Reprinted from: In the Trek of Immigrants. A. William Hoglund. 1960.
With permission of copyright holder, Augustana College Library 1960 to use on this website
Search for terms, such as personal names, topics, or specific words, by using the magnifying glass icon in the upper right-hand corner of this screen.
Finns, you who have chosen to work like slaves in city neighborhoods for the benefit of others, go to the land and so ensure your future.
Finnish immigrants had little opportunity to acquire choice farms easily. Only a relative few secured homesteads in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota, because most of the immigrants reached the United States after homesteading had almost ceased. Coming penniless, the immigrants also lacked the means to buy ready-made farms. Their capital to buy farms accumulated slowly, since they were among the lowest paid laborers in the mills, mines, and forests located in states from the Northeast to the Far West. After spending some years in search of better jobs, many were seized by the "land fever" which reached its peak at the close of World War I. They believed and preached that farm ownership brought happiness, health, and security. Hundreds bought land in the "cutover" areas of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota from which the timber had been taken. This land's chief advantage was cheapness, for much of it proved unproductive and required back-breaking toil to remove the stumps. Others settled in the old agricultural regions of New York and New England which had abandoned farms and low priced land. The expensive farms of the rich agricultural states such as Illinois and Iowa were beyond the immigrant's ability to buy.
After the Civil War, easterners looked for immigrants and native Americans who would reverse the population drift from the farm. In particular, New England undertook public and private measures to invigorate its agriculture and to resettle vacant farms. In the decade before World War I, it helped inspire similar, but less well known, efforts in New York State. Businessmen, journalists, and political leaders promoted back-to-the land conferences in New York City and Syracuse. In 1910, even ex-president Theodore Roosevelt visited farm areas in Tompkins County to tell his country listeners that it was possible to restore most of the unoccupied farms. Since few native Americans resettled the old farms of New York, the promoters tried to attract immigrant farm buyers in the same way that their New England counterparts had done earlier.
In New York, emphasis was placed on the idea that immigrants from northern and western Europe were ideally suited to replace the New England descendants who no longer stayed on the land. Under a law of 1905, the New York State Department of Agriculture set up a bureau to issue lists of New York farms for sale or rent, to publish literature on the state's agricultural opportunities, and to promote immigrant farm colonization. In 1907, the bureau's agent in Europe had little success in finding settlers for New York, because Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden did not permit him to solicit emigrants. Three years later, the agricultural department hired the Danish-born Carl Julius Moldenhawer to work with immigrant groups in New York City. Extending his activity beyond that city, Moldenhawer also advertised in the Finnish immigrant press of Massachusetts to point out farm opportunities and to confirm officially the impression that inexpensive farms were really available. After World War I, the department singled out the Finns and other Scandinavians for their continued interest in New York farms.' If any impact was made by these promotional efforts, however, it was mainly educational since immigrants made direct contact with the sellers of farms usually through other channels.
New York's hill country had thousands of cheap and often unused farms. In particular, the hilly tier of counties above the border between upstate New York and Pennsylvania was most widely identified with farm abandonment, rural depopulation, and decreased farm values. After the 1870's, its rural population and farms declined significantly in number. To survive, modern farmers had to specialize in producing larger surpluses for sale. But the hill farmers often were unable to do so. Labor-saving machinery could not be used on their steep and stony slopes. Crop yields were low, because the soil cover was thin, poorly drained, and deficient in plant nutrients. Marketing was difficult and expensive, since the dirt roads of the hill areas were poor and even impassable at times. Increasingly, hill farms were left unused, because few new buyers arrived to replace those who had (died or moved away. Farm children, who had left in great numbers, also did not return to their parental farms. In some cases, however, unoccupied farms were bought or operated by farmers who remained in the hills. The countryside thus became dotted with vacant farm houses, rotting barns, and'" overgrown lilac bushes-the evidence of bygone dreams. Untilled fields were overrun by the scrub pine, dogwood, and other useless trees and shrubs or by weeds like the goldenrod and devil's paintbrush. And many words of anguish and alarm about rural decadence were printed by writers who viewed the farms.
These hill country conditions were typified by the three adjacent townships of Spencer in Tioga County, Van Etten in Chemung County, and Newfield in Tompkins County. The three towns had 867 farms in 1875 and 635 in 1930. Their population numbered 7,034 in 1875 and 3,935 in 1930. From the 1890's, the local paper in Spencer worried about such figures and urged farm youth to stay at home. In 1909, one correspondent wrote in that paper, "It is whispered, but only lightly, that some of our farmers are thinking of going into other business." His observation was an admission that farmers found it difficult to operate on soil which was largely inferior. In studies of the use of this soil, agricultural economists reported that the three towns had from sixty-four to eighty per cent of their land in the two lowest land classes regarded as unfit for agriculture and as better suited for forestry and recreational purposes. The rest of their land, moreover, was mainly included in the poorest of three other land classes designated as suitable for agriculture. Reviewing the land study of Tompkins County in 1931, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt "dramatized the unproductive land" with the story that soil experts had found buckwheat in the county "so poor that the bees had to go on their knees, to sip the nectar from its blossoms.”
In 1910, the first Finnish immigrants settled on the hills of Spencer, Van Etten, and Newfield. Numbering 201 in 1915, they increased to a high of 526 in 1950 and declined to 366 by 1960. Reaching their peak number in 1930, the Newfield Finns maintained a plateau for the next twenty years, while those in Spencer and Van Etten continued to increase." In 1925, the three towns had sixty per cent of all the Finns living in Chemung, Tioga, and Tompkins counties. No matter where they were in the counties, however, most immigrants lived on farms in the open country until World War II when some retired to live in villages and cities. They made up the major group of their nationality listed as farmers in New York State.
The new farmers represented the first major inroad in the homogeneity of the three towns. Settled over a century before they came, the towns were dominated by native Americans whose New England ancestors had first developed the farms. Descended from a Connecticut peddler who came in 1844 to Spencer, one businessman claimed that he had been related to about three-fourths of the town's residents prior to the immigrant influx. Already in 1920, school records showed this displacement of native Americans. All but one of the thirty pupils in the Crumtown school district was of Finnish origin, and the children of immigrants also predominated in two other rural schools. In 1927, the surviving American-born trustees of the community church in the North Van Etten neighborhood transferred formal control to the immigrants in accordance with the deed which provided that the building was for the use of those who occupied the local farms. The trustees reported that all the farms except three were in Finnish hands. In spite of such developments, however, the first and second generations never represented more than about fifteen per cent of the total population in the three towns.
The nucleus of Finnish settlement was established by real estate agents. Between 1910 and 1920, the agents were most instrumental in attracting the first comers who, in turn, induced still greater numbers to come without the intervention of real estate agencies. The Strout Real Estate Agency, which had its main headquarters in New York City, persuaded the first immigrants to buy farms in upstate New York. Attracted by Strout advertisements, Herman Manninen, John Makela, and John Lehtonen left Michigan with their families to visit Newfield where they bought farms through the agency's representative for Tompkins County in the summer of 1910. But the representative had little, if any, contact with Finns thereafter.
Three independent local agents quickly took the lead in selling real estate. Shortly before the first three families reached Newfield, Cornelius O. Seabring had set up a real estate office in connection with his law office in Spencer and started an advertising campaign in the West. In 1911, the first farms in Van Etten were bought by Finns through Seabring who had persuaded Charles Eskeli and Jonas Eskola to leave Wyoming. Advertising frequently in the Finnish press, Seabring sold farms to immigrants and helped them to settle. He also promoted road improvements and farm organizations, hoping thereby to make the area more attractive. In 1915, the local paper credited him with the "handsome increase" in the population of Spencer. He was not long without rivals, however, for the newcomers themselves set up real estate agencies. One of the two most important Finnish agents was John Lehtonen who promoted farm sales until his departure from the area in 1919. Drawn by his advertisements, Joel Pelto left Minnesota in 1911 and became the first Finnish farmer in Spencer. Soon thereafter, he began to sell farms and did so with his son until about 1930. Other first comers also were so anxious to sell farms that in 1913 one correspondent described almost everyone as a land agent.
From the viewpoint of the real estate agents, agriculture was most promising in New York. Each one pointed out such advantages as fertile soil, good roads, natural beauties, profitable markets, pure water, cheap farms, and community institutions. Seabring boasted that all his Finnish buyers had succeeded, since his agency sold only the best and cheapest farms selected by experts. Appealing to the wage earner, Pelto assured that a farmer was his own master and enjoyed economic security. Shortly after he arrived in Newfield, Lehtonen reported in an immigrant newspaper that, on the basis of extensive travels in the United States, he had finally found the best and cheapest land situated amidst innumerable advantages. Needless to say, each agent expressed willingness to help prospective farm buyers share in these advantages, and each one promised to serve more reliably than his competitors.
But the ties of kinship and friendship, rather than the appeals of real estate agents, sustained the continuing influx of new settlers. Friends, relatives, and strangers established contact with those who were already on farms through visits, correspondence, and newspapers. Dozens of families were drawn to the area by the presence of relatives, especially brothers and sisters, while others came through friends. Latecomers found it easy to contact numerous farm sellers, since both parties wanted to avoid paying commissions to land agents. This sentiment was nurtured, moreover, by the widespread advice given to the effect that prospective buyers should beware the agents who were accused of misrepresenting farms, providing faulty land titles, and receiving excessive commissions. Correspondence from Newfield, Spencer, and Van Etten appeared in the major Finnish newspapers of New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota to warn readers about the land agents and to cite grievances. In 1920, even one local fraternal society published notices to denounce the agents. In other words, such advice caused farm buyers more and more to seek the same sources of advice-their friends and relatives-that they had earlier sought on emigrating and in finding employment.
By 1921, the immigrant farm community was well established. From 1910 through 1921, 233 families arrived, representing one-half of all who were ever to acquire farms between 1910 and 1960. Their arrival reached its climax in the years 1919, 1920, and 1921 when more than 100 families bought farms. After World War I slowed the landward drift, the movement had resumed with vigor as wage earners hoped to escape the uncertain conditions of postwar industrial centers. When the national farm crisis worsened in 1921, new farm buyers became fewer thereafter until the years from 1927 through 1930. Then the Great Depression muffled the short-lived enthusiasm for buying farms, and fewer than ten families arrived during each year but one between 1931 and 1939. More active farm buying, however, resumed on the eve of World War II and continued through 1943. After the war's end, there again was a minor flurry of interest in buying farms. In the 1950's, only seven new buyers appeared. During the years of buying, 463 families acquired farms, which were used with few exceptions for agricultural purposes.
The newcomers came from the largest Finnish communities such as those in Michigan and the smallest ones like those in Wyoming. In the early years, Michigan contributed the largest number of farm buyers, but metropolitan New York soon rivaled it and became the most important source. Pennsylvania and Michigan were about equally matched for second place. Significant numbers also came from Minnesota, Ohio, and New Jersey.
Before arriving in upstate New York, the family heads had worked mainly as carpenters in the cities, as iron and copper miners in the West, and as steel workers in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It was exceptional for anyone to arrive with previous farm experience in the United States. Of course, many had had rural experiences as the children of farm owners and tenants or as agricultural laborers for landowners in Finland.
Without money, they could not become farmers on reaching the United States. Many came, moreover, with dreams of earning money quickly in order to return to Finland. So they became industrial workers who spent considerable time searching for the most lucrative employment. John Niemi of Hickstown, for instance, worked more than a decade in Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Utah before buying the first of two farms on which he lived in Chemung County. In 1915, the male heads of the farm households in Chemung, Tioga, and Tompkins indicated that each one had spent an average of almost thirteen years in the United States before moving to upstate New York.2' Their removal to the farm was merely another effort to find that parempa, or "something better," for which they had left Finland.
Almost uniformly, the new farmers came with very limited capital. Among the dozen or so who were singled out by their peers as having arrived with means above the common level, was the newcomer who paid $10,000 in cash for a farm and its livestock. The ordinary family, however, came with its household goods and cash sums which usually varied from $500 to $3,000. During the decade of World War I, thirty-two buyers made cash payments on their farms, varying from $150 to $4,000 and averaging about $1,100, which was not quite one-half of the price of a farm. There was reason for not being able to pay more. Most had worked as unskilled laborers, earning perhaps about two dollars a day before World War I. At the same time, they were raising families which limited their ability to save money. In 1915, over 85 per cent of the 246 children reported by 68 of the 76 farm households in Chemung, Tioga, and Tompkins had been born before their parents moved to upstate New York, and over two-thirds of the children were ten years old or younger. Periods of unemployment and strikes also had forced the breadwinners to deplete cash reserves in order to maintain their families.
Understandably, the new farmers sought the lowest costing farms available. These farms were located in townships where the average value of land and buildings per farm was considerably below the county average. In 1935, Newfield's figure was the lowest one in Tompkins County, while Spencer and Van Etten had the second lowest averages in their counties. Within the townships, the buyers usually selected the lower-priced hill farms rather than the higher-priced valley farms. Real estate advertisements offered such farms rather than higher priced valley farms. Real estate advertisements offered such farms, sometimes with livestock and tools included at prices ranging between $1,000 and $3,500. During the years from 1910 through 1920, seventy-one buyers paid an average of slightly more than $2,200 per farm. Even these farm prices could be high, however, if the buyer had little cash.
Lacking adequate capital, most buyers bought their farms on credit. Although all mortgages were not recorded in a county clerk's office, there is no doubt that at least three-fourths, and probably more, of the farms were mortgaged upon purchase. Between 1911 and 1940, each purchase mortgage averaged $1,158 for 125 of 172 farm buyers in Tioga County. Those who had little cash to pay sometimes received "land contracts" rather than property deeds. Under the land contract, the seller was obliged to transfer the deed only after the buyer had paid a specified amount of the sale price. In some instances, it took five or more years for a buyer to receive his deed. Most buyers received deeds immediately, however, and gave mortgages to sellers and, less frequently, to private banks and businessmen who charged interest at the rate of five or six per cent.
The promissory note was used most commonly to obtain funds for the purchase of livestock, equipment, and supplies. It was easier to employ the note than the chattel mortgage in order to obtain relatively small sums on a short term basis from banks, merchants, and farmers in the area and from friends and relatives elsewhere. In the fall of 1926, one Spencer family thus signed a note for $200 to meet emergency expenses, because all of its cash had been used to meet insurance and mortgage payments at a time when milk and eggs brought in little income. Another family accumulated over thirty notes in its first eleven years on a farm to acquire livestock and equipment as well as to meet annual shortages of cash. With few exceptions, farmers later could recall such frequent use of the noota, as they termed the promissory note, to tide them through hard times.
Obviously, the new farmers were nor buying palatial estates. Instead they aquired farms which were not in the best condition and often had badly deteriorated buildings. Paying $2,000 for his farm in 1913, Mike Louko described his newly purchased house and barns as "almost level with the ground." Others spoke of buying land that grew little hay and much goldenrod. During his first year on a farm of more than one hundred acres, Henry Koski harvested only five loads of hay, scarcely enough for two cows. Sam Lehtio related how a new farmer began to mow hay which was so scanty that one could hardly distinguish between the mowed and uncut portions of the hayfield. Surveying Newfield where he had recently bought a farm, Kalle Lander consoled that, although the farms were not the best, they were nearly so in relation to one's pocketbook. Having visited in the East and Midwest, moreover, he quoted the Finnish proverb which said, The swamp is over there; the wet land is here." If farms in Newfield had faults, Lander meant that those elsewhere also had shortcomings.
Like other farmers in the area, the new owners made their income mainly by marketing cream and fluid milk, supplemented by the sale of eggs and potatoes. Buying farms that averaged about one hundred acres, the dairy farmers did their best to rent or buy additional land in order to enlarge operations. But their modest operations were limited by the lack of capital with which to buy enough cows and the inability of fields to produce sufficient fodder. Starting with herds of four to seven cows, farmers added as they could until some had fifteen or more cows. Owning 115 acres and renting an additional twenty-five acres in 1927, the four-member family of Isak Mattson had seven cows after fourteen years of farm experience. The Alex Lampila family of eight maintained sixteen cows and 125 hens on 160 acres, which had been acquired over a period of thirteen years. Victor Johnson and his wife owned five cows and seventy-five hens on an eighty-four acre farm occupied for fifteen years. Even with larger herds and more land, farmers found it difficult to exist when milk prices declined sharply after World War I. Their hill farms, moreover, were too limited for large-scale dairying, which required expensive machinery.
After the late 1920's, farmers turned more and more to poultry raising and gave up dairying altogether until only a few were left to sell milk in the early 1940's. New York City provided the market for eggs and poultry as it did for milk. Buying relatively more of his feedstuffs than the dairy farmer, the poultry man was less dependent on the quality and amount of his land. At the same time, it was undoubtedly easier for one with limited capital to undertake poultry farming than dairy farming. Poultry houses were made from converted dairy barns, and new ones were also built to hold flocks. numbering from 500 to 2,500 hens. Because of this shift from dairying, the most important poultry centers of Tioga, Chemung, and Tompkins were in the townships with Finnish farmers. In 1940, Spencer and Van Etten farmers had more chickens and fewer cows per farm than the average farmer in Chemung and Tioga. During World War II, flocks were increased even more. After the war, it became still more difficult for poultry operations of prewar size to survive. But most farmers did not enlarge their operations any more, because they were near retirement.
If anything stood out most in the activity of the immigrant farmers, it was their industriousness. Besides obituaries and farm sales, Spencer's weekly newspaper long felt that the only other kinds of news usually worth printing about the Finns were stories or items which showed their industry. In 1921 and 1922, its editor thus featured the new farmers busily erecting silos and buying machinery in the neighborhood where he had been reared. Economic pressure compelled the newcomers to drive themselves to the utmost or else to give up their debt-ridden farms. Characteristically, they neglected their houses until income was forthcoming from fields restored. and barns rebuilt through hard work. Women commonly helped their men to do farm work like haying and milking. They also practiced extreme self-denial and developed all kinds of domestic economies. Since dealers paid for milk on the basis of butterfat content, all the milk was sold unskimmed, and, as a farm wife said in trying her hand at poetry,
Coffee would taste so fine but one must send the cream to market.
To suggest the hard life, one humorist explained that the Finns laboriously tried to level the hills made by the wrathful devil who had refused to share the land with God. The demanding life was also the theme of the anecdote in which God wanted the industrious Finns to make new fields from the stony and rugged land of a town appropriately named Newfield. Indeed, hard work was the essence of the new farmer's life.
Since little or no use had been made of many farms just prior to their purchase, comparisons were naturally made between the foreign- and native-born owners. Buying fertilizer for run-down fields and restoring old barns pointedly set the new owners apart from the previous ones. The new owner also stood apart, because he undertook operations on a scale larger than that of the native farmer. In 1927, fifty-eight foreign-born farmers, who were mostly Finns, averaged more cows and hens per farm than the native American in the Bull Hill district covering parts of Newfield and nearby towns. But the immigrant earned less net income than the native mainly because of his larger expenditures for capital improvements." In regard to Spencer, a native farmer said that the town "would be a ______________
of a place" without the immigrants who had been regarded as "a bunch of suckers" for buying run-down hill farms. Unlike the newcomers, he added, the native farmers would neither undertake larger poultry operations nor
have women work with the men. Without question, the new farmers, for a time at least, had a vigor lacking in many of the former farm owners.
Their vigorous activity was hailed as the harbinger of an agricultural revival during the years around World War I. Observers visited with the immigrant farmers and left elated. Writing frequently in the Rural New Yorker, one Tioga County doctor welcomed the Finns as the right kind of immigrant from northern Europe with the habits of thrift and hard work needed to restore the rugged hills. To support his case, he reported in detail on the busy members of Matt Herrala's family and described them as "the forerunners of a new race of pioneers" under whose hands the hills were sure to blossom again. In the same journal, another correspondent wrote that the newcomers had nearly ended "the era of deserted farms" in Newfield. Early in the 1920's, these hopes reached their climax in the celebration of the immigrant arrival to Spencer's Crumtown neighborhood, which for a while was renamed "Finntown" by the local weekly. In 1922, the Tioga County Farm and Home Bureau held an all-day affair for the Crumtown farmers that was described as marking "a new epoch in the history of agriculture in our county," since the arrival of the new people had halted the decay of the neighborhood. Reported in one of the county weeklies, the gathering drew the conclusion, "Well, to make a long story short, these farms are no longer depopulated.
But the immigrants themselves were not so sure about the future possibilities of upstate agriculture. In particular, they wondered whether the low-priced lands really would turn out to be sound investments. Since they were debating the worth of New York farms in 1913, the Finnish farm journal of Hancock, Michigan, solicited information on Tioga, Chemung, and Broome counties from the New York State College of Agriculture. Accordingly, John L. Stone, who was professor of farm practice and farm crops, pointed out that the land varied from the better sort to the most unproductive type. Although the poorer lands were most attractive because of their low prices, he added that personally he would prefer to buy more expensive land. His letter drew an angry note from a reader who wondered why the professor had not written about the "worst" county of Tompkins since it had hundreds of vacant and worthless farms awaiting the innocent buyer. In turn, the correspondent prompted another to agree with the professor's ideas that the lands were not first class and that hard-working immigrants were especially able to survive on them. But he could not agree that Tompkins was any different from the other three counties since its agricultural output was at least as great as that of any one of the others. Because the farms often sold for less than the cost of the buildings, the journal's editor observed that the agricultural worth of the land was doubtful. Concluding the debate, he added that the really good land in New York was expensive and beyond the means of those who had only a few hundred dollars and a miner's experience
Especially between 1920 and 1940, farmers were not happy about their income prospects in New York. Although they had complained about farm prices before World War I, their complaints sharpened during the long agricultural depression of the 1920's and 1930's. Soon after the war, local newspaper correspondents became worried about economic conditions since farmers were unhappy with falling milk prices." To improve their position in the early 1920's, farmers bought supplies on an informal cooperative basis.” Later in the decade, they established the Spencer Co-operative Society which handled farm and home supplies and shipped locally produced eggs to New York City. After the crash of 1929, farmers felt even more the impact of low milk prices, and hence they tried poultry farming more than before. When farm prices were almost at their lowest level in 1932, one teenager wrote from. his grandparents' farm with bitter irony that, "boy, a guy'll get rich real quick" selling eggs at fourteen cents a dozen.” Resigned to the lack of decent clothes and a car, he exploded, "Cripes it's hell to be poor." Low prices hurt even more if one worked to meet interest payments when there was little or no net income left for the family who actually did the farm work. In a farm wife's poem, the farmer lost his happiness when prices fell, and,
when the debt crosses his threshold, he tightens his lips with a curse.
Not until the burdens of debt ceased, did poets, farmers, and correspondents feel less exercised by economic issues.
During these years of depression, farmers often felt defeated to the point of seeking new employment. Most who quit farming in Chemung, Tioga, and Tompkins went to the industrial centers, while some moved to farms elsewhere in New York State. Among the latter was the third farmer who left Spencer in 1917 for the Syracuse area where a small farm colony developed. He was classed by a newspaper correspondent with the "many" who were disillusioned by the burdens of hill farming. In the early 1920's, dozens of auction notices and farm advertisements showed a widespread desire to give up farming. Entire families also left their farms temporarily vacant, or the men alone went to work in New York City or their previous place of employment. In 1918, the president of the congregation in North Van Etten was among the farmers returning to Ohio in order to await "brighter times." But not all were able to leave their farms, as a farm wife pointed out in 1932, because prospective buyers had too little cash." There was little reason to leave, moreover, if one had no prospect of making a better livelihood elsewhere.
To remain on the farm demanded much of the owner whose mortgage and other debts were unpaid. Although only ten farms were ever lost through mortgage foreclosures, dozens of mortgages were not paid until the farms were sold. So those who reduced their indebtedness during the depression years were indeed fortunate. It was easier to pay debts if one had enough capital with which to begin farm operations larger than those of the average buyer, or if one suffered no major misfortunes like the loss of livestock. It was also often easier for one if he found the courage and credit to buy additional land or a new farm which was better situated and more productive than his first one. Of course, it was necessary to practice greater economy, if that were possible, and to enlarge the size of one's dairy herd and poultry flock.
But any prosperity was more of an illusion than a fact in spite of the outward improvements made on the farms. Bringing in money from the outside and having families work for low returns gave "the impression of some prosperity. According to data from fifty-one foreign-born farm operators, an agricultural economist determined that in 1926 each one had average farm receipts of $1,975 and business expenses of $1,541. Each farmer thus had $434 left with which to pay interest on his capital and wages for himself. Since the economist's calculation of farm expenses included unpaid cash wages credited to family members, the farmer really had $615 left for family living expenses and savings. In addition, he had the farmhouse in which to live and food products to use. Without fail, the farmer struggled to improve his farm at the expense of his living standards.
During World War II, farm products brought higher prices and thus the money problem was eased for farmers. The gross income of both poultry and dairy farmers increased significantly over the prewar figures. Debts were paid, and farmers now spoke of the promissory note as a thing of the past. By and large, living standards, changed considerably. For instance, conspicuous consumption even became noticeable, and store-bought food was used more than formerly. More than one also built up an estate worth at least $25,000 after the war, although there also were a few who turned their farms over to public welfare commissioners for support. Generally speaking, those who retired after the war found themselves in a much better position than those who quit farm work before 1941.
Because of the wartime prosperity, farmers had more reason to continue farm operations for a longer period than in the depression years. Those who left farming before 1941 averaged less than ten years each, while those whose farm tenure ended between 1941 and 1960 averaged more than twenty-three years each. The former group represented thirty per cent of all farm buyers. Between 1910 and 1960, the average length of farm ownership for each buyer was almost eighteen years. The farmers who had spent thirty, or more, years each made up only about one-fourth of all buyers.
By 1960, the first generation Finns were rapidly disappearing from upstate agriculture. In the 1950's alone, death had claimed well over one hundred lives, and social security legislation had enabled others to retire sooner than they might have done otherwise. Although 108 families still retained farm ownership, less than one-fifth of them were actively engaged in agriculture. The greater number of the rest were made up of retired farmers who did some part-time farming especially in the first years of retirement. When spring returned in 1957, one correspondent sadly pointed out that not all fields would bustle with activity for many farmers were dead. She might have added that even barns were deteriorating on unused farms in the same way that they were rotting before 1910. At the same time, immigrant institutions, like the church and the cooperative, declined in vigor, while other organizations actually ended their existence. The surviving immigrants could clearly see the end of their farm community.
Meantime, the second generation did not take up farms in any significant numbers to replace the immigrant generation. Although in 1960 the second generation numbered over 600 American-born citizens with at least one Finland-born parent, few of the sons remained on the land. During the entire period from 1910 to 1960, scarcely more than 150 sons ever held farms. In 1960, sixty-eight ran their own farms or shared their parental farms. Almost as many had farms for residential purposes and, in some cases, also for part-time agriculture. Most children of the immigrants thus entered nonagricultural pursuits, hoping to make their livelihood more easily than their parents.
The coming of the immigrant therefore did not check the decline of farm numbers in Spencer, Van Etten, and Newfield. It only delayed the trend which accelerated after World War II. Because of technological changes and market conditions, only those who expanded farm operations could survive financially. To do so required more capital and, in order to secure it, one had to enlarge operations. Lacking adequate capital, the immigrants usually bought the cheapest and poorest hill farms which produced limited income for expansion. By hard work and self-denial, they tried to make up for this shortcoming. But for the second time, real proprietary success eluded them as it did most of their fellow immigrants everywhere. Most immigrant industrial wage earners were unable to develop business enterprises for economic independence." Most immigrant farmers also found that proprietary security was illusory. Only during World War II did any farmers have notable success in gaining economic competence. At all times, farm ownership insured with certainty only one thing-hard work-to the Finnish immigrants who left industry.