On June 11, the 2010 Ypsilanti Crossroads Summer Festival featured a rousing opening set from roots and blue grass band Dragon Wagon.
Dragon Wagon was joined on...read more
“A hen is a philosophical creature,” 51-year-old Ypsilanti farmer Emma Campbell informed the Farmers’ Institute meeting at Lansing’s Agricultural College (MSU) in 1905.
She continued, “[Said hen] will make herself fairly comfortable whether she has a house or not; she will sleep on the back seat of your buggy, perhaps she will perch on your plow handles, or on the lilac over the well; she will hobnob with her cronies on your front porch and will enjoy life very well.”
A locally well-known agricultural speaker, the New York-born Emma and her Michigan-born husband John lived on a 264-acre farm whose onetime acreage is now partially occupied by Lincoln Consolidated Schools. John had inherited the farm from his Scottish-born father Robert. The property was purchased by Robert’s mother Elizabeth McConachie Campbell.
In 1880, shortly before Robert died, the farm featured 160 tilled acres, 74 acres of pasture and 30 of woods. From Robert’s 22 cows came 500 pounds of butter a year. He owned 277 sheep, which yielded 1,662 pounds of wool. He also had 10 hogs, a 4-acre apple orchard of 160 trees and acres of oats, wheat, potatoes and Indian corn. And 40 hens.
“[The hen] responds to care and will pay for a home of her own,” said Emma. “However, since she is not fastidious, an inexpensive house will answer. Having no aesthetic taste to satisfy, all we will need to study is how to make the hen comfortable.”
Emma offered housing tips. “There are just three essentials to a good hen-house: Ventilation without draft, warmth without moisture, and cleanliness. Hens will quarrel for the high seats and for the back seats. A wagon wheel makes a good perch as all the seats are alike; no high, no low, no front, no back.”
Chickens have been part of Ypsilanti history since the wagon wheels of the 38 total settlers in Washtenaw County in 1824 converged on Woodruff’s Grove for a Fourth of July feast. The diners feasted on sweet rice pudding, raisin cakes, biscuits with butter and honey, new potatoes, peas, beets, roast beef and roasted chickens.
Toasts followed with hot sling, a drink made of hot lemonade with whiskey.
Emma recommended hen-keepers maintain a salad bar for their chickens. “Near [the henhouse] should be a plot sown to buckwheat, one to peas and oats and one to sunflowers; these are for the hens to harvest at their discretion. A small field of wheat should be near by to furnish green food for fall, winter and spring.”
Regarding pests, Emma said “[T]he hens will keep themselves clean if you give them a good dust bath. I have found a good material for a dust bath to be bean dust. The dust left on the threshing floor after beans are threshed, made partly of the grit from the roots but mostly of the powdered leaves, is a fine, permeating dust that no louse can live in.”
She concluded, “[T]here are just two essential qualifications of a good poultry raiser: industry and perseverance.”
Emma was familiar with perseverance. Her upbeat talk concealed tragedy. By the time she gave this speech at age 51, Emma had lost six of her nine children. Five died between 1884 and 1894, when Emma was in her 30s. Her last child, Robert Jennings, was born when Emma was nearly 50. He, along with daughters Annie and Alice, were the three who lived.
Her portrait suggests a steady and hard-working character. Emma outlived her husband, who died in 1913. The 1915 plat map shows the property as still listed under John’s name but now labeled “New Lauriston Farm.” “Lauriston Farm” was the name of John’s grandfather’s farm in Scotland.
By 1920, the inhabitants of the farm were 25-year-old Jennings, his wife Alice, a 25-year-old helper named Mary Leather and 65-year-old Emma.
Emma was never a famous person. She participated in the Stony Creek Presbyterian Church and the local farmers’ grange and tended her family and farm. Her talk on chickens is one small excerpt from the long history of the bird in Ypsilanti.
Emma died in 1927 at age 73. Funeral services were held at the farmhouse. She and John are buried in Highland Cemetery.