Ruth Hunt Johnson, a hardworking example of sustainable living
Although I have said “This is the last book,” after writing 11 of them on Camden history, you know I can’t believe what I say. I have in mind quite a project for this winter, of another book called “Who's Who at Mountain View, Vol.2." I have an uncontrollable addiction to save Camden history. In this “maybe” book will be a chapter on the interesting, one of a kind, Howe brothers, Walter and Oscar. Their sister, Alice Ethel, married Merton Leo Hunt, and had two children, Ruth and Ralph Hunt. Today’s article is about Ruth Alice Hunt Johnson.
On Aug. 1, 1914, Ruth was born in the living room of their home. Her grandmother Abbie Howe came to assist, not that she was a midwife, but she always helped when babies were born. Most people were born at home then as Camden did not have a hospital until 1925. Ruth’s brother, Ralph, was born a year later on the 13th of August.
Ruth’s mother, Alice was also born in a living room at the Howe Farm in Camden. Her father, Merton Hunt was born in Thorndike. He had worked for the Howes six months before Ruth’s parents were married. Ruth’s grandmother Abbie was one of 19 children (13 of the same mother before she died in childbirth). The grandfather Wooster married again and had six more. He was certainly was a busy man.
While her grandmother came from a large family, there were no other children around to play with Ruth, so she and her brother did their own thing. They each had a goat, and were allowed to use a sickle anytime to cut hay for their pets. They could not go where the grown-ups were haying. The hay was not good that they were allowed to cut, but the goats will eat anything. She had a china doll, with cloth body, china arms, legs and head. What you wanted, you made (before the days of Walmart). Ruth made a red coat for her doll out of discarded clothing, but it needed a fur collar. So she caught a mouse and skinned him, making a fur collar to sew on the coat.
Ruth grew up on a Maine farm where they had four cows for milk and to make butter. They raised hens, dressed them and were shipped out of state, probably shipped by the “Boston Boat.” Her parents lived one-half mile from the Howe Farm on Howe Hill. Her great grandparents, Jonah and Mary Howe, settled there at first in a log cabin, near a spring for water, when Maine was still part of Massachusetts. The Howe farm was built in 1907 and has the most beautiful view on earth. From that hill is a view of the mountains, the bay and blueberry fields, as far as one can see.
Her grandparents’ life was mostly living off the land. Her grandfather did go to Camden once a week only, when he peddled his butter, and went by oxen. A hundred pounds of sugar was bought in the fall, and flour was by the barrel. They tapped the trees for maple syrup. A scoot with runners would haul barrels on it full of sap. They had a pan that was 3-feet by 6-feet and 12 inches deep that was placed on a brick foundation. The fire beneath was going day and night because it takes 40 quarts of sap to make one quart of maple syrup. They had a good business in that, and some doctors used it to make medicine.
Ice harvesting was from Hobb’s Pond and sometimes Megunticook Lake. They were kept in ice sheds filled with sawdust. Everything was hard work and Ruth was used to seeing it done.
Ralph and Ruth started school in the second grade, but because their mother was a school teacher they were easily brought up to the same level of the others in school. At that time there were many small school houses in Camden, because there were no buses. At the corner of Molyneaux Road and Route 105 was a building called the Mansfield school house. Ruth traveled by horse and wagon, and the wagon had a cover over it. If it were snowing they used a sleigh. The children from Lake City and around Molyneaux had to walk. You took your own tin cup to school and there was a board with cup hooks on it to hang all the dippers. The school was heated by wood that the boys carried in. It was a one room school and when a child had to go to the toilet, there was an outhouse.
When the brick building on Knowlton Street was built around 1931, the small district schools were closed. Camden High School was built in 1904 (now demolished) and Ruth graduated from there. They had to walk the five miles to get to Camden High School and didn’t have lunch because, at that time, school was from eight o’clock in the morning until ten minutes past one o’clock. Later her folks bought them a horse and sleigh to get them there in the winter.
It bothered them and many children from Hope and Lincolnville because they lived on a farm and Camden children they thought knew and had more. I always felt they were smarter than we, because they went to one room school houses and heard lessons given to all ages. Also they worked very hard and were self- sufficient.
Ruth Hunt married Merton Johnson March 23, 1935, at the minister’s parsonage. Her mother did not want a big wedding because Ruth’s father had died two months before. There were four people in the wedding party and to top it off a thunder shower going on. They came home and her mother had some chickens out in a building. Her mother was unable to make a fire for them, so Ruth and her groom gathered up the chicks in wash tubs and clothes baskets and brought them in the living room. Her mother used to say that Ruth and Merton had 300 for their reception – 300 chickens.
Like her parents, Ruth and her husband raised about 4,000 hens. They dressed them and sold them to the “summer people” but they also sold eggs, butter and cream. When the chickens were about a year and a half old, they sold them and put in a new lot. The ones they shipped to Massachusetts were alive. It really was a hard job and a full-time job, but they were used to hard work. They found time to raise vegetables to eat and sell, and had apples, strawberries and pears and raised enough potatoes to eat and sell. Ruth also cooked three or four pies at a time, so they would have pie for lunch and cake for supper.
They raised three nice children: Jarvis, Francina and Juanita. They also had a son, Philip, who died at age two from an operation. The three grew up to be workers and their parents were proud of them. They are all well-known and liked by all in this area.
Merton died Dec. 12, 1984, and Ruth on May 20, 2006. They are both buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Camden, and have left us with a sense of what truly is “living off the land” by hard working people who grew up in Maine.