas Jones Jr. for a thousand dollars.

 

Mr. Makepeace alone could hardly pay such a large sum of money, so a quarter came from Boston investors Clarence A. Gay and an eighth each from Charles C. Poor and George F. Baker. The latter was to be the main source of Makepeace’s investments. Mr. Baker was a Boston cranberry commission merchant who had established the first New York cranberry commission house in 1857, but was born in Hyannis, son of Capt. Timothy Baker.

 

Two years later, in 1877, Mr. Makepeace bought 19.11 acres that was known as Baker bog, from Cynthia, widow of Ellis Hamblin for $552.75. This bog was on the west side of River Road above what was then Crocker or Black Pond, now misnamed Muddy Pond. Today’s Muddy Pond west of River Road used to be called Crocker or Black Pond; the original Muddy Pond, now gone, was east of River Road.

 

George Baker owned a quarter, and one eighth each was owned by Makepeace, Zebina and Emulous Small, George and A. C. Snow 2d of Harwich, and fractions by others.

 

Mr. Makepeace’s diaries show that the purchase price was but the starting expense of creating a working bog. Much engineering, clearing maple trees, digging surrounding ditches, damming the stream and channeling water flow, leveling the sloping turf, spreading sand, and planting vines, was all done by heavy hand labor, assisted only by horses.

 

Quite a lot of this engineering was done by Stephen Crocker Hamblin, born nearby in 1851 to Luther Hamblin. In 1878 Stephen married Ruhamah, the widow of Makepeace’s brother Alvin, and Makepeace helped them build the house at 950 River Road overlooking Baker Bog. Makepeace finally moved here from Hyannis in June 1880, saying that he didn’t want his sons to grow up in the city.

 

He paid Stephen and Ruhamah rent while he supervised work in the bogs, including the new 14 acre Santuit Bog built by Stephen. Later Makepeace moved to West Barnstable. Finding more big marshes on the mainland, he had Stephen build the Wankinko Bog in Wareham, where 30 year-old Stephen Hamblin died of unknown causes, surely after hard wet labor in the swampy ground. His widow remarried to the Cotuit whaling captain Seth Nickerson Jr., one of the first investors in Newtown cranberries.

 

The cranberry grower Malcolm Ryder told John Hamblin that the three Makepeace bogs Baker, Santuit and Big Bog were the most productive in this area. Makepeace’s Big Bog, or Marstons Mills Bog completely altered the hydrology of the area, filling in Muddy Pond, moving the herring run from Middle Pond to a new course to the south, and canalizing the river. In 1888 Makepeace created the Marstons Mills Cranberry Co. including the three bogs, with Baker as President, himself as Treasurer, and Emulous Small as third trustee. This company dominated cranberry production for the next century.  Barnstable Patriot 8 Oct. 2010.

 

To be continued

 

 

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CRANBERRIES Continued

October 31, 2010

CRANBERRIES continued

 

 

For a hundred years, from 1878 to 1980, Makepeace dominated the cranberry production of Marstons Mills. The founder of the company, Abel Makepeace, known as “the Cranberry King” first invested in bogs in Marstons Mills in 1875, and lived here briefly.

 

The pioneer local families the Joneses, Hamblins, Crockers, Hinckleys and Fullers continued to thrive on their smaller holdings totaling nearly 100 acres.

 

From about 1860 into the 1820s, in the last week of September, school was suspended, and everyone, including the teacher, went to Newtown to pick cranberries. Pay was two or three cents per quart, so that one could bring home a couple of dollars after picking 100 quarts in a day. Alonzo Hamblin held a record of 196 quarts in 1881.

 

But there were not enough local pickers for the crop, so teamsters would bring wagon loads of workers from as far as Orleans. Many were Cape Verdeans from Harwich. Whole families camped out by the bogs in the Indian Summer weather. In later years Makepeace provided a barracks on River Road that became the Men’s Club.

 

After picking came screening to sort the berries for quality. This was mainly work of skilled local women, aided in the twentieth century by sorting machines.

 

Picking too, became mechanized with the introduction of Daniel Lumbert’s invention of the snap-machine in 1883, when Franklin Bassett was able to pick 384 quarts. Motor-driven picking machines introduced before World War II were widely used after the war. Only at the end of the Makepeace era, in 1978, did the current wet picking method replace the traditional dry picking.

 

During the winter bogs were re-sanded by men who took sand in wheelbarrows from the bordering borrow-pits, which were the source in a neighboring hillside. Joseph D. Thomas’s book “Cranberry Harvest” (Spinner Press, 1990) tells Manuel Roderick’s story of A. D. Makepeace’s comment to him as he was carting sand, “Good Morning, small load”, to which he replied “Good Morning, small pay.” Mr. Roderick got a raise a week later.

 

After his investment in the Newtown bogs in the 1870s, Makepeace found even larger swamps on the mainland, such as the Wankinko Bog in Wareham, where his brother-in-law Stephen Hamblin died at age 30 while he was building it.

 

In 1980 the Makepeace company sold all of its Cape Cod bogs. Many in Newtown were taken over and operated by John Hamblin, who now owns over 30 acres in Newtown in addition to 7.3 acres of his brother’s bogs. He also cares for many more acres for other owners.

 

The principal types of berries grown today are Early Blacks and Stevens.

 

Cranberries are still a major source of income in Marstons Mills, after 150 years.