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Elsie Manzoni tells what it was like to grow up on a farm in Coram. Do you have a story that you would like to tell? You can write it yourself or let us ask questions and we will edit it for you.

Growing Up in Coram

By,

Elsie Manzoni


   Traveling down Mill Road in Coram one can spot a small Cape Cod house sitting on the east side of the road. At a quick glance it appears no different from thousands of other Post World War II Cape Cod homes.  To the casual passer by this house appears to be ordinary, but…if the rafters could talk, they would have quite the story to tell.

 The Manzoni rafters could tell the story of how the house was built in the 1740’s by the Reverend Noah Hammond who left Connecticut to serve as the Baptist Minister at Coram. This home was used as the Church’s meeting place until a church could be built. Hammond was an ardent Patriot, and had two sons who served in the local militia during the American Revolution. Colonel Talmadge, as ordered by General Washington, passed by this house on his way to destroy 300 tons of hay collected at Coram for use by the British cavalry. Eventually the home was purchased by the Higbies. The photo used in this story shows Mr. and Mrs. Higbie. Mrs. Higbie is wearing the dress she wore to the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln. The house was bought in the early 1900s by the Manzoni family and following is a story by Elsie Manzoni.

  My Mother Isolina Bocchi Manzoni came to New York City from Italy in 1923. My Father Louis Manzoni came to the United States from Italy in 1922. They met in New York City and were married in 1924.

 Louis and Isolina purchased the house, barn and 4 ½ acres of land in Coram in 1927 for $1,500 from Grace Higbie. They had saved $500., borrowed $500 and the Higbie family held a mortgage for $500. The Manzoni family owned the house and farm until 2002 (75 years).  Louis and Isolina had two children Lino (Lee) and Elsie (me)-

 The appearance of the house is very similar to the picture below. The shape on the outside is the same, but we put asbestos shingles on the outside, put a picture window in, and inside we remodeled quite a bit, making rooms smaller, put in a full modern kitchen, put in a bathroom, laundry room, made rooms upstairs, changed doorways, put in closets , etc.  As we were dismantling one of the fire places we came across a hidden area that we had not known was there.  My brother Lee and I got all excited thinking that there might be some papers in there from the past that would give us more of an insight on what the people  were like who had lived there.  Unfortunately the box inside was empty.  We were very disappointed. 

Hammond Higbie home circa 1900                                                                         Manzoni house 2006

 One of the things that was very interesting to me were the walls inside the house that partitioned the rooms.  The inside walls were made of two rows (or wall) of wood boards.  In between the wood boards there were some wood logs  (in place of 2 by 4's) but it  was also  filled with stone, sand, and anything else they could find around the farm and mixed with water...then stuffed in-between the two rows of wood boards that made the walls.  That was very interesting especially to my brother and I.  That the builders were so ingenious to use everything at hand to make the house stronger, warmer and quieter.  It was like having  insulation between the walls separating the rooms.  There is still one wall that I can think of, that is still there underneath the more modern look of today.   Every time I reminisce about being born and growing up in that house, I feel like I was part of history. 

 

  And of course we put in running water and a heating system with baseboard heat. At the time that we were living in it we all wanted a more modern, efficient house, but now I am sorry that we even touched it. It would have been great to have the house in the original state today.

 The structure has old logs that supported the walls that still had stump parts where the branches used to be. We put a basement under the house and now you can actually see the logs better from underneath.

 For many years we did not have electricity or telephones. We got the telephone around 1939, although electricity came a little bit earlier. In the early years we used lanterns with white gas in them for lighting, and a large wood burning stove for cooking. That stove made the best bread that I have ever tasted. We did not have running water inside the house. Our heat came from 2 fireplaces and the wood burning stove.

 The three trees out in front of the house near the road we took down years ago, but the two Locust trees on the east side of the house are still there.

 Even though it was hard times during the depression years that started in 1929, both my Father and Mother thought of many ingenious ways to survive and feed their family. They were not afraid of hard work and both did a lot of it. In the early years My Father worked in New York City doing construction work while my Mother stayed at the farm with the two children and tended to the few animals (a cow and some chickens) and a large garden, which helped to give them extra food. Soon co- workers asked my Father to bring them some of the fresh eggs from his farm. This eventually grew into a door to door 2 day egg route in New York City. My Mother also had a summer Boarding House for children from New York City. Because of the depression, these mothers had to work and could not look after the children during the summer months.  It was also company for the two Manzoni children as they were growing up. 

 
Aerial view of the Manzoni farm.

Around 1932 when my brother Lee was about seven we had a very heavy deep snow storm. Because my folks were adults, their weight made them sink every time they tried to walk in the snow. This made it almost impossible for them to even go to take care of the animals, let alone walk any great distance. Because Mill Road was impassable, we were concerned about our neighbors Andrew and Palma Pinelli who also had two small children Gloria and Albert. (remember neither of us had electric or telephones at that time). Fortunately the top of the snow had frozen fairly hard and made a light crust on top. My brother decided at seven that he was light enough to walk on top of the snow to go to the Pinelli house. We tied two pieces of board to his shoes and legs. My parents were very worried about him going beyond where we could see him because if he would have fallen in the snow, we would not have known it and it would have been very difficult for my parents to get to him. When the Pinelli family heard a knock on their door and saw this small boy standing there, they had tears in their eyes that he would have attempted this trip in such bad weather in order to check on their safety. Luckily he made it to the Pinelli house and back safely with the news that they were all fine.

 Living on a farm was a tremendous help in raising our family. We had vegetables from our garden. Milk and cheese from the cows, and eggs from the chickens. We also raised a pig every year, which we bartered with a butcher friend, who came and slaughtered the pig, and cut it up into roasts and chops, salami, sausage, etc. that would last us over the winter. In exchange we gave him half of the pig.

 As the farm grew, we needed more property for the cows to graze on. Therefore we purchased a large piece of land that was connected to the original farm, just east of it. In latter years we also purchased a large piece of property across the street from the farm, which was owned by the Higbie family. We had two dogs Spotty & Queeny who were mixed breeds with Australian Shepard in them. They were great at rounding up all the 100 cows to make sure they all came in for milking. We had to stop the cars on Mill Road to let the cows come safely across the street. People did not mind the wait in their cars as they enjoyed seeing the parade of cows crossing.

 While we had the dairy business, we had 5 trucks that delivered milk and milk products "door-to-door" directly to your home.  People could also come to the farm and purchase the milk and milk products.  This was especially helpful when the Unionized Milk Delivery workers went on strike.  No milk was delivered to the stores by them.  People came from all over Long Island to our farm to buy milk for their babies and young children. 

 My brother Lee was a very smart man and as he got to be a teenager, was very instrumental in enlarging the farm and building the Dairy business.  He also knew how to do carpentry, plumbing, heating and some electrical work.  This was a tremendous asset in remodeling the house, enlarging the barn, etc.  He also built most of his own home which was located at one end of the farm.

 After Supermarkets came to our area, the door-to-door milk delivery service was not needed any more.  That is when my Father and Lee sold the cows and Dairy Routes, and the barn was then rented to someone who used it to house horses.  My brother Lee then turned to Real Estate and opened his own office in Middle Island.  Later it was moved to Mt. Sinai where his son Raymond owns and runs it to this day.

 I have some fond memories of growing up  on a farm, although it was a lot of hard work.  Even when we were older we were never able to go on vacation because there were always animals that had to be taken care of.  In the early depression years we had very, very little, but so did everyone else.  Everyone was poor in those days but we didn't realize it.  We were happy.  I think that we grew up in the best times.  We didn't have much, but we had love and each other.  And we were always there to help one another.   It was a good life.

  There was a small schoolhouse on Mt Sinai Road (right behind the old Davis (Judge Davis) homestead.  I went there for one year.  Then went to another school house (Next to the Coram Firehouse that has been preserved).  I went there for 2 years.  I was very young when I went to the one room school house (1st, 2nd and 3rd grade) but it was wonderful because everyone helped one another. The older children would help the younger slower child with the school work.  And because there were no bathrooms inside the school the older kids would help the younger ones (especially in the winter months) get completely bundled up to go to the outside bathroom called the "Outhouse".  Many times an other boy (for the boys), or as older girl (for the girls) would accompany the younger children and help them with the heavy clothing and boots, etc.   It was almost like having an extended family in school.  Everyone knew each other and helped one another (adults and children alike) when possible.  It was wonderful.  Many of us are still friends to this day even though we have all gotten married, and many moved away from Coram. 

 Then all the surrounding towns went to Port Jefferson Elementary and High School in Port Jefferson.  That is where I went for the remainder of my elementary years and my high school years, graduating in 1948. 

 The life in Coram was very rural but fun.  Everyone knew one another and that made it extremely friendly.  Everyone helped one another.  We did some bartering in the yearly years, if we could, because no one had much money during the depression years.  The children went to 4H classes where the young girls learned about homemaking, and the boys learned about farming.

  Children did not have store bought toys.  They improvised and made their own toys.  We used a Straight stick for a bat and if someone was lucky enough to have a ball, we had a baseball game.  We got one of the old cans from our mothers cooking, and made a game out of it called "kick the can".  We borrowed, from whoever was fortunate enough to have something (ice skates or roller skates, bicycles, etc) whether they fit or not.  We played cards.  But we were never bored because we also all had chores to do at home.  Everyone helped no matter how old you were or what sex you were.

  
Elsie Manzoni with friend Mary Pinotti

We loved to play card games but the boys didn't want to play unless there was one of these "punishments" for the loser.

One “punishment” was what we called "Knuckles".  The loser would have to make a fist with his hands and the winner would "slap " or "skin" the knuckles with a full deck of cards.  Depending on how badly you lost, is how many times you got skinned.  That hurt.

 Another "punishment" was--- the loser had to bend their arm closed as much as they could, and the winner would make a continuous circle movement with the palm of his hand over the hair on your arm at the elbow joint.  This made your hair go into knots and it was then very difficult for you to open your arm again.  That also hurt very much.  The boys would sometimes love to play that trick on an unexpectant adult male because their hair was longer and would really get knotted. 

 We also played "Cowboy and Indians in the woods across the street.  That was fun because we actually had some of the Indian or Soldier trenches that they  once used.  We could hide in those trenches very well. 

 We also played the game "Tag"  One person was picked to be "It" and that person had to run around after the rest of the kids and have to "tag" someone.  The person that was "tagged" would then be "It".  Sometimes this happened so fast that you were not sure who was "It" and therefore not know who to stay away from.  You would be "tagged" because you would not know that person was "It" at that time.   

 Written by,
Elsie Manzoni
August, 2006

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