Stewart A. Cody worked as the Jackson County, WV County Agent in the early 1900s. The West Virginia Historical Photograph Collection possesses 36 images which were pulled from a photo album of his dated 1912.
As County Agent, Cody spent a great deal of time with the local chicken farmers, and the captions of these 36 photos, taken as a whole, provide a detailed insight into the practices of that time.
The greatest interest in poultry, Cody tells us, is shown by the farmers living in the ‘runs’ and ‘forks.’ On a typical ‘ridge’ farm, the farm land is rougher and the farms are further apart. More incentive to raise poultry than crops.
Cody undoubtedly knew all the players countywide: from Mr. O. M. Stone in Cottageville, “the largest as well as the most profitable poultry farm in Jackson County,” on down to Mr. W. L. Ball, who built his poultry house out of logs.
The Stone’s residence was built from the proceeds of the farm’s egg sales. The two girls, Cody noted, “add $100 to the family purse by washing and grading the eggs.” Mr. Stone’s laying house number 2 held 300 hens, and was ten feet wide and 100 feet long, a bit wider and far longer than the average area laying house. It cost $125 to build.
We learn that local farmers commonly used three types of poultry houses adapted to the county. The first, a ‘Tolman house,’ was a simple shed roof house with either a paper or tin roof and open front, with a packed dirt floor covered with sand. One caption gives the length and width as 7′ x 30′; another is 10′ x 31′. Mr. J. R. Backer’s shed roof house had a tin roof, and three openings in the front 2’10” x 7’4″. The use of galvanized roofing on poultry houses as well as other farm buildings was general throughout the county. It seemed to have the preference over paper roofing with the majority of farmers.
Cody felt C.D. Rice’s two-storied poultry house was “worthy of being used as a model by others in Jackson County desiring this type of house.” The birds are fed on the first floor in the winter. The nests are also on this floor while the perches are on the second floor. Very often Cody found nests on the outside of the houses, “undoubtedly the preference of the hens.”
The third type was a T-shaped house, whose roosting room intersected a scratching room. Cody describes a scratching room that is 14’6″ x 8′, and observes nest boxes, home-made hoppers, and sliding windows in it. Joining this at the middle of the side is a roosting shed 12′ x 40′. Mr. T. H. Snider’s T-shaped house held 100-150 pure-bred Barred Rocks.
Reading across the various captions gives us a sense of the average density of birds in Jackson County poultry houses: Mr. W.A. McMurray housed 35 fowls in a 10’x 12’ house, Mr. W.R Glovers housed 27 in an 8’x13’ shed, and Mr. C.D. Rice housed 150 in his 12’x 24’ space.
Cody must’ve come across an awful lot of tumble down chicken coops, for he notes in one caption “This farm [in Jackson Run] stands out from its neighbors because of its neatness. Notice the trim, white washed poultry house.” Frank McPherson’s small brooder house also stood out in Cody’s descriptions: it had a universal hover, a type of colony brooder “considerable above the average.”
And what about earnings from poultry farming? Mr. W. H. Melhorn and Mrs. Hartley each marketed a case of eggs during the spring months. C.D. Rice’s total income for 1913 was $259.25; T. H. Snider’s 1912 sales amounted to $104.87. Almost as an aside, Cody observes that farmers did not consider the value of the poultry manure as a marketable fertilizer. “This is a general condition in certain parts of the county,” he said.
We learn that farmers who lived within one or two miles of the country store would take their poultry to market pulled in a small wagon by hand, if they didn’t own a horse, or get one of the children to carry a pail of eggs in, often “hauled several miles in the hot sun over rough country roads.”
Abe Price was a major county merchant to whom the farmers brought their products. His store in Cottageville handled from ten to forty cases of eggs a week, in addition to several coops of chicken. The town of Evans was another central dropoff point for farmers.
Wholesale buyers such as H.E. Beegle, of Ravenswood, would purchase cases at Evans, then haul the still uninspected eggs by wagon 7 miles to the railroad. From there the cases were shipped 10 miles to the Ravenswood storage facility. Once candled, the eggs would be loaded to a refrigerated train car for shipment to Pittsburgh.
source: West Virginia Historical Photographs Collection/West Virginia University Libraries