Packing up the family farm, corn crib included

NORFOLK — When Nikki Smith was faced with the sad task of selling her family’s 200-year-old farm, she moved the corncrib from the fields of Mead Farm in Seymour to her backyard in Norfolk 50 miles away, filled it with memories from her grandparents’ life, and created her “ancestral sanctuary and personal she-shed.” 

The proud little building was christened “Louise” after her mother, and also the clever acronym: Ladies Only Unless Invited for Special Event. The corncrib is a retreat from the pressures of the world and a journey to her family’s past.

Years ago, the Mead family farmed in Greenwich near Round Hill. Faced with financial challenges, Smith’s ancestors allowed the state of Connecticut to run the Merritt Parkway smack through the middle of their pastures. 

The balance was lost so her grandfather Elmer Lincoln Mead sold the place and, in 1917, established Mead Farm, a 180-acre working dairy farm on the top of Bungay Road in Seymour, where generations worked the land, tended the dairy herd, raised chickens, and grew berries for commercial sale.

Sadly, history repeated itself and Elmer sold the rights to the state of Connecticut to run Route 8 through his meadows. The beautiful farm was sold as a subdivision, Seymour Meadows, in 1979. 

As family died and moved away, the farm lay fallow. The barns were razed and only the ancient farmhouse remained as Smith’s mother’s home. The last remaining farm building was the 20-foot-long corncrib. The new owner said that anything that was not removed would be put into a dumpster. 

It was already a difficult time for the family. When Smith’s 95-year-old mother, Marion Louise Mead St. Julien, moved in with the Smith family in Norfolk, Smith was already caring for her mother-in-law and her husband, Randy, who has Parkinson’s disease. It was during the pandemic, and tragically her mother died of COVID-19. Smith needed a retreat, a place to recover.

Smith made endless trips bringing farm implements, tools, buckets, old lanterns, family photographs, the butter churn from the kitchen, parts of her grandmother Sadie Frances Mead’s Glenwood stove. Just prior to selling the farmhouse, Smith was able to fulfill her mother’s last wish that the corncrib be saved from the bulldozers and move with her to Norfolk.  

Then came the challenge of the actual move. It took five years to find Spencer Parent of Laurel City Towing in Winsted who accepted the challenge of moving the old building intact. 

Smith recalled the move: “Because of the height restrictions, the roof and gable ends of Louise had to be removed, the entire structure braced securely for the journey. That work was done by Ed Rowland, a carpenter and old family friend.” 

“Louise was strategically loaded onto a flatbed tow truck with only inches to spare, driven 50 miles, and lowered into her new home — my backyard. While there was a bit of collateral damage, she was delivered in fine form.” Moloney Landscaping in Winsted did all the excavation work.

Despite the doubts of her family as to her state of mind, Smith transformed the once utilitarian building into a magical space. The front step to enter Louise is the fieldstone that Smith used to sit on as a child. Her uncle Norman Wishart built the corncrib in 1917 with her grandfather. They used the white oak and chestnut from the farm for the post and beam construction. 

Light plays through the slats that slant from the new metal roof in toward the original floor, and there is an immediate sense of comfort.  

Smith loves lying on the old brass bed with its draped netting, listening to the rain on the roof, reading under her quilt. A mantlepiece taken from the old farmhouse, its paint nearly worn off, anchors the space, leaning against the end wall. In the mottled light, your eyes adjust and the journey of memories begins: a white linen summer dress hung on a shutter, a straw hat, shoe stays from a relative who was a cobbler, silver brush and comb, croquet balls, shells from summer filling a bell jar, books with faded covers. Hidden beneath the butter churn, there is a miniature log cabin made by her uncle. 

Smith is an expressive woman, a caregiver, old-fashioned yet clearly independent. She remembered:

“The 180-acre farm was a very busy place…we visited each summer — producing my very happiest childhood memories. We played croquet on the lawn with the cousins. We spent hours in the hayloft of the barn…there was a rope and pulley system we swung from and dropped into the hay. There were large family picnics in the yard on Sunday afternoons. As a special treat, my grandfather would take me, all by myself, into Seymour. I would ride shotgun in his well-polished 1955 green Ford sedan. He would dress in his Sunday best to go to town…never ever wearing farm attire for errands.” 

“I always remember my grandmother bustling in the kitchen all day…never seeming to stop to rest. She went from one meal and task to the next. I remember her always stirring the farm-fresh unhomogenized milk to incorporate the cream layer on top before pouring.  My grandmother cooked without ever measuring the ingredients. I am still in awe of her and her seemingly tireless work ethic. I could only aspire to be one-tenth of the woman she was. I would genuinely love another hour with her.”

“There was a mucky cow pond and a babbling brook we swam in. My mom and my Aunt Flora used to walk me down far beyond the pastures to a secret place where the wild huckleberries grew. 

“The very best thing of all were the rides with my Uncle Bud on the old 1954 Ferguson tractor. I would sit on the fender and hang on for dear life. Sometimes he pulled the hay wagon and we all piled on. We now have that tractor here in Norfolk. Uncle Bud left it to my son, Tanner, [a veterinarian] who gently and lovingly restored it. The farm was a place of freedom where we enjoyed hours of exploration and adventure.”

This is a story of home, of missing loved ones, honoring the work of family, a time of simpler pleasures, and the tools of farming and cooking whose function is nearly forgotten. There is a universal quality to the memories — we all miss home, our childhoods, the laughter and rhythms of daily life past. Nikki Smith has found a way to hold on to her childhood, and the life of the Mead Farm.

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