From the early beginnings and up until the 1950’s, Franklin was a very rural area, with family farms comprising a large part of the landscape. It was characteristic of these farm families to be very self-sufficient and independent, yet work cooperatively with their neighbors to meet the needs of the community.
Life on the farm during the early years of the 20th Century was very similar on many farms. A typical farm may have had a smokehouse to cure and store meat, a chicken coop for the chickens to lay their eggs, a pig barn for the hogs, a silo to store the silage needed for feeding the animals, and a milk house for short term storage of milk. All of these buildings were in addition to the barn and sheds that housed the cows and horses as well as the farm equipment.
The early farmhouses had no electricity, no phones, and no running water. There were also no indoor bathrooms, so families would have an “outhouse” on the property. At night or on cold winter days families would use chamber pots or commodes in the homes as an alternative to the outhouse. Finally, by the late 1940’s many of the Franklin farms had indoor bathrooms installed and the outhouse was retired.
Another feature in the basement of the farmhouse was the cistern. Soft rain water flooded down the roof into gutters and then was carried to the basement cistern. Built of masonry walls, these cisterns ranged in size from 5 -20 ft. in height and 8-25 ft. deep. A cistern pump installed at the right of the kitchen sink brought up soft water for washing clothes, for Saturday night baths, and for shampooing hair!
Because refrigeration in the early 20th Century did not exist, men would harvest ice from local ponds or the Root River. This was usually done in January when the ice was at its thickest. A machine pulled by horses would score the ice and then men would use augers and ice saws to complete the cutting of the ice. Horse drawn sleighs were loaded with the ice and it was then taken to farms that had their own ice house or to a large ice house that was located on Swiss St. in St. Martins. Walls on ice houses were thick and the ice would be packed in sawdust and/or straw, where it stayed frozen until late fall.
Cooking in the home was done on wood-burning kitchen ranges or stoves. When it got too hot to cook, bake or do canning in the house, some farms in Franklin built summer kitchens. These were located near the main house and were used in the warmest months of the year. Food was then brought into the house for serving.
In many ways farms provided most of the things a family needed. Not having easy access to stores close by, farm families usually purchased only nonperishable items like flour, sugar, coffee, and kerosene at a store that they might go to once a week. Those who grew up on farms remember butchering hogs every year, making their own summer sausage, liver sausage, and blood sausage, along with curing their own ham and bacon. Chickens provided the eggs and cows provided the milk. Orchards were full of apples, pears, cherries and plums. What wasn’t eaten fresh was preserved by canning or drying and foods like grapes and currants were made into jellies and jams. Vegetables like peas, beans, corn, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes filled the gardens —picked and eaten fresh, canned or sold at local markets.
Because of Franklin’s proximity to Milwaukee, the city was a steady market for farm products. Farmers knew that they could grow all of the oats and hay they wanted and could depend on selling these crops in Milwaukee. It was not unusual for farmers to take dressed chickens, pigeons, home grown fruits and vegetables, honey, eggs, and ducks to the “green market“ ….as it was called.
The Mitchell Street Market was a popular place to take these farm products as well as to the Hales Corners fairs, which were later moved to St. Martins. At first the farmers went to market by horse drawn wagons and then later by trucks. These “truck farmers” as they were called, might also go “into town” each week to deliver their products like eggs, honey or poultry to their regular route customers.
Farmers would also take their milk to several creameries in the area —the Burrwood Creamery on S. 68th St. north of Ryan Rd., one at 51st and Drexel and another on Swiss St. in St. Martins. In the beginning horse drawn wagons delivered the milk. Later, when trucks were used, some of the farmers in Franklin would have another job. They had jobs hauling milk from neighboring farms and taking the milk to local dairies like the Gridley Dairy in downtown Milwaukee or the Layton Park Dairy on Forest Home Avenue.
During the Depression of 1932 some farmers went on strike to demand higher prices for their milk. Fearing someone might vandalize their trucks, the milk haulers kept their trucks under lights, and at night kept a shotgun next to their bed! They were even given permission from the police to shoot trespassers —but luckily nothing like that happened!
One highlight of the year for many Franklin farm families was the annual grain-threshing time. Several farmers would form a co-op with other farmers and purchase a steam-powered threshing machine. When harvest time arrived, the farmers banded together and moved from farm to farm to thrash the oats, bag the oats, and haul them to the mill on Oakwood Rood. While the men worked, the farm wives would be preparing food to serve the men at mealtimes.
Farm work was hard work and everyone was expected to do their share and help each other. Wives and children contributed greatly to the good of the farm. Some women who tragically lost their husbands needed to keep the farm going with the help of hired men and reliance on the older children in the family to help.
Children on many farms had chores to do before and after school. Their chores might include things like bringing in the cows from the pasture for milking, planting and weeding the garden, feeding the pigs and chickens, collecting eggs from the chicken coop or helping in the fields.
Farm families also believed in never letting anything go to waste. For example, chickens, ducks, and geese not only provided meat and eggs, but the feathers were good for pillows and “feather ticks” (down-filled comforters). Even kitchen garbage like peelings and scraps were thrown over the fence to feed the animals. Fabric scraps left over from sewing projects were used for quilts and for making rag rugs.
By the late 1920’s to the 1940’s change came to rural Franklin. Electric power had introduced a new way of life to the farm. Coal furnaces replaced wood stoves. With the introduction of milking machines farmers no longer had to limit their herds. Combines pulled by tractors replaced horse drawn threshing machines and hay was baled using hay balers pulled by tractors, not gathered loosely on a wagon.
Farm life in Franklin, however, was not all work. For recreation farm families had card clubs, Homemaker Clubs, Farm Bureau activities, church socials, 4-H activities and school functions. Dances were held every Saturday night at Heiden’s Hall on 76th St. (now The Hideaway) Also busy on weekends for social gatherings were places like: The White Dove on Loomis Rd. and 76th St., the Buckhorn on S. 27th St., and the Harrisburg Inn located near St. Martins.
Relationships between farm families were both business and personal. Children knew each other for years and many of them married into another farm family. They may have stayed in the area and even though names on some of the farms changed, the farms still remained in the same families. Eventually times changed and the farms gave way to developments. Progress could not be stopped. Some people left Franklin and bought farms in other rural areas away from the big city and others held on to their memories of the rural life that was once part of Franklin.
– Judeen Scherrer