A Snow Discovery

New genealogical discoveries pull things into focus from time to time, helping to explain who you are and why you live where you do. I made such a discovery two weeks ago, gaining from it new appreciation for a classic upland landscape I’ve frequented for more than a decade, be it walking my dogs, my gun or both.

To be honest, the sequence of events started decades ago when my late grandmother, Marion (Snow) Sanderson, spoke of being raised with her two brothers by their grandmother, Annie (Coburn) Snow of Colrain. That unfortunate development occurred when their mother, Clara (Hayes) Snow, needed occasional respite due to health issues. Although memories of that often abusive grandmother were not fond, Nan Sanderson did speak favorably of the old Snow farm, where father Ralph was born and she as a young girl spent time. She identified the site as Colrain Mountain — which I mistakenly believed to be Catamount — and spoke of her family’s orchards there. Often over the years I asked longtime Colrainites if they knew of a Snow farm on Catamount and the standard response was no, but there were a lot of old cellar holes up there. So I never really pursued it until recently, following a brief discussion with my father.

It doesn’t matter how Dad and I arrived on the subject, and to be honest I don’t recall the precise path, but when I mentioned Colrain as the site of his grandfather’s farm, he corrected me, saying he thought it was in Leyden. That’s what sent my wheels spinning to a shrill hum, having in recent years discovered the beauty of Leyden. It got me wondering whether my pulse ran through the hills I sometimes hunt. So off I went on a discovery mission, one that accelerated like a runaway truck down a steep hill.

The chase started with a phone call to Leyden historian Edith Fisher, moved to a quick scan of Arms’ History of Leyden, phone calls to Robert Snow of Leyden and Edward Snow of Greenfield, then to Charlotte (Snow) Howes of Northfield and Shirley Beaudoin of Bernardston, all related. The probe flowered, bore fruit and explained, at least in my mind, another reason why my seed is planted where it is, at the base of the hills where my Snow ancestors took root.

Little did I know that the serene hillock cemetery behind the brick, one-room, East Colrain schoolhouse my wife so adores is an ancestral resting place. The kin buried there would have clearly passed our old tavern often on their way to and from Greenfield. In fact, they probably stopped frequently during the first half of the 19th century to wet their whistles before climbing the rugged hill home.

No sources I contacted remember the two Snow farms nestled off the north end of Fort Lucas Road. Some recall the lower farm when it belonged to Zak, but no one seems to remember the one less than a quarter-mile uphill from there. Neighboring Shelburne farmer Edwin Graves figures that upper structure must have burned before his day, because he can still picture the lonely chimney standing sentry over the Fort Lucas marker when he went up there many years ago with his father to inspect a potential mowing they declined. Across West Leyden Road a short distance north, Susan (Purington) Smith knew nothing of any Snow farms, but my query did bring new meaning to ”Snow pasture” on her deed. Her octogenarian father, Colrain Assessor Ed Purington, knew Snows had lived there before his time but they had vanished before he arrived in ’41, an abandonment likely precipitated by a haunting 1891 incident that could easily lead to family relocation.

It was Robert Snow who put me on the right track after I shared my grandmother’s description of the Snow orchards. He said that although there were some apple trees on the adjoining Leyden farms once run by his Snow family, they never owned a commercial orchard. ”That would have been the farm on the other side of the (Green) river, in Colrain,” he told me. ”That’s where the Snow orchards were,” and that’s where the suicide occurred on May 24, 1891.

I could find no newspaper confirmation of the tragedy, only a two-line obituary, but family tradition states that a distraught 45-year-old Charles Reed Snow, Annie’s husband, hanged himself in the orchard. Apparently the man had made a bad investment in Zoar copper mines, lost his shirt, and took his life, leaving a wife and five kids, the second eldest my 12-year-old great grandfather. Although difficult to ascertain the absolute accuracy of the story, C.R. Snow’s Colrain death record does list suicide as the cause, he did own an orchard, and there was indeed late 19th-century West County copper speculation that didn’t pan out; so family tradition isn’t too far off.

The large 1858 H.F. Walling wall map of Franklin County shows two dwellings and outbuildings off Forth Lucas Road belonging to A.W. Snow, C.R.’s father. Then, by the time Beers Atlas of Franklin County was published in 1871, the uphill farm had changed hands to D. Snow, presumably David W., son of Asaph Willis Snow and grandson of Col. David Snow, he the builder of the Heath Congregational Church and several other large West County buildings during the first half of the 19th century. In fact, the Colonel himself could have had a hand in building at least one of those Colrain farms, presumably with his sons’ assistance. Sons of building contractors back then would almost certainly have know at least a little of the carpentry trade.

A circa-1930s color snapshot in the Colrain assessors’ files shows the Snow farmhouse as a stately, two-story Federal home in a pastoral setting. Later photos depict what appears to be an aluminum-sided structure falling toward disrepair. Today, all that’s left is a small, plain piece of a building that evokes no hint of the once-tidy farmstead with a one-story ell extending from the rear.

I now know much more about the hilltop behind me than I did before the leaves dropped; and there’s still much to learn about those farms, the people who built them and the soil they tilled; always new stones to turn. So when the weather warms and the snow drains into the Green River, fully exposing the Brick School Cemetery gravestones, I’ll be up there fitting one tiny piece into another, constructing the big picture. I’ll take a walk with my dogs to explore the ancient Fort Lucas site, something I’ve meant to do anyway. And when deciding in the future where to hunt on a given day, this new spot will be among my favorites, right up there with my Whately ancestral haunts.

It’s about karma, a profound sense a place. Those who never experience it suffer a void, a murky existential abyss, because walking your ancestors’ footsteps makes everything infinitely more interesting.

And in this case, with the light and wind just right, maybe even a tad spooky.

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