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Frost Farm: History Hitting Home
At the turn of the 19th Century, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, Robert Frost, lived on 23 acres in rural Derry, NH for 11 years. The Robert Frost Farm has seen many transitions over its 130-odd years, but the decade it held the Frosts has been preserved with the help of NH Bureau of Historic Sites and the guidance of Frost’s eldest daughter, Lesley.
I chose a terribly hot July day for this visit, and brought along my adventurous friends Meredith Martin, and her granddaughter, Zoe. Our tour began inside with a small portrait room and information area.
Without my large family in tow, I imagined our visit focusing on history and literature- two loves- rather than my usual adventure. But I was struck at every corner by the powerful bond our family’s hold on us, whether a hundred years ago or today….
Frost Farm raised chickens, as evidenced by this workroom, complete with a two-seater indoor latrine (not pictured, but it’s on the left, beside the seed bag)!
Our guide was a 20 year old man who learned his trade from his father. Both men take turns leading groups through an hour-long tour of the house, telling stories non-stop about the lives of the Frost family. A few of the items in the home are original to the Frost home, but most are authentic pieces chosen personally by Lesley Frost Ballantine in the 1970’s to restore the property to how she remembered it as a child.
Each room held a memory, not just of the Frost’s, but my own. My husband’s family owns a generations’ old farmhouse in North Amherst, MA. The smell of the wood planks is familiar and comforting.
This was one of my favorite spaces on the tour, because of how plain and serviceable it is. Every item has a purpose, and is kept within easy reach. Yet the lovely dinnerware is almost framed in its cabinet, truly functional art.
Our knowledgeable guide was Will Gleed IV, who has been leading tours with his dad, Bill, since he was 17. His stories were wonderfully entertaining, especially this tale which Robert Frost would share of eavesdropping on his neighbors on the ‘party-line’ telephone. The local phone book is an original from the early 1900’s and holds the Frost family number and address.
This sitting room was often used by the children for their lessons. The large slat-recliner chair brought me again back to my family. My late father-in-law snuggled all of my children in his similar Morris chair, which was an anniversary gift to his parents a generation before. Frost loved the chair so much that he had one brought to each of his homes, even the ones in England.
The story goes, that Elinor Frost once told her husband that she wanted to wake to roses every morning. So Robert had their room decorated with roses from floor to ceiling.
With the heat of these upper rooms beginning to melt us, we left the house to explore the grounds, with this apple tree getting a place of honor.
Robert Frost called himself a ‘Sensibilist’ (a being who felt a great darkness in the world and a great need for inner and outer defenses), and an Environmentalist. He had a passion for nature and little patience for society. He also adored his family, and the years he spent at the Derry farm became so important to him after he left, that he credits most of his inspiration to those years.
Hyla brook, named by the Frost’s for the peepers (genus Hyla), which inhabited the brook every spring. An unmarked trail leads past the apple tree and field to follow this brook.
It was so easy to imagine the Frost children playing I-Spy, like my friends and I did, to glimpse this basking frog. The water was pure New Hampshire – filled with tannin from decaying oak leaves.
At one point the trail crossed Hyla Brook, giving Zoe a chance to cool her toes…have I mentioned that it was hot that day????
At the end of our tour, which took about two hours or so, I stopped to watch the butterfly’s visiting this lovely garden cared for by the Derry Garden Club.
It was extraordinary for me to be in a position of observing relationships, rather than experiencing them (remember, I have five children!). It was such a pleasure to share this visit with Zoe and Meredith, watching them listen and explore. Then to witness the strong bond between father and son as Will Gleed IV professionally guided our tour, with his dad calling out corrections or adding snippets of information. Will would like to be a storyteller someday, which he is thoroughly suited for, and his dad is writing a book about the Frost’s.
Then, to experience the world of Robert Frost, not just in his language, but in his kitchen. To touch his wife’s original soapstone sink, remembering the same sink in my own kitchen as a child in Worcester, MA. To walk on his creaky floors, the same floors in my husband’s childhood home.
Every wall in the house papered in flowers, and every room held paintings and books (especially Shakespeare) and toys.
New Hampshire granite is known for breaking farmers, and Robert Frost was in very good company when his farm failed. But Elinor and Robert Frost raised and lost babies and children in this home, and nurtured the first poems which would ensure the family’s future success and Frost’s world-wide influence. Here’s one of my favorites…
BY ROBERT FROST
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
About Lisa WileyMy name is Lisa Wiley and I am native to mid-New England, but a NH transplant once my husband and I started a family. We have five children and multiple pets, including a bassett named Rue who will be featured in many of my posts! I work in two academic libraries and recently completed a Bachelors in Education and Training through Granite State College. My husband and I are both educators and love outdoor adventures on a shoestring budget! On the side, we garden and raise chickens and angora rabbits. I enjoy spinning the angora fiber from these gentle animals into beautiful yarns. I can't wait to share the adventures of the 'Wiley Rangers' as we explore NH! View all posts by Lisa Wiley →
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