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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A bit of Southside History: Waushakum Farm



Edward Lewis Sturtevant (1842-1898) and Waushakum Farm – Framingham farmer, botanist, physician and author, was one of the giants of his time in the science of agriculture. In 1867, E. Lewis Sturtevant together with his brothers, Joseph N. Sturtevant and Thomas L. Sturtevant purchased 200 acres at Waushakum Pond in South Framingham, Massachusetts. The farm soon became famous, under the name “Waushakum Farm,” for a series of brilliant experiments in agriculture.

     The immediate concern of the Sturtevant brothers, however, was the development of a model dairy farm of Ayrshire cattle. Waushakum Farm soon became the home of this breed. Several scientific aspects of this work with Ayrshires are worth noting. Milk records of the herd and of individual animals, covering many milking periods, were kept and still constitute, according to dairymen of our day, a most valuable contribution to dairying.
     But even in these first days on Waushakum Farm, the Ayrshires did not occupy all of his time. Indian corn attracted Sturtevant from the first. No sooner had he settled on Waushakum Farm than he began a botanical and cultural study of maize which he continued to the time of his death. The first fruits of his work with corn was the introduction of an improved variety of Yellow Flint, the new sort being called “Waushakum.” Breeding this new variety was a piece of practical work that brought Waushakum Farm more prominence in agriculture than any of his scientific work, “scientific farming” at that time not being in high repute with tillers of the soil.

One of Dr. Sturtevant’s Ayrshire cows. Dr. Sturtevant kept meticulous breeding records of each of his cattle. Click on photo to read his historic book, “The Dairy Cow.”

     To Sturtevant is given the credit of having built the first lysimeter in America. This instrument, to measure the percolation of water through a certain depth of soil, was put in on the Waushakum Farm in 1875.
     As the years advanced, he put more and more energy in the rapidly growing field of agricultural research until finally experimentation came to claim most of his attention. His eminence in research on Waushakum Farm brought him many opportunities to speak and write on agricultural affairs, in which work his facile pen and ready speech greatly enhanced his reputation as an experimenter.
     In 1882, the Board of Control of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, located at Geneva, New York, selected him Director of the Station, an institution just created by the State Legislature, and asked him to organize the work. Dr. Sturtevant asserted that the function of a Station was to “discover, verify and disseminate.” He saw clearly from the very first the need of well-established fundamental principles in agriculture and set his staff at the work of discovering principles. His scientific work on Waushakum Farm had taught him that there were many possible errors in prevailing experimental work, and he at once set about determining their source and the best means of minimizing them. During his stay at the New York Station, in several reports he urged the importance of learning how to experiment, how to interpret results and pointed out errors in certain kinds of experimentation.
     In 1887, Dr. Sturtevant gave up his charge of the Station at Geneva and returned to the old home at South Framingham. But the opportunity for experimental work on Waushakum Farm had passed. The city had encroached upon the country, and where had been pastures and farm fields were now town lots and dwellings. The inclination for research which throughout his life had animated Sturtevant, now took the turn, more than ever, of research in books. Near the old home, into which he moved with his family, he housed his library in a small building and set to work.
     Born in Boston, January 23, 1842, the line of descent runs from Samuel, the first Sturtevant in America, who landed in Plymouth in 1642, through generations living in Plympton and Wareham, Massachusetts. Dr. Sturtevant’s father was born in Winthrop, Maine in 1810 but later moved to Boston. His mother was Mary Haight Leggett from a family of fighting Quakers who settled at West Farm, New York, about 1700.

E. Lewis Sturtevant photo in 1860 at age 18. Sturtevant entered the Union army in September, 1861, as First Lieutenant of Company G, 74th Regiment of Maine Volunteers. The following January he became Captain of his company. Company G was a part of the 19th Army Corps which, during Captain Sturtevant’s service in it, was stationed on the lower Mississippi where, possibly, its most important work was the siege of Port Hudson. A part of Sturtevant’s time in the army was spent on the staff of General Nickerson, 3d Brigade, 2d Division, serving with the rank of Captain. Possibilities of further service, higher promotion, or, on the other hand, death or wounds on the battle field, were cut short by an attack of typhoid malaria which so incapacitated him that he returned home in 1863, his career in the army ended.

     Dr. Sturtevant’s wedded life began in 1864 when he married Mary Elizabeth Mann. To this happy union were born four children, two sons and two daughters, the wife and mother dying in 1875. In 1883, he again married taking as his wife Hattie Mann, sister to the first wife. By this marriage there was one son.
     Dr. Sturtevant’s colleagues at Geneva, to several of whom the writer is indebted for much information, speak of the devotion of the husband and father to his family and say that he rarely sought companionship outside the home circle and that, on their part, mother and children were devoted to the head of the household and constantly gave him substantial help in his work. The eldest daughter, Grace Sturtevant, talented with pencil and brush, made the drawings and colored sketches to illustrate her father’s writings on peppers and sweet potatoes, while those of maize, published in the Report of the New York Station for 1884, were done by Mrs. Sturtevant.

1893 map showing development of homes on land formerly called Waushakum Farm. By the 1890's, Dr. Sturtevant was becoming ill, farming was waning, South Framingham was prospering and there was an increasing need for homes. The land was subdivided into many lots and gradually homes were built. Dr. Sturtevant died in 1898.
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     In 1893, Dr. Sturtevant was a victim of one of the epidemics of grippe which each returning winter ravaged the country. He never fully recovered from this attack and his health began to fail until shortly it was found that tuberculosis had secured firm hold. With the hope that the disease might be thrown off, three winters were passed in California with temporary but not permanent relief. July 30, 1898, he passed away. It was a fitting death; he passed quietly to sleep in the old home on Waushakum Farm to which his work had given distinguished name.
--George Lewis
Sturtevant family interment at Edgell Grove Cemetery
More reading about Southside:

A bit of Southside History: Most famous 19th-century woman inventor
Margaret E. Knight (February 14, 1838 – October 12, 1914) was an American inventor. She lived at 287 Hollis Street at the corner of Charles Street in Southside. She has been called "the most famous 19th-century woman inventor" having been the first woman to be awarded a United States Patent. Margaret Knight held a total of eighty-seven U.S. Patents.