Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, November 07, 2005

World War II Victory Gardens in Pelham

During the early years of World War II, as rationing and shortages ravaged the nation, plucky Americans responded by filling nearly every vacant lot, backyard and even window boxes with "Victory Gardens" filled with vegetable plants. Some have estimated that there were nearly 20 million such Victory Gardens throughout the nation.
Pelham was no exception. Vacant lots and backyards throughout the town were filled with lush Victory Gardens carefully tended by armies of patriot citizens.
Victory Garden Poster Printed During World War II

According to one list published in 1943, Pelham gardeners grew the following in their Victory Gardens: beans, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage (early, medium, late), carrots, celery, chard (swiss), chicory, chives, collards, cucumbers, celtuce, dill, eggplant, endive, escarolle, finocchio, garlic, kale, kohl-rabi, lettuce, mint, okra (gumbo), onions, parsley, parsnips, peas (early and late), peppers, radishes, romaine, squash, salsify, spinach (New Zealand), tomatoes and turnips. On larger lots, gardeners also grew such plans as potatoes and corn. See Many Varieties of Vegetables in Marshall Lot, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 33, No. 16, Jul. 22, 1943, p. 4, col. 7.

The rise of Victory Gardens was not left to chance in Pelham. Rather, citizens of the town developed a well-organized system for encouraging and supporting the planting of Victory Gardens. The Town was organized into districts based, generally, on the organizational structure of the local Parents and Teachers Association (PTA). The Town's War Committee oversaw efforts to support the gardens. A station wagon was purchased to deliver fertilizer and other such items to the larger gardens and an "assistant" was hired to transport such material.

Civilian Defense Poster Published in Pennsylvania
During World War II Urging Citizens to Plant Victory Gardens.

One of the most interesting collections of Victory Gardens in the Town of Pelham was planted on a rocky hillside behind The Pelham Picture House on Wolfs Lane that extended from Wolfs Lane to Manning Circle. The gardens were known as the "Barkswill Gardens" and consisted of about a dozen or so garden plots to produce contributions to the family tables of Pelham residents. The name of the gardens seems to have been a contraction of the last names of two of the men who maintained plots: John Barksdale and Dudley Wilson. Others who maintained plots at the location were Harold J. Moore, John Gibson, Sr., John Gibson, Jr., Betty Beamish, Everett Gray, David Dunlop, Leonard Knapp and Harry E. Peterson. Perhaps the most interesting and ingenious part of the Barkswill Victory Gardens was the fact that condensation from the air conditioning system of The Pelham Picture House was channeled down the hill in a rock-lined trench to a lovely pool so that gardeners could use the water to maintain their crops. See Cooling System Of Pelham Picture House Irrigates Victory Gardens Of "Barkswill" Plot In Clovelly, The Pelham Sun, Vol. 33, No. 14, Jul. 8, 1943, p. 9, col. 1.

It was not enough to create a functional garden for those who maintained the Barkswill Victory Gardens. Rather, they sought to develop "a rustic resting place, where one can be seated in peace and quiet and fail utterly to realize that a busy main thoroughfare is but a few yards a way and a motion picture theatre exhibits its films to hundreds daily on its border lines." Id.

An interesting description of the garden appeared in The Pelham Sun on July 8, 1943. It said:

"In a plot halfway up the hillside, a man is bending over his crops. His basket is nearly filled with Swiss chard, lettuce, radishes, onions and carrots. The beets are not yet ready so he comes down with his basket to where his wife Mrs. Harold J. Moore is waiting. John Barksdale, the originator of the Barkswill Gardens is sitting under a tall tree near the rustic gateway which gives entry to the gardens. He is viewing with satisfaction the latest development, a circular pool, built of cemented rock and brick about five feet wide and two feet deep, into which we suddenly realize the overflow from the cooling system of the nearby theatre is providing the gardeners with the necessary water for their crops. The water winds its way along a rock-lined trench down the hillside into the pool and around the pool is a collection of rustic furniture of the rustickiest kind -- and under nearby trees an obviously home-made table and picnic benches.
But -- about the crops. There is a division, about five per cent. being devoted to flowers and the remainder to a wide variety of everything one would expect to find in a kitchen garden. The grade has been stepped off every few yards by a rock embankment a few inches high and each one's holdings are well defined.

At the entrance to the garden there are rustic arches surmounted by wooden figures of farmers and pigs, cut with a scroll saw.

It is here that neighborliness is at its best. The eternal topic is the proper application of this and that to ensure a good crop, and once in a while a note of discussion of local problems is introduced. Regret is expressed that the first ripe tomato of the Victory Gardens was not picked from Barkswill Gardens, but hope is voiced that before the season closes the approximate value of the crops raised will be spoken of in terms of hundreds of dollars." Id.

"Grow for Victory" was the slogan coined to motivate gardeners throughout the nation during the War. Pelham did its part. The Barkswill Victory Gardens were merely one of many such gardens developed throughout the Town as everyone did their best to support the nation during its difficult time.

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