History & Background to Finney Crossing: The Metcalf Farm

May 25, 2021

Clara and Frank Metcalf appear in this undated photograph by L. L. McAllister. (Courtesy of Joyce Goodrich)

By Jill Allen written on behalf of the Williston Historical Society  This article was originally published under the title "LIVES AND TIMES OF FRANK, LAURA, AND CLARA METCALF"

The May 3, 1916 edition of The Burlington Free Press advertised land for sale at Taft Corners: “to settle estate, Taft Farm…117 acres good loam land on north side of road, 100 of which under tillage, balance good cut of hemlock timber with brook water...” This land would become the basis for the Metcalf farm. No farm would be complete without a partnership like the one Frank (1887-1969) and Laura (1885-1952) began when they wed in 1911. A notice of Frank and Laura’s wedding appeared under the headline “Underhill,” announcing local travels made to and from the town by visitors: “Frank Metcalf and Miss Laura Goodrich were married last Friday evening [June 30] at the bride’s home in Richmond where they were taken by Charles Scribner in his automobile.”
Frank and Laura’s marriage was unusual in that she worked outside the home after the wedding. As early as 1913, there is mention of her as a substitute teacher at “the graded school” in Williston, when the regular teacher was unable to work due to a fire at her home. 
Frank was 30 when the first draft for World War I was required in June 1917. The cut-off age for the draft was 31, and he’d barely started his farm at Taft Corners. So why didn’t he have to go to war? Research reveals Frank was likely exempt on the grounds that his dependent spouse, Laura, would have insufficient income to survive if he was drafted. 
The acreage was far from the utopia portrayed in the newspaper. In 1917, there were no buildings on the 117-acre property, so Frank and Laura spent their first six months living in tents. With no structures and no reliable water source, the undeveloped state of the property might have tempted some men to join the war effort, but not Frank. Water could not be located, so Frank tried dowsing and used “a crotched stick” to locate two aquifers. What about the newspaper’s promise of a “good cut of hemlock timber”? In reality, these trees took up valuable planting land. Undaunted, Frank “took his mower and cut down the hardhack which covered nearly half of his acres.” 
During their first season the Metcalfs’ farm only produced beans and hay. However, the tradition of the overselling advertisement is as American as the success of pulling oneself out of dire straits through diligence and tenacity. 
Indeed, the 1930 profile of Frank and Laura in The Burlington Free Press, clearly meant to boost spirits of readers in the Great Depression, reassures other locals that they can get back on their feet by following the Metcalfs’ example. The article boasts that Laura taught from 1920 to 1924 to help pay off the home and put money toward “a real barn.” (The newspaper implies Laura only had to teach for four years out of monetary necessity, after which she returned to the more socially appropriate role of farmer’s wife.) 
By 1922, the couple was out of debt. They had increased their dairy herd to 112 head and supplemented their income by renting out a neighbor’s farm. By 1924, they purchased “a pleasure car” that doubled as a hauling/delivery vehicle and also bought various gas-powered dairy devices. Although Laura officially quit teaching in 1924, she started selling hens on the side. In winter 1925 and spring 1926, Frank, using a portable sawmill, began to clear the wood lot in preparation for the new barn, In March 1926, the couple’s only child, an infant girl, died. 
By July 1926, the new, much larger barn was erected, with the proceeds from two barn dances paying to shingle the roof. The barn came with modernizations like a hay fork and electric lights. The house now had two porches, a coal furnace, a bath, and electricity. 
In 1939, Herbert Goodrich, Jr., Frank’s great-nephew recalled, “I earned $17 for a summer’s worth of work on that farm and used it to buy my first bicycle….” He remembers wanting to participate in farm work but was prohibited by Frank from doing so sometimes. 
In 1941, no doubt feeling his years, Frank placed a want ad looking for a “MARRIED MAN--On farm. Permanent. House, wood, milk and garden furnished.” In 1942, at age 55, Frank was drafted for World War II, but didn’t go because of his age. 
Being prominent dairy farmers, Frank and Laura were continually active in the Thomas Chittenden Grange in Williston. Frank and Laura also found involvement in their local church, another social outlet. 
In 1952, Laura died. It is worth noting that, in an era when women were expected to be homemakers and engage primarily in social activities with other women, Laura’s obituary touts her education and her teaching career: “Mrs. Metcalf was a graduate of Richmond High School and Castleton Normal School, who taught in Underhill and Williston for several years.” 
In January 1953, Goodrich finally got to help his great uncle Frank. Remember that “new barn” finished in 1926? Well, 27 years later, Frank replaced the original ventilation system with new air ducts, and Goodrich got to “demonstrate the effectiveness of the new ventilation system.” Frank asked Goodrich to run the farm, which he did until 1954. 
While Frank and Laura were actively farming in Williston, the woman who would become Frank’s second wife, Clara, was busy making a family with her first husband, Carroll Burns (1865-1943), in Jericho. Clara had wed Carroll in 1901, and they had two children, Edna and Earl. 
Clara participated in farming-related activities while married to Carroll. During the 1920s and 1930s, she hosted many meetings of the Farm Bureau in her home. Home Demonstration Groups, organized by Farm Bureaus, in rural agricultural towns provided an opportunity for women to get together and socialize while learning something about farming. The linchpin of these functions was Home Demonstrations: presentations about a topic, such as canning, or making housework easier. Sometimes, the demonstrations were given by the local (male) agricultural agent and sometimes the women themselves presented. Clara was also a member of the Mount Mansfield Women’s Club, a group who gathered monthly to listen to presentations about Vermont. 
By February 1953, Frank and Clara were dating, according to this news item: “Mrs. Clara Bartlett and Mr. Frank Metcalf, of Williston, called on friends in this vicinity last Sunday.” On April 8, 1953, Clara, 70, wed Frank, 66, in a small ceremony, accompanied by Clara’s son from her first marriage, Earl, and his wife. 
Two years later the couple sold the farm and moved to Essex Junction. They spent their remaining years together traveling to visit friends and family. Frank died at 82, and Clara outlived him by 11 years. In her later years, she was regularly active with the Essex Junction Senior Center. 
The farm passed through several owners and eventually became the Hardscrabble Horse Farm across from Maple Tree Place. Today the land has been developed as Finney Crossing, a mixture of commercial and residential units. 
The story of Frank, Laura, and Clara Metcalf represents the lives of three Vermonters in the twentieth century. No matter their successes or setbacks, the historical record shows them making the most of their years on earth. 
1. Burlington Free Press, June 13, 1930, page 3. This was a major profile of the couple and their success on the farm. 
2. As I Recall by Herbert Goodrich, Jr. My Life from 1929 to the Present As told by Herbert Goodrich, Jr. Interviews conducted with Herb and Rita Goodrich, 2003 through 2007

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