An Afternoon at A.N. Cole’s “Home on the Hillside”
Inspecting the Workings of Subterranean Irrigation
Big Strawberries, Big Enthusiasm, and a Big Time Generally
Wellsville Daily Reporter July 8, 1885

Much has been said and written concerning the new method of agriculture as successfully practiced by Mr. A. N. Cole of this place, at his well-known “Home on the Hillside.”  For several years past Mr. Cole has been experimenting upon a system of subterraneous irrigation with pleasing effect, and upon which he has secured letters patent which are believed to be highly valuable.  That this principle as applied by Mr. Cole upon his experimental farm is productive of great results in the growth and development of certain fruits and plants; that it is correct and that it has wrought remarkable results is not in question.  The only hesitation is as to the practicability of its general adoption, and to the successful demonstration of this Mr. Cole has spent and is still spending much earnest thought, time and money.  This point once established, and the fame and fortune of our enthusiastic neighbor is assured, and in that success every citizen will join a hearty congratulation.

There was a happy and notable gathering at Mr. Cole’s pleasant residence yesterday.  Several gentlemen from abroad, representing prominent Farmers Clubs, the Ensilage Congress, practical farmers and fruit growers, the press and many of his neighbors, were present to see, hear, taste and enjoy the wonders and fruits of the New Agriculture, in response to a courteous invitation, the afternoon was one of peculiar glory in its reflection of sunshine succeeding the morning showers, with balmy atmosphere, while the landscape and surroundings were radiant with the perfection of summer glories.  There were upwards of sixty invited guests present, and each was closely interested in the instructive lessons to be learned.

Mr. Cole’s system may be briefly described at this point as follows:  Parallel with the bench of land which constitutes his experimental grounds are constructed long trenches, about two feet in width and four to five feet in depth, ranged one above the other at intervals of say fifty feet, or depending upon the incline.  The surface soil varies from ten to fifteen inches in depth, and the remainder of the trench is dug down into the prevailing hardpan subsoil.  In the bottom of these trenches are first placed the round or ragged stone found upon the surface between the trenches or in digging.  Next are carefully laid courses of flat stone, shingling over, as it were, the under layer of small boulders or coarse pebbles.  Then the earth is replaced, the finest, of course, upon the surface, and the trench or “elongated cistern” is completed and ready for its crop.  During heavy showers or soaking rains these trenches receive, and the hard pan retains the surplus moisture, which, raising to the top of the hardpan, gently flows over and through the earth at a depth of a few inches below the surface down to the next trench, and so on to the end, supplying by infiltration the same benefits to the surface between the trenches that are imparted to the surface of the trenches proper. All impurities of water obtained from decaying vegetable or animal matter upon the surface are by such process removed, and thus is secured the absence of the deadly fungi which so much infests the roots of plants, trees and shrubs and conduce to the development of unwholesome (and of course unhealthy) fruits and vegetables.  The damaging wash to sloping surfaces is also by this system wholly prevented, as was abundantly demonstrated in yesterday’s inspection upon the very heels of copious rains and showers upon the soft surface soil of Mr. Cole’s modern “Garden of Eden”.

If lack of rains in a dry season prevents the filling or overflow of these trenches, the default may be supplied by spring from the more elevated lands applied freely to the upper serial trench, which in turn will supply all below, wherever the hardpan subsoil reigns; or a capacious water tight trench or reservoir above the serial trench lines might be constructed sufficiently large to draw from whenever needed – this main reservoir or trench at the top depending for its supply upon the clouds or convenient natural springs.

But in this regard Mr. Cole is peculiarly fortunate.  His experimental garden is situated upon a slope of uncompromising hardpan subsoil, and down this slope, and just beneath the surface soil, a natural system of subterranean irrigation has been going on since time began, supplied from springs at or near its summit.  Whoever has had occasions to dig cellars, ditches or drive-ways along this slope have demonstrated this fact.  Thus, in summer seasons of abundant rains the gardens upon that particular slope have often, indeed always, suffered more or less from a superabundance of moisture, except as to such plants, grasses and shrubs as rejoice in a cool, wet soil, prominent among which are strawberries, raspberries, celery and grasses.

Again, in this fortunate connection, Mr. Cole is not required to depend upon a husbanded source of supply for the upper trench or trenches, which he fills from the city water works pipes when needed, and is preparing to have an additional supply from that source for trenches now being prepared and hereafter contemplated.

But this in no material sense disparages Mr. Cole’s theory, and only affects the case as related to the practical problem of cost vs compensation.  The ultimate merit, must depend upon this, while natural conditions such as slopes and hard pan or rock subsoil, must bear a prominent and close relation to the practical success of Mr. Cole’s “agriculture,” wherever and whenever applied.

It was an elegant entertainment given yesterday at the famous “Home on the Hillside.”  After general introductions and the interchange of pleasant greetings, the large company proceeded to the experimental grounds adjacent under the pilotage of Mr. Cole, and spent a full hour in examining the marvelous exhibit of strawberries, and in listening to explanations in detail concerning the new system employed in their culture.  It is probable that no gentlemen present ever saw a more prolific yield of the delicious fruit, or so large an average of the berries grown, and the crop promises to be unprecedentedly large.  In one spot an aggregation of berries  half grown, just turning or fully ripe – some of them veritable “whoppers” – was christened “the old hen’s nest,” and was much admired,   There were probably enough berries in that group of greater or less development to fill a quart measure, and perhaps more.  Upon every hand, and along every row the mammoth crimson and scarlet beauties blushed their own praises from beneath the dark tinted and luxuriant foliage of the vines.  It was a beautiful picture, and we believe it was justly and generously appreciated.

It was regretted that a wider comparison of general utility of the system could not have been made.  There was an absence of potatoes and corn among the trenches, and the showing of peas was not favorable.  But Mr. Cole explained at the outset that he had given his attention this year almost wholly to the strawberry crop.  It was plain enough, however, that an almost equally surprising growth of cane and fruit would be shown later in the raspberry and blackberry rows, and no sane person can doubt that under so careful and complex a treatment, many if not most crops would be greatly, even marvelously, promoted.

Following the general inspection of the new system and grounds came the serving of refreshments at the house, of which all present freely partook and hugely enjoyed.  Strawberries of prodigous size formed the chief “topic” of “discussion,” with generous accompaniments of cake and lemonade.  The tables were uniquely adorned with rich bouquets of ripe strawberries in profuse and brilliant clusters, and the dainty dishes were served by fair hands, with happy hearts and smiling faces.

Next came the social gathering upon the lawn in front of the mansion, where Doctor Earley of Ridgeway, Pa., scientifically and exhaustively discussed fungi, (the fruit of decaying vegetable matter generating poisonous gases by fermentation, only to super-induce contagious disease, ) and advising the adoption of Mr. Cole’s system to obtain perfectly wholesome fruit, (and to sustain the Doctors scientific hobby.)  And then the pleased and profited company separated, leaving worlds of good wishes with and for Mr. Cole, his family, and his great agricultural discoveries, and carrying away with them pleasant memories and wholesome instruction upon a subject of vast importance, tempered with big strawberries, broad smiles and the most abundant satisfaction.

It was a great day for Mr. Cole –the significant triumph, indeed, of his long and busy life.  And may he live to reap the harvests he anticipates and demonstrate all and more than he has ever claimed for “the New Agriculture, “ is the earnest wish of THE REPORTER.