By Amanda Sessel Legare
Walt Goodrich was born 89 years ago in the same East Cabot house he lives in today. His mother, Inez Abbott Goodrich, was also born in that house (1897-1983) as was his grandmother, Flora Reed Abbot (1877-1958).
Seven generations of the Goodrich/Abbott family have farmed the hillside along Route 2. With its fields planted in contrasting strips of crops to control erosion, Molly Brook Farm is one of the most photographed areas of the state.
The farm’s herd of Jerseys has been on DHIA test continuously since 1910, the longest of any herd in Vermont. All the Jerseys on the farm have been registered since 1917.
“Right after World War I, cattle were high priced and a dealer wanted to buy our whole herd,” Walt explained. “Grandpa put the price up so high he never thought he’d get it, but he did.”
The herd was sold and registered Jerseys were purchased from a farm in Woodbury (located at the former home of Hugo Myers).
“Grandfather and father drove them home on horseback,” Walt said. Descendants of those cows are still on the farm today.
“As a kid we had an open stable upstairs in the barn and the manure would go underneath,” he remembered. The barn was rebuilt many times over the years. The government paid farmers to raise pigs and at one point, Walt’s family had 300 of them. They also had 300 hens and sold hatching eggs to a business that picked them up weekly at the farm and took them to Massachusetts. His grandfather relied on horses for farm work and transportation.
“Something was said to Gramp one time about cars and he said, ‘Well, they’ll have them in the cities, but they’ll never have them out in the hills here’,” Walt said.
Walt went to East Cabot School until it closed and then he rode a horse five miles to Cabot School in the village.
“When the local school was going we did all kinds of activities including box suppers,” he remembered. “Now hang, we don’t ever see our neighbors.”
The family cut ice at Molly’s Pond and stored it in shavings in a make-shift ice house at the farm.
“Gramp used to make butter all winter. They put it in these boxes and put it in the cold and then when spring come they’d load all the boxes on the train and take them to Boston and sell them,” he said. “The first time Gramp and Gram went to Boston they landed there in the middle of the day and course everything was just a booming and people going everywhere. Gramp says ‘Abbie, we’ll set down in the park here. Everybody I think is going home to dinner and when things settle down we’ll go.’ They set there half the afternoon and finally had to face up that the crowd was normal.”
Walt’s father, Wendell Goodrich, was considered an expert horseman and locals brought difficult animals to him to break. “Dad said you have to know more than a horse before you can train them,” Walt recalled.
But Wendell’s preferred animals for working on the farm were mules. “Dad thought they were smarter than horses. They could take care of themselves, they were tough,” he said.
When Walt was 20 years old he went on a blind date with Sally McCutcheon, a 17-year-old girl from St, Johnsbury who lived with her grandparents. “My grandfather was a banker and I liked going to visit farms. At the time, I was more interested in horses than I was in cows,” she remembered.
The plan was to go swimming at Crystal Lake in Barton with friends, but Sally had an allergic reaction to some bug bites before the date and was covered with a rash. She wore a white shirt buttoned to the neck and did not go swimming. “I hoped he wouldn’t notice.” she said.
“I was scared to death,” he said laughing. “I still am.”
Two years later, they married and that was 67 years ago. They had six sons, three of whom are still living in Cabot: Glenn, Jim and Myles Goodrich.
Besides farming Walt held many jobs. In 1950, he had a milk route where he picked up 100-pound milk cans from 18 farms.
“When you handle the cans all the time they’re no big job at all,” he said. One of the farmers, Dave Middleton in Lower Cabot, would dry off his herd for hunting season. Walt drove the first grader for the town and also drove the first school bus in town. He was a school director for six years.
In 1954, Walt had a serious accident on the farm. “A crawler tried to run over my face,” he remembered. “It didn’t do much for the tractor,” he said, “but it did hurt my head.” The side of his face was crushed and the swelling caused by the broken bones was so bad nothing could be done for a week.
“I was fortunate. The doctor I had at Dartmouth had worked on the front line in World War II. He knew how to treat this kind of injury. I had wires coming out of my eye and cheek attached to a coat hanger around my neck. “
Walt’s father, Wendell, was a founding director of the Cabot Creamery and they were one of six families to put their farm up as collateral for loans to start the Creamery in 1919. Walt was a director of the Creamery when they merged with Agri-Mark in 1992.
Over the years, Sally and Walt built up a jersey herd that became known internationally. Their Jersey cattle rank among the very best in North America and they have received many honors. In 1987, they were named Vermont’s Dairy Farm of the year and in 2002 they won the U.S. Distinguished Cattle Breeder Award from the National Dairy Shrine Award in Wisconsin.
Myles Goodrich is the seventh generation to live and work the 565-acre family farm. He and his wife Rhonda have been turning Molly Brook Farm into an organic dairy farm and the first official load of organic milk will be shipped Jan. 1, 2018.
“Things are changing,” Walt mused. “I can tell you about the past, but I can’t tell you about the future.”