HISTORY MYSTERY: Jacob’s Elm Tree
Pictured is John Shepard of Clay leaning against a giant Elm Tree with a spread of 100 feet. It was planted in 1812 by Jacob Young, one of the Young family settlers, the early owner of this farm, who plucked it from his corn field. He planted it on the day of a great naval battle in the War of 1812. This photo was taken in 1941 by joseph H. Adamson, a photographer visiting the Shepard farm with his friend Hermie.
They weren’t exactly “hankering” for shade when they arrived at the Shepard farm for the snowbanks were still 12 feet high in places and the mud was “gooey” and abundant. At one spot the car, named for a great Dutch navigator, needed pontoons or a rudder. The water came right into the “innards” and extinguished the “vital spark”. They thought they might have to swim the rest of the way, but the battery kicked in and off they went. So they were glad to pull up under the big tree where it was dry and wondered how far it was around the base. Mr. Shepard said he had come to the farm 42 years that spring and, he said, “There was a crowbar embedded in the tree. It was protruding a foot and a half, but the tree has since grown over it. Somebody will find it someday to his sorrow when he starts to saw it up.”
Spring was doing things to the farm the day they visited. The ice and snow was vanishing from the barnyard; hens were cackling; and Ginger, the dog, was asleep on manure banking the rear of the ancient farmhouse. Hams were being cured in the old smokehouse and sap was softly dripping in a pall hung on a maple tree. “The grandchildren” said Shepard, “don’t know anything about maple sugar. Probably think you get it at the candy store. So I thought I’d tap the old tree and teach then a little something about it. Yes, it is running late this year but trees could have been tapped long before this.”
He was on his way at the moment to the little smokehouse, which was behind the big elm. You can see the east wall to the left of the tree trunk. The building, like most of the other structures was there when Shepard purchasd the farm, so the interior was well smoked from the pots of corncobs he was setting up under the hams suspended above them. It took two or three days to cure a ham and he said, “These hams have flavor not matched by the modern hams” (from the store). They were very big hams. “Yes,” he said, “I cut ‘em off big hogs. One weighed 357 pounds.”
When asked about the coming growing season, Shepard said that April had “turned on the heat” so everything looked good. Now it depended on what sort of spring they would have, if the plowing was to be done and planting at a seasonable date. “Yes, the ground is in good condition,” he said. “After all that snow, the wells are filled again.” Hermie added, “Maybe the farmers will make some money this year.” Shepard replied, “If we do, it’ll be the first for a lot of us.”
The Shepard farm belonged to the Young’s for longer than the present owner knew. It is well known that at one time the farmhouse contained what was called Young’s Post Office. Mail was dropped off alongside the nearby RW&O railroad tracks. Shepard said that the boys sometimes dropped it a half mile away just to steam up Young a little.
John Shepard was born in Cicero on November 10, 1866. After being In California awhile, he didn’t see anything he liked better than his native “bailiwick.” He had 73 acres to wrestle with and seemed to thrive on it. He didn’t hunt but furnished land for others who did. However, he did fish when he found time. “Up at Cape Vincent,” he said, where fishin’ is fishin’.”
Dorothy Heller, Historian