We often tend to romanticize the past and see it as quaint or charming, but in the old days existence was a struggle and life was hard. In many ways, life then was all about the food. Children “going hungry” were not uncommon. Not so long ago, few acres of ground to grow food had real value.
As described last week, some of the immigrants from Eastern Europe, who arrived in great waves around the turn of the last century, found their way to the small farms of the New Hanover area.
Among these were Anna and John Suloman whose son Joseph and his wife Ethel in 1971 founded Sulomans’ Milk Store on Leidy Road. Born in Hungary in 1897, Anna’s ship arrived January 30, 1908. There are no records of John Suloman’s arrival. They were married in 1915 at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, Pottstown, and settled in Stowe until they moved to New Hanover.
John Suloman worked at Flaggs and bought the Leidy Road farm in 1923. The house and barn there are close to 200 years old. The Sulomans are led to believe there was a log house on the site before the current house was built. Like most people who bought these small farms, he continued to work “in town”; but with three boys, Joe, John, and George and a daughter Pearl, there was plenty of help for the farm work. John died quite young at age forty leaving the boys to continue.
They were dairy farmers with eight or ten cows and sold milk to Levengood Dairies. They also had about a hundred chickens and sold eggs. Ice was harvested from Minister Greek and stored in a small ice house from which it was taken to cool meats they butchered. Like so many people during the Depression, they had enough to eat but that was about all. They farmed with horses until 1948 when Joe and Ethel got married. They lived at the farm and Joe bought their first tractor, an Oliver 70.
The store has prospered. It is one of the few “jug-milk” places that survive from about 300 that were started statewide during the 70’s. Joe and Ethel had five children: Joanne, Jane, Larry, Nancy, and Sue.
Some time ago a person stood outside the store, looked around, and asked Joe, “How did you get a permit to put this farm in the middle of a residential area?” Such are the times.
Variations of this story are repeated throughout the township. Andrew Leuchak and Tessie Tatanya were Russians who came through Ellis Island in 1911 and settled at Chester. They were not happy there and had a trunk packed and tickets bought to go back, but at the last minute decided to stay. A son, Nicholas, was born in 1920 and in his early teens they moved here to a small farm of about 22 acres on the Swamp Pike. Its location is now occupied by the New Hanover United Methodist Church. Andrew Leuchak worked in Pottstown at Jacob’s Aircraft and also for the township road crew. His small farm had a draft horse, a cow, pigs, steers, chickens, ducks. The acreage provided grains for poultry feed and hay for steers. Andrew’s grandson, Nick, relates that they never sold farm produce, but the butchered meats and large vegetable garden provided for family and friends.
Henry Rutkowski was born in Philadelphia, but his wife Mary came through Ellis Island as a girl. He was thirty-one when they moved to Fagleysville from Philadelphia in 1921 with their children Florence, Walter, Joe, John, and Helen were born here.
In Philadelphia Henry worked at the “spike-works” where they made rail road spikes. At age fourteen his job was to hold the red hot bars when the press came down and formed a head and point. If it wasn’t held just right it would spring out right through the roof or through anyone that got in its way. They bought a small farm on Fagleysville Road close to the Swamp Pike. He worked as a machinist at the Pottstown Machine Company until the Depression idled everyone.
Then a horse, huge vegetable patch, and few cows and pigs fed the family. Mary canned hundreds of jars of vegetables and meats and that was how they survived until the W.P.A. started giving a few days of work per week so people could get a little money. But through it all they were happy. The kids went to Fagleysville Independent School and then on to successful careers. Henry lived to be 92.
This story could be told over again for the Ciminos, the Ganovskys the Hiriaks or any of the dozens of other non Pennsylvania Dutch that populated “German” New Hanover in the early twentieth century.