Fernside Farm, Haverhill, Massachusetts
THE BIRTHPLACE AND BOYHOOD HOME OF JOHN G. WHITTIER
The first house built by Thomas Whittier, the threehundred-pound ancestor of the poet Whittier, and first representative of the family in America, was a little log cabin. There he took his wife, Ruth Flint, and there ten children were born. Five of them were boys, and each of them was more than six feet tall.
No wonder the log house grew too small for the family. So, probably in 1688, he built a house whose massive hewn beams were fifteen inches square, whose kitchen was thirty feet long, with a fireplace eight feet wide. The rooms clustered about a central chimney.
In this house the poet was born December 17, 1807, and here he spent the formative years of his life. When he was twenty-seven years old he wrote for The Little Pilgrim of Philadelphia a paper on " The Fish I Didn't Catch." In this he described the home of his boyhood :
" Our old homestead nestled under a long range of hills which stretched off to the west. It was surrounded by woods in all directions save to the southeast, where a break in the leafy wall revealed a vista of low, green meadows, picturesque with wooded islands and jutting capes of upland. Through these, a small brook, noisy enough as it foamed, rippled and laughed down its rocky falls by our garden-side, wound, silently and scarcely visible, to a still larger stream, known as the Country Brook. This brook in its time, after doing duty at two or three saw and grist mills, the clack of which we could hear across the intervening woodlands, found its way to the great river, and the river took it up and bore it down to the great sea."
Whittier's poems are full of references to the life on the farm; many of his best verses had their inspiration in memories of the past. For instance, the description of the building of the fire in " Snow-Bound," a poem which describes the life at the farm when he was twelve years old, is a faithful picture of what took place in the old kitchen every night of the long New England winter, when
" We piled, with care, our nightly stack Of wood against the chimney back—The oaken log, green, huge and thick, And on its top the thick back-stick; The knotty fore-stick laid apart, And filled between with curious art. The ragged brush; then, hovering near, We watched the first red blaze appear, Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam On whitewashed wall and sagging beam, Until the old, rude-fashioned room Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom."
Young Whittier was a faithful worker on the farm. One day, when he was nineteen years old, William Lloyd Garrison, the young editor of a Newburyport newspaper, to which Whittier had contributed a poem, found him assisting in repairing a stone wall. The visitor urged the father of the young poet to send him to school. As a result of this visit Whittier entered the Academy in Haverhill, with the understanding that he was to earn his way.
At intervals during the succeeding ten years the poet returned to the old farm, but when he was thirty years old the place was sold, the family went to Amesbury, and he left soon afterward for Philadelphia, where he was to edit an anti-slavery paper.
All through life Whittier dreamed of buying back the homestead. When he received a check for $1,000 as the first proceeds from " Snow-Bound," he set the sum aside as the beginning of a redemption fund.
But the citizens of Haverhill, led by Alfred A. Ordway, asked the privilege of buying the property them-selves, and making it a memorial to the poet. Whittier died before the purchase was completed, but soon after-ward Fernside Farm, as the poet called it, was taken over by Mr. Ordway. It is now in the hands of an association that has restored it and keeps it open to visitors whose hearts have been stirred by the work of the Quaker poet.
( Originally Published Late 1900's )