This is the
place to find information on THE LIFE OF
A PLODDER: FRED GORTON'S 95 YEARS
compiled by his granddaughter, Kathy Lynn Gorton Emerson.
Interested in the history of the Liberty, New York area
from the 1870s through the 1970s?
Or this branch of the Gorton family?
This is the book for you.
THE LIFE OF A PLODDER is now available as an e-book, available to purchase from all the usual e-book stores for $3.99. The e-book edition has been updated with corrections and clarifications and a few new photographs. Here is a link to a page with links to those stores. I'm hoping to make a print edition available sometime in 2021.
When he was in his eighties, Fred Gorton wrote his autobiography as a series if essays. After his death, his granddaughter inherited those handwritten pages, edited them, and distributed the result to Fred's family members. Later she expanded the manuscript, adding some background about the area Fred lived in and a few notes to clarify things he got wrong, and made the text available to the general public on her webpage. Now, for the first time, this expanded and updated edition is available in book format.
Fred Gorton was interested in the doings of his neighbors, as well as in the things that directly affected his family, making this a treasure trove for genealogists and historians alike. His memories provide a firsthand look at the town of Liberty, New York, its citizens, and its environs from the mid-1870s through the mid-1960s. At the heart of the Sullivan County Catskills, Liberty was a center for tourism in those years and Fred's stories touch on both the tradition of the farm-boardinghouse and the ways local people made ends meet in the off-season. As a self-described "plodder" he worked as everything from a farmhand to the first RFD carrier for Ferndale, New York, delivering mail with a horse-drawn buggy and later in a Model T. One of his side jobs was making piecework picture frames with "Liberty, NY" painted on them to sell to tourists. Anyone interested in life in small-town America from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century will find something to savor in the story of Fred Gorton's ninety-five years.
Words of praise for THE LIFE OF A PLODDER from Sullivan County Historian, John Conway:
The historian, Joseph A. Amato wrote that it takes a collaboration, "an unlikely marriage between the professional and the amateur" to give birth "to an invigorated genre of local history." Fred Gorton's writing is proof of that. Here, his original words, only slightly edited for clarity, provide the unmistakable sense of place that is so critical to the appreciation of the history of any locality. This is indispensable reading for anyone with the desire to know what rural America was like during this important time in our history.
Here's an excerpt from The Life of a Plodder from 1896, containing the story of Fred's first girlfriend and why they broke up. Fred's exact words. from his memoirs, are in italics.
On July 7, 1896, Fred's opportunity to escape came. One Charles Calkins (Jan. 1, 1872-Nov. 22, 1956; Harris, N.Y.), farmhand for Miss Martha Reeves, came to Old Hickory to ask Gill if he had a boy who wanted a job. Fred was quick to offer himself at $17.00 a month for four months if washing as well as board was included. The farm was in Orange County, between Middletown and the little hamlet of Slate Hill, and Fred got on the train at the Strongtown crossing without saying goodbye to anyone, not even his sister Janette, who had put a little Testament in his luggage. She wrote to him quite often while he was away, but he didn't pay much attention to her advice or her Bible.
Miss Reeves was about fifty years old and owned the 110 acre farm and a locked shed in Middletown. Fred tied the horse there when he took her into the town to do her shopping. The farm, which was known for its chestnut, black walnut, and butternut trees, housed thirty cows and a dog named Hubert who helped herd. Most of the work, however, was done by the three hired men—Fred, Calkins, and Will Freeman. They were up at 5AM to milk, did the haying, cut corn, and raised wheat which they took to the mill to be ground into flour. They were rarely done until 7 at night.
The David Reeves farm cornered with Martha Reeves's place and for a time Fred called on Cora Calkins there, but Cora called him a little fraud and laughed at him. She never went out with him and later married Fred Bengel. Martha Reeves's hired girl was Grace McIntosh (m. John Van Allen of Middletown), a redhead, and when her sister Hattie (d. Sept. 18, 1963 @ 88; Mrs. George Alexandria), who had glaring black hair, and a friend, came to visit her, Fred and Will Freeman took them to Midway Park to a show that evening. Afterwards the girls suggested we go for a walk out in the woods apart from anyone, which we did. Hattie suggested we separate, but both of us being timid souls didn't know the score, so we stood around for awhile and took the girls back to their homes in Middletown in the trolley, then returned to the farm, about two miles out of Middletown. The girls must have thought we were either dumb or afraid of the outcome.
As the summer wore on, Fred became quite attached to Grace McIntosh. He called her "Huckleberry" because once, when Miss Reeves sent him to find out why she hadn't returned, he met her by the berry patch and grabbed her.
I used to hug her front to front when no one was looking. I was eighteen and never had but one girl I was intimate with. I liked Grace very much but was too shy to ask her my heart's desire and she mostly pushed me away if I got too fresh. She was too strong to be pushed over so I realized nothing doing. As she was the age of marriage she was after a husband and kept herself straight. She expected to get one of the three young men who worked at the farm.
She had a pet name for him, too, and her girlfriends called him "beautiful teeth" behind his back. Fred and Grace had their picture taken together.
On September 11, 1896, Will Freeman and I went on an excursion to Coney Island. It cost $1.00 for the round trip. We rode in the chute and landed in a pond below. When we came on the grounds we met two women with bare legs clear up. You can guess what that done to me! We had our picture taken for twenty-five cents with two strange girls.
They were all in bathing suits. When Grace saw that photo she was offended and that was the end of her friendship with Fred. She wouldn't have anything more to do with Will Freeman, either. Fred kept both the photograph of himself and Grace and the one with the two "pickups."
The photo of Grace is included in The Life of A Plodder. The quality of the other picture was too poor to use in the book, but I can include it here as "added content." I'll be adding other photos on this page from time to time.
Questions? Contact Kathy or send written comments to:
Kathy Lynn Emerson
P.O. Box 156
Wilton, ME 04294
Kathy Lynn Emerson
is a writer by profession and the author of
a number of novels and non-fiction books.