Family's roots on farm, though the land is gone

Memoir: A woman's letter reveals a past that younger relatives did not experience.

150 Years Of Howard History

April 24, 2001

Ellicott City resident Charlotte T. Holland, 59, wrote these unpublished stories about life on her family's Lisbon farm for her nieces and nephews. She lived there from 1947 to 1953, when most of the property was sold. This is one of several excerpts from her manuscript.

Christmas, 1980

Dear Kids,

You've heard us talk about the farm. It's a place you didn't experience, and many of you have never seen it, so you don't know it. I'd like you to know it, because it was so special to my brothers and me.

It was our childhood, and Grandpop's childhood, and the childhood of many generations before him. Family roots can be deep. Ours, my brothers' and mine, go very deep into a particular place. And we were lucky enough to know that place and those roots.

To Grandpop it was particularly special, and he worked very hard to share it with his children. And Grandmom, citygirl though she was, fought especially hard to help us survive the bad times of those years. We were lucky kids.

I've written the history of the farm because you need that to understand what it means to live on a "family place." And I've written some sketches from those days which I hope will give you the feeling of what it was like then, at least for me. ...

Early days on the farm

Uncle Nick and Aunt Beck lived there alone before we moved to the farm. They were in their mid-70s, the last of the Henderson children to make their home on what was the last of Warfield's Forest.

The farm comprised 179 acres at that time, and contained two areas of woodland, a branch ("Cat-tail of the Patapsco") running though its meadows, a red `L'-shaped frame barn complete with strawstack in the barnyard, corn house, carriage house, "hen coop" and brooder houses, meat house, a dug well with hand pump, and an outhouse. And there was the house, a large frame structure with a long open porch facing west and featuring a floor of bricks laid in sand. The two front rooms of the house were over 200 years old; the rest of the house grew around those two rooms and featured two large stairways and a wall-side staircase in the kitchen rising to what was once a servant bedroom. The rooms were all large, 17-foot square with walls of white-washed plaster, and in five of them there were fireplaces.

There were several names for the farm over the years. It was originally a 1,875-acre tract, deeded in 1798 to eight descendents of Richard Warfield, one of Maryland's original settlers, and entitled "Warfield's Forrest," in honor of its owner. The family had a saying that no one had owned the land but "God, the Indians and the Warfields." A Warfield descendent, Nicholas Owens, had once owned the land and called it "Oakley Farms." For a while Mom nicknamed it "Green Acres," but to the old folks it was commonly called "The Place." After we left it, when we talked about it, we always referred to it as "Up Home."

Uncle Nick and Aunt Beck were the children of Nicholas Refus and Hettie Maria Warfield Henderson. Papa's mother was their sister, and so we are all Warfields by descent. Papa had been raised on the farm by his grandparents, and in August 1947, he bought the property [from relatives] and moved us all to his boyhood home in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, near the village of Lisbon, Howard County, Maryland.

I was five then and like all of us, very excited to move "up home." We knew the place well from our almost weekly visits. It was on the drive from Hyattsville to Lisbon that I had learned to count, numbering the telephone poles along the way. Pop often had a summer garden there which he and Uncle Nick tended, and there were the old folks to look in on. We loved the place for its cows and chickens and two old workhorses, Fanny and Pet. Pet was blind, but could meander the meadow at ease with a child on her back. There were feather beds for nap time, large mid-day meals with homemade butter and Aunt Beck's poor attempts at bread making. Her Maryland Beaten Biscuits became a family legend. ...

The boys went there often for extended visits, but I was too little, and so I only traveled there for day visits. But I remember them well. One vivid memory is of a headless chicken, after Uncle Nick's hatchet action. The poor slaughtered fowl ran blindly, spraying blood around its path. I was fascinated. ...

Our early days of living on the farm were the most exciting. Without electricity, telephone or plumbing, the place gave us the experience of pioneering. Kerosene lamps lit the evening hours; cooking was done on a wood stove; water was carried from the well and heated on the stove for bathing; and the ever-present chamber pot ("slop pots," Aunt Beck called them) supplemented the outhouse for our "necessities." The outhouse was an especially interesting place, strategically located along a path that passed the family burial plot. It seemed most to interest [my brother] Charlie, who dreaded nightly walks beside the tombstones and could be heard whistling. ...

Work on the house was a priority that fall, and by December we were plumbed and wired. I was too young for school that fall and so was at home when the electrical inspector visited shortly before Christmas. Everything checked out fine, but he wasn't prepared to turn on the current. I remember my city-bred Mom crying about a Christmas without carols on the record-player, and a man who changed his mind. We had electric lights and running water and carols for Christmas 1947, our first on the farm.

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