The Colorful History of Snow’s Farm

Easton’s agricultural heritage is a point of pride in town, but little has been written about Snow’s Farm’s unlikely origins and few know the long and patchworked Snow family history. Recently, several descendants, including Irv Snow, the farm’s fourth-generation proprietor, pieced together memories and recollections for the Courier to provide a rough family timeline since the farm’s founding in 1912. Unlike Easton farmers of older vintage, the Snow family was part of a wave of Jewish immigrants compelled to leave their European homelands to flee persecution.

This is the story of how the Snows ended up in Easton.

For starters, their name wasn’t Snow. The patriarch, Philip, came to the United States around 1901. Like most immigrants, he arrived at Ellis Island in New York, where one presumes the customs inspector changed his name to “Snow” owing to the weather that day. His birth name was Feivish Schnee. Current members of the Snow family believe Philip’s wife, Matilda, nee Motel, arrived sometime around 1902.

Bob Lessler and Irv Snow reminisce about the family.–Rick Falco Photo.

According to Bob Lessler, a Snow cousin, Philip emigrated from Rohatyn, Galicia, which is about 50 miles southeast of present-day Lviv, Ukraine. “While no known members of the Snow family remain in Ukraine, our roots are there and so I feel deeply connected to the suffering of present day Ukrainians, Lessler said. “These contemporary peace-loving freedom seekers are an echo of my ancestors who also struggled for their freedom in that land.”

The founders, their eight children and their spouses celebrate Passover in the mid 1930’s at the farmhouse in Easton. From the left around the table are daughter Esther and her husband Harry Kursman; Pauline and her husband, son Charles (known as Charlie); Annie and her husband, son Isaac (known as Izzy); Motel the matriarch; son Maurice (known as Moey) standing; Feivish the patriarch; son William (known as Billy) standing; Harry Stark and his wife, daughter Rae; Abe Weisberg and his wife, daughter Fanny; Louis Goldfield and his wife, daughter Anna (known as Ann).

The Snow saga is a “Fiddler on Roof” story. As depicted in the play, life was hard in Eastern Europe for Jews. A combination of religious persecution and economic hardship drove many to America to begin anew. Philip and Motel began their life together on the lower east side of Manhattan. At some point soon after his arrival Philip likely connected with the Jewish Agricultural Society.

The Jewish Farmer magazine was first published in 1908 to support the rapidly growing number of Jewish farm families in the United States.–Courtesy of The Friday Footnote.

According to The Friday Footnote: “The Jewish Agricultural Society (JAS) was chartered in New York in 1900. Its original purpose was to provide agricultural training ‘as free farmers on their own soil’ to Jewish immigrants coming to America from Europe. … Between 1900 and 1908 the JAS focused on helping Jewish immigrants find farms and provided loans to help them get started. Between 1908 and 1920 numerous additional initiatives were launched to help Jewish farmers.”

Knowing that Jewish immigrants who spoke no English would have difficulty finding work in the U.S., Hirsch set up agricultural training programs and purchased land so Jewish families could could start new lives as farmers.– Photo courtesy of The Friday Footnote.

Founded by German philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch in 1900, JAS was underwritten with his personal funds. At the time there were an estimated 200 Jewish farm families in the United States. By 1933, “there were over 100,000 Jews who derived their livelihood, in whole or part, from the farm,” The Footnote estimates.

There were reasons why Connecticut had lands available for these immigrants. According to the New England Historical Society, “By the end of the 19th century, Yankee farmers were abandoning their farms in Connecticut. It was too hard to scratch a living out of the state’s rocky soil, help was hard to find and farmers could earn more money in the cities.”

Initially, JAS helped settle the Snows and their children—8 in all–in Redding. In those years, one of the family’s most cherished memories is the relationship Philip developed with Mark Twain, a fellow Redding resident. Having an interest in Jewish law, Twain visited Philip to read and discuss the Talmud, which is the main text in Rabbinic Judaism and source of religious law.

Link to photos taken In 1940 by Farm Security Administration photographer Jack Delano, who went to Colchester, Conn. to photograph the Jewish farmers.–New England Historical Society

No one is quite sure how, but the couple was able to buy the current property in Easton in 1912, possibly with a down payment from JAS. Philip paid the rest over time. Though memories of the early days in Easton are piecemeal, last living grandson, Douglas, Irv Snow’s 72- year old uncle, recalls two of Philip’s sons, Moey and Billy ran the Easton property as a dairy farm. Other Snow children moved to various towns in the area, several to Bridgeport.

Douglas remembers, “Moey would drive the truck delivering milk and milk products to customers. On Mondays, he would stop at his sister, Anne’s house for lunch. On Tuesdays, he would stop at his sister, Fanny’s house for lunch. On Wednesday he would stop at his sister, Esther’s house for lunch. These three women lived in Bridgeport within walking distance of each other in the Cleveland Avenue/Wood Avenue neighborhood of the Brooklawn section of the city. They lived in this area so they could walk to Congregation Rodeph Sholom to attend synagogue services.”

In 1933, Moey built his house across the street from the farm. This is the stone house on the west side of Sport Hill Road, which is still standing. Also, in 1933, Billy married his cousin, Bessy. Great-granddaughter, Terri remembers hearing stories about Billy, who was tall, blue-eyed, and blond. Apparently, one day there was a knock on the door from a couple of Ku Klux Klansmen, who were looking to start a new chapter in Easton and wanted to recruit Billy. He convinced his visitors that Easton would not be receptive to a chapter and dissuaded him from trying to gain a foothold in town. He did so without raising any suspicion about his heritage.

Moey’s two sons, Philip, Irv’s dad, and Douglas, were born in 1945 and 1949 respectively. Moey hoped they would eventually assume responsibility of running the farm. A series of tragedies and hardships ensued. In 1947 the main barn burned down and had to be re-built. In 1962, the original farmhouse that Philip and Motel occupied burned down. In 1968, the dairy processing plant burned down. That was when the family stopped processing their own milk and began wholesaling the milk to others. Still, the Snow family continued to run the business.

Irv recalls that his dad and uncle feuded and ended their partnership.  As a result, Irv’s father continued the operation. In time it evolved from a dairy farm into an organic composting business. “The milk business changed for a variety of reasons and the need for milk delivery to schools and homes diminished,” Irv said. “There were other beverages that gained popularity and milk became widely available in grocery stores.”

The great-grandchildren have fond memories of growing up on or near the farm, which was the center of family activities. Lessler reminisces, “The farm was the focal point of the family. There were always family gatherings and picnics. …That tradition certainly continued well into the 1960s as I remember family gatherings at the farm when I was a young boy. There was a standing bet offered by Billy which was that he would pay $20 to anyone who could name all the nieces and nephews among the offspring of the eight children. No one ever collected.”

Douglas remembers that his parents built a pool behind the house in 1960 and it became a hub of family fun. Lessler even remembers an errant cow wandering around the pool. To this day, farm animals occasionally break free and roam around the town until a farmer returns them to their pasture.

 Another great-granddaughter, Sheila, recalls the family’s chicken coops. Motel taught her how to “candle the eggs” by holding the egg up to a lightbulb to see how many yolks there were inside and otherwise check the egg for irregularities. She also remembers climbing into the grain elevator with her cousin Philip–Irv’s father–and sitting on top of the grain. “After seeing the movie “Witness,” she realized just how dangerous an activity that was,” Lessler added.

Today, the hard-to-miss red and white barn on Sport Hill Road is familiar to Easton residents, but not everyone knows what services they provide to our farming and gardening community. Irv is the fourth-generation owner who runs the farm with his sister, Jenny Snow Kafargo.

Located at 550 Sport Hill Road, Snow’s is the oldest and largest supplier of mulch, gravel, and organic manure in Fairfield Country. Those huge beasts, 16 Angus and Scottish Highland cows grazing in the front pasture look almost pre-historic. They produce key ingredients for farmers and gardeners throughout the region. https://www.snowsfarm.com/

Irv expects the farm to live on. Someday he will hand it off to his son Henry, who already looks very much at home in the family truck.

Henry Snow, fifth-generation and next in line to operate the farm. Photo-Rick Falco

Editors’ note: The story was compiled from the recollections of Irv Snow, Bob Lessler, Terri Green, Sheila Stark, and Douglas Snow.

Photos by Rick Falco

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