The Huffmans of Stone Mills

Barry Lovegrove

William Huffman’s parents' wedding day. Photo taken outside of Jim Shannon's house.
[This article appeared in the April 2007 issue of The SCOOP.]

The Huffman name has been around these parts for a long time. In fact, James Huffman was one of the first pioneers to settle here in 1823. Jacob Huffman, James’s father, was a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, and since he was on the losing side, the British government gave the Loyalists free land. Jacob Huffman received close to 300 acres of land on the north shores of Hay Bay. His son James was born in 1801 and in 1823 he decided to explore the northern part of the county, with the idea of hewing out a home for himself and a certain young lady whom he hoped to make his wife. He headed north and it was weeks before he found the right place: four hundred acres in the mid southern extremity of Sheffield Township. It was here that James brought his bride, Flora McDell, three years later on March 3, 1826.

If you drop by the Corner Store in Tamworth for breakfast, you just might bump into eighty four-year-old Willie Huffman. He has been around these parts all his life. He still lives in the same house where his parents lived and where the family business, Hillcrest Dairy Farm, was a major part of his working life. Always eager to talk, he told me his story over a cup of coffee.

“It was a hard life back then, but we didn’t know any different and in a lot of ways we had it pretty good. In the 1930s when the depression struck, it didn’t affect us too much since we lived off the land. I used to help out my Dad (Edward) on the farm as a young lad and when I finished school at sixteen, I went straight into the family business. We had a hundred acres here where the house is now, and the dairy used to be down the road where Bill Paul used to live. Every morning we would take the cows down to the other farm, which was just over a mile away then bring them back in the evening for milking. I can remember the train was still running back then and the cows never walked very fast. They always walked two abreast so we could head them off if we heard the train coming. We got to know the train schedule and knew when it was due to pass by and that made the herding to the milking barn a little easier. Even though there were twenty five of them they weren’t any trouble and they would follow each other along.

William McCorquodail Sheffield Bell Huffman.
William was the first white child born in Sheffield, 1826, to James and Flora Huffman.    
In the early days we used to milk by hand, and it would only take about an hour with three of us milking. There would be Dad, myself, and Elsie Carscallen who would come and help. She used to be Elsie Martin until she married Frank Carscallen. We had an icehouse up on the hill to keep the milk fresh. We got most of the ice from Beaver Lake, but I can remember one year when we got some from the river close to where the old Laundromat was located. At that time Moss’s Mill was in operation and it held the water back, so the river was much deeper then. We would cut chunks of ice out with saws and drag it with a team of horses to the icehouse. They were really heavy and hard to maneuver but one way or another we would get them there. We would cover the ice with sawdust to act as an insulator and it would last us all summer. It was always nice to have a cool drink of milk that had a head of cream on it. Mother made our own butter which was really good and that’s how I got to like buttermilk. We used to bottle the milk right here into pints and quarts and we made some chocolate milk as well which was very popular.

Most of the time we had a hired man to help us. I still remember some of the men: Jack Smith from England, Tom Smith from Marlbank as well as Alf Rowen, Sam Gray, and  Frank Carscallen. There was always so much work to do. We had to work the land, get the grain, feed the cattle, produce the milk, and sell it locally for our income. We used to deliver the milk door to door. I can remember one time there was so much ice, my brother Don and I wore skates and we skated right to their front door with the milk orders. Most of the time people would pay when we delivered, and they were always ready with the money. We used to sell it 4 cents a pint and 6 cents a quart, delivered. Normally we would use our sleigh in the wintertime that had side boards on it to keep the bottles of milk in place. We couldn’t hang around too much with the milk as it had to be delivered before it froze.

Dad passed away in 1951 and I kept Hillcrest Dairy going for a few years, finally selling it to Wilmot’s Dairy in 1965. Even though the Dairy kept me busy, I found time to work as Secretary Treasurer for the continuation of the area school board for many years, twelve years on Sheffield Council, eight years on the County Council, and in 1980 I became warden for the county of L&A. Unfortunately, my wife Dreda passed away seven years ago. She was a teacher and supply teacher in this area. She gave birth to our daughter in 1948 but the baby only lived twenty four hours. Things were a lot different back then in the medical field. She would have probably lived with today’s medical facilities and help. Kevin, our son, was born in 1952 and married Karen Hannah. They live down the road from me now and they have two sons, Scott, who got married just recently, and Brett, who is living at home. They keep a good eye on me, not that I really need it. It’s hard to get into too much trouble at my age.”
Willie Huffman relaxing in his home on the hill in 2007.