From the essay “Aroostook Yesterdays,” by Anne Hannan, in our November 1956 issue.
People, in time, take their character from their land, and the people of Maine are like the hard, rocky, and beautiful land they till: cold, perhaps, to a stranger, but warm and generous to those who know and love them. This is a tribute to some Maine people I have known, and in their faces and in their character you can see the land they live on, the farmhouses they call home, the life and the work they were born to, accepted, and lived.
Different countries gave them their names. A hint of Cork was in my grandfather’s speech, and Calvin’s stern doctrine was in the set of grandmother Sarah’s shoulders. Yet, somehow, they were each marked out and drawn together by that northern section of our country, where life is hard but rewarding.
Aroostook folk are farmers, for the most part, and so they live by the seasons and grow old by the soil. For those trained to read it, the history of any field is easily told by the rock piles which dot it. If the rocks are few and small, then the soil is rich and affords a crop with a minimum of effort, but if the rocks are large and plentiful, then the soil is poor, the crop thin and eked out of a grudging earth by sweat and pain and fatigue.
Aroostook County is still an agricultural bastion, though the landscape and culture have evolved in the 60 years since Down East first ran this reflection. In 1950, The County hosted some 4,000 farms, according to the Associated Press. Today, the USDA’s Census of Agriculture counts fewer than 1,000. Yet the region’s agricultural heritage continues to shape life in Aroostook — where life is still sometimes hard, but rewarding.