HARTLAND – Hand-knit wool baby clothes, report cards from the nearby one-room cobblestone schoolhouse and treasured vintage wedding photos – these are a few mementos that remain after flames destroyed an approximately 200-year-old homestead on Easter.
But hardy Prudom Farms descendants – now into their fifth generation on the land that straddles Carmen Road for nearly 150 acres – vow to continue working the farm and delivering the fresh fruits and vegetables and other goods they are known for.
They are also trying to recover remnants of their past while they make plans to rebuild among the ashen ruins at 2570 Carmen.
Anonymous friends have set up an account at KeyBank to collect donations for the rebuilding project, perhaps knowing that the Prudom family did not have insurance to cover the cost.
“It took us aback,” Linda Prudom Wilson said of the charitable account. She grew up in the Prudom homestead and now lives across the street with her husband, Bill. “We could hardly believe that someone would do this for us,” she said.
Wilson is thankful that no one was injured in the fire but still hopes her family will be able to salvage more heirlooms from the wreckage.
“It’s heartbreaking more than anything,” said Wilson, who also serves as secretary of the Hartland Historical Society. “The thing that hurts is to lose the keepsakes because there’s no way to replace them.”
Wilson recalled the day of the fire at the farmhouse where her brother Winston, 72, and a hired man, Kenneth Hallifax, had lived.
Her family had just left the Easter dinner table and was helping clear the table, while some relatives walked across the street to care for the many animals they keep in barns and pastures there.
“All of a sudden, the hired man came running out yelling, ‘The house is on fire,’ and he had a fire extinguisher,” Wilson said.
“I heard him yelling. They tried to put it out, but they couldn’t do anything with it.”
Volunteer fire companies from Middleport, Hartland, Shelby, Barker and Wrights Corners responded, but the house was destroyed.
The Prudoms had recently transferred ownership from Winston to his great-niece, Stacey McAvoy, 28, who hadn’t “picked up the insurance yet,” according to Wilson, who is McAvoy’s grandmother.
“It’s difficult for farmers to get insurance when they start a new policy with new names on it, and we were in the process of doing that,” Wilson said.
The family thinks the fire started “in the wiring,” she said, “up in the ceiling near the fluorescent lights. We had planned to work on the wiring next month.”
The family lost generations worth of mementos.
“My grandparents’ things, my parents’ things, my brother Winston’s things – they were all in that house,” Wilson said. “That’s what hurts the most.
“We’ve found a few pictures, a few baby things that my mother had in a cedar chest, and the chest somehow ended up outside of the house,” she said. “They were soaking wet, but we’re trying to dry them out. My baby book and both of my brothers’ baby books were in there. And a few report cards from when I went to the one-room schoolhouse that I didn’t realize my mother had kept.
“My sister already had the family Bible – it was my great-grandmother’s – and I have a special dish here that was willed to my grandmother by her sister-in-law, but there were a lot of antiques in that house, like marble-top tables, a secretary, a china cabinet and a bed set with a headboard that went all the way to the ceiling. But what can you do?”
Wilson said her relatives have been sifting through the ruins looking for anything else that might be salvageable, but because she uses a walker, she has been unable to go across the street to see it herself. Her brother Winston and their employee, Hallifax, have been staying with the Wilsons.
Wilson said that many of her family members work on the farm, which covers land on both sides of Carmen, from Seaman Road to Rose Road, growing vegetables, fruit, hay and a little grain. Firefighters saved the barns that day by soaking them, and were able to move all of the animals to safety, which include a herd of beef cattle with 10 calves, about 40 sheep and lambs, and five pigs.
“It was just the house we lost, thank God,” she said.
The house was already there when Wilson’s father, Herbert, moved there as a baby with his parents around 1913, Wilson said.
“We think the house was built in the early 1800s,” she said. “The house was handed down through the family.”
Wilson’s granddaughter, Stacey McAvoy, said that she has a deed that dates from Holland Land Co. and that the house had actually been rebuilt in 1848 – following a fire.
“I haven’t even calculated the total loss here yet,” McAvoy said. “Because we didn’t have insurance, I have to use estimates and appraisals and adjust for inflation.
“We had commercial equipment in the building in back that we used to sell meats and cheeses. We didn’t butcher animals here – we sent them out to be butchered – but we had the equipment to make sausage and sell deli meats, etcetera. We hadn’t done that in a while, but we were just about to get back into it, and we were planning to replace the electric next month. That’s the ironic story of my life.”
Lynne McAvoy, Stacey’s mother, said she herself has worked the farm since she was a young teenager, helping her uncle Winston and grandfather. Lynne McAvoy said that the family operates a large stand on Carmen and that she and her daughter deliver to local markets from June to late October and offer “just about anything you see in a seed catalog.”
Her daughter added, “We probably won’t do as many of the local markets this year as we usually do, because we’ll be busy trying to rebuild here, and we’ll have to prioritize, but we will still have a lot of produce available, and we should be able to have a fairly productive season.”
Anyone wishing to help finance the rebuilding project may donate at any KeyBank branch or at the Prudom Farms Benefit Fund, c/o KeyBank, 5688 S. Transit Road, Lockport, NY 14094-5845, or by visiting www.PrudomFarms.com.