By Patty Conly, President of the Danville Historical Society
There is a unique charm about the quaint and picturesque village of North Danville, nestled in the northeastern corner of Vermont. It has remained essentially unchanged in many ways for the past century. Just ask anyone who lives there presently or has lived there at any time in the past. Some of the faces and names have changed, but their memories and legacy remain through friends and relatives still living in the community. There is a strong sense of willingness to help one another that has endured generations of families living in the village, as well as those living in houses or on farms on the outskirts of town. North Danville was once bustling with mills and businesses centered around its prime location on the Sleepers River, which runs parallel to the lower part of the village. Today most of those businesses are no longer in existence; however, several long-standing family owned farms are still thriving.
The name Langmaid has been associated with farming in this area for many generations, and their family farms continue to dot the landscape in and around Danville. But, there is a unique character about the Cliff Langmaid farm, now known as the For-Clifs farm in the heart of North Danville. It was renamed to reflect current owner Cliff Langmaid and his father and former owner, Forrest Langmaid. The uniqueness lies in the fact that it is a working farm situated right in the center of the village. You simply cannot pass through the North Danville without noticing the big red barn.
In the summer months, as you approach from Danville and make the turn heading into the village, you will likely see the emerald green hillside pasture dotted with black and white Holsteins grazing in the field amid yellow dandelions. If you happen to drive through around milking time, you may have to wait patiently as Plynn Beattie or Lee Langmaid Beattie act as temporary “traffic control cops” to stop cars and direct a parade of cows sauntering across the road making their way to the barn. This is a less familiar scenario now in many small towns across Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom. However, it is still a rare find in the epicenter of North Danville!
A century farm award is truly something to be celebrated. It means that a farm has been recognized as a continuously active and working operation on property owned and worked by members of the same family for generations, spanning at least one hundred years. The Vermont Farm Bureau and the Vermont State Grange work in tandem to identify and recognize farms that meet these criteria. Once identified, an application is submitted to these organizations with the proper documentation by the owner of the farm. Usually one award is presented annually in Vermont that certifies that the property has been owned and worked by the same family for one hundred years, an increasingly rare distinction in these days of vanishing family farms. Nancy Perkins, a representative from the Vermont State Grange and long- time friend of the Langmaid family, approached Linda Langmaid Vance about the history of the North Danville village farm. An application was submitted and on October 20, 2012 a Century Farm Award was presented to the For-Clifs Farm. The property, including the working farm, has been in the same family for five generations. In a recent phone conversation with Nancy Perkins, she laments that this particular award “was long overdue.”
The original 1850 farmhouse and barn on the corner of McReynolds Road in the village was owned by Asa Randall and his wife Almira Drew, daughter of Theophilus Drew, Jr., whose family was one of the earliest farm owners in North Danville on what is now known as the McFarland farm. Theophilus came to Danville in his youth from Gilmanton, NH, with his father Theophilus Sr. in about 1791, and as a young man ran a still. At that time, a still was a legitimate enterprise. He invested most of his money from his business in his agricultural interests.
At one point in his life, Theophilus had what was described as a “deep personal Christian experience” that would set the tone and have a profound impact on his activities in the future as well as the lives of many of the early descendants of his family. He made the decision to discontinue his still, which focused on the selling and consumption of alcohol, and it is said that neither he nor any member of his family ever used tobacco or alcohol again. Consequently, he became affiliated with the growing Temperance Movement that was popular at the time. Local chapters sprang up in many Vermont towns. Theophilus made generous donations of money to the town, and these funds, together with those from Mr. John Stanton, who was another well-known North Danville resident and relative, enabled the building of the Old North Church in 1832.
In 1858, Asa Randall sold the property to his brother-in-law ,George Riley Drew, and his wife, Jayne Ayer Drew. George R. Drew was an avid reader and, like his father, was also interested in the Temperance Movement. He took part in the establishment of the local chapter of the Vermont Grange, organized in November of 1871, and around that time 40 farmers assembled in North Danville to found a farmers co-op buying club. He also studied and practiced homeopathic medicine and responded to all calls, regardless of rich or poor. It was during this period that the village property, including the house and adjacent barn, became known as “the village farm” and would be inherited by son George M. Drew and his wife Millie Hannon Drew, who raised two children, daughter Ethel and son Harry. George M. also carried on the family interest in Temperance and the Grange while running the farm and was involved in many school and church activities.
Barn raisings were very popular in the mid to late 1800s, and local noted photographer, Elgin Gates, captured several of these events on his glass plate negatives. During this era, many barns were built by large groups of community members to show support for one another and share in the spirit of what can be done when people work together. Of interesting note in the book Village in the Hills by Susannah Clifford, she writes that “Perhaps the greatest barn building feat of all during this period occurred in 1882, when George Drew held the first barn-raising without serving alcohol of any kind, not even hard cider.”
Ethel Drew married Burl Langmaid, who would inherit and operate the farm owned by Burl’s father, Solomon. The couple raised seven children: Forrest, Arnold, Phil, Jean, Beatrice (Betty), Joyce and Hugh. Hugh, the youngest of the boys, together with his son Scott and wife, still currently own and operate the farm originally owned by his father.
Ethel’s brother, Harry, never married but chose to further pursue his quest for higher education and went on to graduate from Middlebury College. He was fluent in several foreign languages and served in the military as an officer both stateside and abroad. Eventually, the farmhouse in the village would be deeded to Harry and the barn across the road to Ethel around 1909. George M. Drew continued to operate the village farm with the help of his grandsons: Forrest, Arnold and Phil. The original Drew barn adjacent to the farmhouse was torn down in or around 1939 at about the same time that George M. Drew died. Ironically, he passed away while working in his barn.
Upon his return from enlistment in the Army in April of 1942, Burl and Ethel Drew Langmaid’s son, Forrest, was to take over operation and inherit the farm from his grandfather. He served only a short period due to a medical discharge for an asthmatic condition. During the period of time that Forrest and Arnold were away, younger brother, Phil Langmaid, was instrumental in continuing the operation of the village farm. After Forrest’s return, Phil went on to own and manage a successful dairy farm in Goss Hollow for many years. Forrest married Clara McGill on July 24, 1943. They lived in the original farmhouse owned by Forrest’s Uncle Harry Drew, and it was here that Forrest and Clara began to raise their family of four daughters and one son.
At that time, the farm consisted of registered Gurnseys with 40 – 45 head of milking cows. In the earlier days, the smaller herd of his grandfather included cows, pigs and some chickens. Milking was done by hand, the old-fashioned way. The milk was then brought a short distance to the nearby North Danville Creamery to be processed. Folks, such as the late Bill Stanton, could remember seeing buggies lined up from one end of the village to the other to drop off their milk. As electricity became available to the village, milking machines gradually replaced the old-fashioned method, making it more efficient and allowing farms to increase the number of cattle in their herds.
Consequently, more milk was produced and when the North Danville Creamery went out of business, it became necessary to store the milk until it could be transported for processing. Susan Langmaid Lynaugh remembers the milk being stored in tall metal cans and kept cold in a large tank filled with ice. “Each can had a number; ours was #222. This identified the specific farm from where the milk came as well as the farmer to whom it belonged.” The milk then had to be transported by truck to St. Johnsbury near the foot of what is now Bonsai Bridge, a drop-off point for the Cabot Creamery. From there, it was transported by tanker truck to the processing plant in Cabot.
In the early days of the Langmaid farm, the primary crop was hay. After cutting, the hay was lifted onto the wagon with pitchforks and brought to the barn where it was stored loose. Around 1957, they began to bale the hay using a baling machine, and the square bales were rolled to the edges of the field in a straight line. This made it easier for the younger kids to lift the heavy hay bales onto the wagon as the tractor slowly pulled it along. Many kids from in and around the village helped out during the summer, especially during hay season.
Cliff Langmaid worked side by side with his dad, Forrest, following his graduation from Vermont Technical College in 1976 with a degree in Dairy Farm Management. Cliff currently owns and has been operating and managing the farm since his father passed. In 1979, a new stable was added to the original barn on land that was once known as the town square. The old square had a flagpole and bandstand where “back in the day” the North Danville band entertained for regular concerts.
In a recent visit to the Curtis Vance Memorial Orchard in North Danville, several members of the Langmaid family shared information for this article. The late Mary Langmaid Prior, daughter of Forrest and Clara Langmaid, was known as the family historian and understandably so as she was the former president of the Danville Historical Society. After her passing, this important job of keeper of the family history was then inherited by her sister Susan Langmaid Lynaugh, who currently lives with her husband, Dwayne, in a village house just down the street from the family home where she was raised. Linda Vance Langmaid, eldest daughter of Forrest and Clara, is well known in Danville and beyond for her fundraising efforts for the ALS Foundation. All family members take part in championing these efforts to defeat the disease that has affected several members of their family. Jane Langmaid, youngest daughter, is also interested in the family history and continues to research their heritage. She currently lives in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Cliff Langmaid, the only son, inherited the family farm and continues to carry on the tradition of operating and managing the family business. Currently, the dairy farm consists of 150 head of registered Holsteins (75 milk cows, 75 head young stock), 120 acres of tillage grass and 30 acres of corn silage. Working closely with him over the years has been his cousin, Lee Beattie, daughter of Cliff’s uncle, Phil Langmaid, and her son, Plynn Beattie. Plynn, the son of Lee Beattie and Marty Beattie of Danville, is from one of Danville’s century farm families, the McDonald farm that located on Route 2 just east of Danville Green.
In describing their early life on the village farm, Linda and Susan remember while growing up that they were given the choice by their mother, Clara, as to whether they would bring the cows in from the field at milking time or cook supper. They shared that they always chose to cook supper, which is probably the reason that to this day they are both known as two of Danville and North Danville’s finest cooks, respectively! They claim that “little brother” Cliff was never too eager to help out with chores in his early years. It would appear that he is certainly making up for any perceived shortfall by his sisters in the past and is now determined and diligent in sharing his experience and expertise to teach others his knowledge of the family farm. Many other family members and friends have been instrumental in helping out during busy times to help keep the farm running smoothly.
Cliff is very proud of the achievements of his family and their farming heritage and the recent recognition and distinction of being designated a century farm. He works hard to insure that the long tradition of this active farm remains a vibrant business in the heart of North Danville village, one that will hopefully continue to thrive for generations to come.
A note from the author:
I am very pleased to contribute this article on the For-Clifs farm celebrating its designation as a century farm. Given my own family connections, I have a fondness for the North Danville community. I have known and attended school with several members of the Langmaid family over the years and my maternal grandparents, Ernest and Mildred Devenger, stood up with Burl and Ethel Drew Langmaid when they were married. They were also present with them for the celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary.