Life in Pleasant Valley - During the Month of June 1890-1910
Haying was a major activity on Pleasant Valley farms in June. In 1893 H.A. Phillips was the first Pleasant Valley farmer to begin haying. The Hopewell Herald noted, “He commenced on Tuesday the 13th, to cut a field of clover, which is very nice.” However, it was also noted that the hay crop in the Valley had generally suffered from a spate of dry weather. Two weeks later the paper reported improving conditions and that, “Mr. Blackwell informs us that let the drought be ever so great, it invariably rains as soon as he begins to mow, and this year was no exception to the rule, as it brought a fine and badly needed rain on Thursday night. If it is a sure thing we wish he would mow about once a week for the next three or four months.” Rain immediately after mowing was not something usually desired as it could ruin the cut hay.
By June the winter wheat crop was growing strong and approaching maturity for harvest in July. The newspaper ran ads for binder twine in June 1889 and in 1900 the wheat crop was described as “looking fine and appears to be well filled.” In 1903 the wheat was also promising a large harvest. Not every year was good, though, and in 1893 farmers complained that a worm was eating the wheat and that some fields had suffered up to fifty percent destruction.
Corn planting sometimes extended into June when the weather was not cooperative. In 1893 cut worms and weather combined to make things difficult. On June 22, Rachel Williamson reported in the Herald that farmers were in various stages with their corn and, “Last week some of the neighbors were planting over their corn. Some were not done with their first planting, while others were cultivating their crop.” In 1904 the paper reported that it did not look good for a heavy corn crop due to the previous year’s crop not being ripe when the first frost came, resulting in soft kernels. This meant the corn saved for seed was not going to be as productive. This was a problem again in 1908, when planting was also delayed by extended wet weather.
Fruit crops were also an important topic of discussion in June, when farmers would gauge the quality of the developing crops of apples, peaches, cherries. In 1903 there was concern that many birds were dying due to eating poison used in spraying the fruit trees. Strawberries and raspberries were harvested in June, with strawberries at the end of their season and raspberries beginning to ripen. Strawberry festivals were important social gatherings in June and in Pleasant Valley were often held as part of the Sunday School program.
June was the month when school ended for the year. In 1889 it was the month when the Hopewell Herald reported that the plot of ground for the new schoolhouse had been surveyed and construction would soon begin. After the local country school was absorbed into the Hopewell Township school district in 1894, the June 6, 1895 paper commented on the difficulties of the first year of township control and the encouraging prospects for the coming year due to the change in system. For one thing, text books had been standardized and should require less funding in the future. However, the schools closed early, on June 7, due to the extra expenses encountered during the year – including buying the text books.
By far the most noted event in June during the 1890s and early 1900s was the annual celebration of Children’s Day by the Union Sunday School. Rachel Williamson regularly commented on the festivities in her column in the Hopewell Herald. A typical column appeared in June 1904 and read, in part, as follows:
The Sunday school was usually held at the schoolhouse which is frequently mentioned as decorated with evergreens and flowers for this occasion. The tent mentioned was created by the women of Pleasant Valley for use by the Sunday school and other community events. Attendance was often too great for everyone to be accommodated in the schoolhouse. Some years the event was postponed due to rain and one year it was noted the event went off very well even though a series of rainy days had prevented the children from rehearsing their songs and recitations.
Several activities recorded in the paper in June reveal aspects of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although not related to the month of June. In June 1889 Rachel Williamson noted that, “Miss Anna Case is the champion walkist of this vicinity. We understand she out-walked a team of mules the other day, whose record had never been beaten by anyone.” This note points out the fact that walking was a more common way of getting around than today. It is also a rare mention of mules in Pleasant Valley. Seven years later, in 1896, Mrs. Williamson commented on the use of bicycles, noting a number of bicycle lights in front of her door one evening the previous week. The bicycle was very popular in the 1890s and in the oldest photograph of the Pleasant Valley School the teacher’s bicycle is front and center in the photo.
In June 1901 the Hopewell Herald reported that the Mercer County Teacher’s Club presented a check for $45.68 to the state committee raising funds to present a silver service for the newly built battleship USS New Jersey. Individual schools whose children contributed to the fund included the Pleasant Valley School. Members of the community were undoubtedly proud to have contributed to this patriotic effort.
Today we are very familiar with giving cards as one of the ways to celebrate a birthday. In the early 20th century friends virtually competed to acquire postal messages on their birthdays. On June 4, 1907 Rachel Williamson noted, “Miss Grace Souders, who enjoyed her 10th birthday on the 22nd ult., received the largest postal shower of any one in this vicinity. It reached the number of one hundred and three, from Trenton, Bordentown, Philadelphia, Long Branch, Easton, Phillipsburg, Frenchtown, Stockton, Lambertville, Titusville and the surrounding country.” This custom coincided with the establishment of rural free mail delivery in the late 1890s.