Interview with J. Allen Frear
MK: Could you state your name for me.
JF: My name is Allen Frear.
MK: When were you born and raised?
MK: When and where, uh huh.
JF: I was born on a farm near Rising Sun, Delaware. Rising Sun as you know is perhaps three and a-half miles southeast of Dover. I was born on March 7, 1903. That makes me pretty old, doesn't it?
MK: Not really, no. You grew up on a farm then.
JF: I lived on the farm until I finished college which was 1924.
MK: And your father's primary occupation, was that...
JF: My grandfather bought the farm on which I was born in the middle of the nineteenth century and the farm has been in our possession since then. We're entitled to the Century Farm but we have never applied. Shame on me, huh!
MK: Well, I'm hoping that you will. In fact Fred and I have talked about it. I've been out to your farm. It's beautiful, a beautiful place. So your grandfather bought the farm and then your father took over the operation.
JF: Yes, just before my father's death which was around 1900 and he operated the farm until near his death which was in 1941. He died in 1942.
MK: He was primarily a farmer?
JF: Oh yes. He had no other vocation other than farming, other than participating in the small business that my brother and I had in Dover at a later date. That is between the middle '20's and 1940.
MK: What kind of things did he raise on the farm?
JF: In the beginning the farm was a dairy farm. As a matter of fact my grandfather and a gentleman by the name of Mr. Bancroft who lived as a neighbor bought the first registered Jersey bull that came to the state of Delaware. They went to the Isle of Jersey and purchased the bull. Then the farm became a fruit farm. When dairying became unprofitable peaches and apples were produced on the farm. As you know it takes several years to grow a peach orchard and takes several years longer to grow an apple orchard. But they were successful so around the turn of the century the farm was practically all in fruit. And then from the fruit farm it went back to dairying again. At that time, however, they had registered Guernsey cattle. The reason for having the Guernsey cattle was because the cream line was very set on the bottle, a yellow or heavy set cream line. Not like the Jersey cream line which was much lighter in color. So Guernseys then became the predominate breed of cattle. After the Guernseys..... After we let the dairy go in Dover and we had no longer a need for the milk from the farm it is now producing mostly potatoes and soybeans.
MK: And you tenant that out? Is that tenanted out? Someone else is farming it?
JF: We lease part of it. We do not do the actual farming at the moment ourselves. A Mr. Joe Jackewicz does all of that and he's a wonderful person because he keeps the farms looking like my father and grandfather used to. They were always kept very neat and he does that very well. We like that.
MK: I know the farm is beautifully kept. It really is. When you were growing up on the farm you lived in a house obviously. Is the house still stranding?
JF: No, unfortunately the house is not still standing. It was torn down quite a number of years ago. The reason being is because in those days we were unaware of the damage that termites could do to the house. Before we really knew what was going on the termites had damaged the house to such an extent that it was too expensive to repair. It was less costly to destroy and build a new house and that's what they did. The new house, however, is much smaller that the old house used to be.
MK: Would the original house then have been built by your grandfather?
JF: The original house was built by the person who owned the farm previous to my grandfather, but my grandfather remodeled it.
MK: And this is the house that you grew up in?
JF: That's the house in which I grew up, yes.
MK: Can you describe it?
JF: Well, it was....... In those days, of course, all of the help was colored help. And we had places in the house where colored people lived as really a part of the original structure. There were rooms where two colored people could live. And the rest of the house there five bedrooms. And in those days, of course, the running water only came to the kitchen and that was in the latter part of the days too. But, however, before the house was torn down it was modernized. But it was a very convenient house, two floors. The first floor with no central heat, however, did have a large coal burning stove that through openings in the ceiling it could heat a couple of rooms upstairs as well as the large living room downstairs. The dining room downstairs was equipped with a fireplace. The kitchen, of course, was a coal stove.
MK: Was it like one of those big cook stoves?
JF: Yes, it was a old model cook stove where you heated the hot water in a tank on the stove, or it was made part of the stove as you know. The dining room had a fireplace as I just said though. There was a large porch, open porch, covered in the wintertime with boards, however, where the laundry was done. However, as you know, the laundry was hung outside. In the wintertime, of course, it froze. It may take it a couple of days to get thawed out and dried yet. Quite different from what the conveniences are today.
MK: Do you remember your mom doing laundry?
JF: My mother? We were very fortunate my mother was very industrious. She worked all the time, did something. But the help did all of the things around there. We were..... Of course employed a number of men on the farm and we had to find something for the wives to do so they ran the house.
MK: These were primarily black people that we doing the work?
JF: Yes. Do you prefer that I say black or colored people?
MK: I prefer black.
JF: Okay. When I was a kid we were, of course...... My father wouldn't permit anybody to call a person black. They were called colored people and that was to honor them. They respected that, I think. And I think that the employees of my father, which were colored or black, respected him greatly.
MK: Well the NAACP is a good example of that because that was called colored persons.
JF: Yes, that's right.
MK: And, but I think it's been since the '60's that it's gone back. And now I guess actually the correct term is African American.
JF: Yes, but we never heard of that term.
MK: That's interesting, I had never thought about it.
JF: We still have one person who's still living, one employee. Annie, who's black or..... She, of course, has been unable to work for sometime. She's quite elderly. But we have a house for her and she lives in the house. He son and daughter, of course, take care of her and we help to keep her. But she's the only one that's still living out of all that we ever had.
MK: Did you have any other migrant or seasonal help?
JF: In corn cutting time they used to come to Dover to get a bunch of fifteen or twenty men to cut corn. But that was only for two or three days at a time. Before they had combines when they used to cut corn and shock it. When we had peach orchards we employed packers from Georgia. They were all white men that came up here and packed the peaches in a packing house on the farm.
MK: So you had a packing house on the farm?
JF: Yes, we had our own packing house.
MK: What kinds of equipment would you have had in the packing house?
JF: Well they would have sorting machines which would size it by them. But, of course, in order to pick the fruit that was not No. 1 that was all done by people standing alongside of a carrier that took out any rotten or ill-formed part of the fruit so that it didn't go through the grader.
MK: That would have been hard work.
JF: Yes, you'd get tired of standing ten hours a day. Course when I was just a kid they never knew what a ten hour day was. They went to work at sunup and closed when the sun went down, regardless of the time of the year. Most of the help worked, obviously, the year around. But there was not much for them to do in the winter months, so, of course, they didn't have much to do. But they were kept just the same obviously. They had to be paid and fed and so forth. But that was no problem, no difficult task.
MK: So the farm help continued to live on your farm. They lived on your farm?
JF: Well, we had houses for them other than the ones that lived in the main house. We a little place they called it "Frear Row". I guess there were about eight or nine houses on it.
MK: Was this something that your grandfather had started?
JF: Yes. My grandfather eh...... Originally my father had only the one farm. The farm on which I was born. But my father later added other farms to it. We now have only two of those, however, left. It's about 400 acres left and that's all we have of about a 1000 acres.
MK: What was your grandfather's name?
JF: Yes, uh huh.
MK: And your father was J. Allen?
JF: Uh huh and I'm a Jr. I had a brother named Grover Cornelius Frear, a sister named Eva Frear.
MK: Both deceased?
JF: Both deceased. Yes, my brother died at a very young age. My sister lived to be 89.
MK: And you're shaking you head.
JF: I haven't quite reached that.
MK: And your mother's name?
JF: It was Clara. She was a Lowber, which in those days was a familiar
name in here. The Frears are..... Came from France and the original
was Frere. They originally came here and settled in New Pulse up the
Hudson River from New York City in 1668. They have, however, since that,
of course, migrated to all over the country and they changed their name
before they came to this country. when they went to Holland. They were
Huguenots. And they went to Holland and they changed their spelling
from Frere to Freer. When they came to this country, after having been
here some time, the name was changed to Frear. I do not know why. I
could tell you something. If you don't want to hear this you can turn
it off. When I went to Washington in 1949 one of the first persons that
I met was a Bob Freer - F R E E R. And he was in the cabinet.... cabinet
officer in Washington. And I saw a great deal of him because we were
related. We did come from the same Frears, from the Huguenot family.
He told me the reason why my name was
MK: Oh I think he was pulling your leg.
JF: Well, we always had a lot of fun about that anyhow.
MK: Well, I would have turned it around.
JF: Well, I couldn't do that and be honest.
MK: That's funny. What was it like growing up. What kinds of things did you do as a child on the farm? Did you help out?
JF: I ah..... There were of course a number of little boys, colored boys, black boys, that were growing up at the same time that I was. And most all of us had chores to do and as soon as were old enough to follow a mule and a cultivator why we took on those jobs. That was, of course, became around and you followed a mule by walking. My father used mules. The only horses we had were for the ones that went to the carriage and rode, you know, to drive on the road. But the two things that my father was very proud of were his help and his mules. As a matter of fact he used to buy mules by the carload by going to St. Louis with a man by the name of Raughley from down in Sussex County. They used to go out every winter or two and buy a carload of mules and sell the ones they didn't want after they got back here and train the ones they did want. That was quite interesting too. Of course, naturally I had part of the training of young mules for farm purposes.
MK: What's it like to train a mule?
JF: Well, it's hard to explain how you train them. But my father always thought that mules could be trained easier than horses and that's why we had mules. And I think probably he was true because it did not take long when you'd lead a mule around that the mule could soon go without the line and would obey the words that were given to him as command. Limited, of course. But they were not very difficult and when they were hitched to a plow it didn't take them but a very short time to the ones who walked in the furrow and the ones who walked on the high ground. And they knew. And when they were mated, the two put together, we always used them as teams, normally two or four and they became mates and they stayed that way. Of course, you know, a mule cannot reproduce. A mule comes as a cross between a horse and a, what they call mule stallions. But anyhow it was fun training them and that was part of the winter job. Give you something to do in the wintertime.
MK: Oh, was that so. How many mules would you have had on your farm?
JF: We kept not over twenty, normally twelve or fourteen.
MK: Did you have a favorite?
JF: Oh yeah, every man had his own team, that worked on a farm. The man that had the team was more superior to the boys who didn't have a team as you might think. They were considered a little higher in command and demand too. They were very fond of their mules. As a matter of fact we have had times when a storm would come up in the middle of the night and a colored man would come get his mules up out of the field and get them in the stable to keep them out of the storm. He didn't always bring his brother's teams in with him though.
MK: So you worked out there. You worked with training the mules?
JF: Yes, I lived on the farm and stayed down there most of the time. Of course, when this house was built in '24 my father moved here and we had a name by the name of Charlie Marvel who came to live in the farm house on the farm and I stayed there with them much of the time as well as part of the time here.
MK: Why did your father move to this house, why?
JF: Why? Well, my mother died in 1922. That was two years before this house was built. My father for his second wife married my blood cousin, my mother's brother's child. Of course, my father and his second wife were not of the same family but she was related to his first wife or my mother by..... She was my cousin. And she was like a mother to me, of course, and there was not much difference, strange as it may seem, in their age because my cousin was a daughter of the oldest child of the Lowber family. And my mother was down the line, as I said, my uncle was several years older than my mother, and she was the first child. So there was only a few years difference in their age. He name was Mae. And I called her Cousin Mae, of course. And she eh........ And I think my father wanted to move off the farm too. And she was happy to have that done, so that's how he built the house here. This was in the country when it was built. My father couldn't build this..... Couldn't buy the land on which this house is built as a lot. The neighbor across the street who owned it would not sell a lot. She didn't want it..... It was a field and she didn't just want to sell a piece of ground out of it, so my father had to guarantee that take this acreage in here, part of which the hospital is built. The hospital was built in 1927 and so we owned this ground. I don't own any of it any longer, except the part on which...... The lot where it stands. That's how we happened to move here.
MK: Did your father continue to farm then?
JF: Oh yes. He ran the farms just as well. Ran me too. My brother did not take up farming. He went into the banking business and was employed by the Farmers Bank here until he went into business for himself. And when farming became less profitable there was need for small businesses in Dover and I helped both with my brother..... And they had a dairy here in Dover that was the early part of the dairy here in Dover, that received milk from the farmers, cooled it and shipped it and sold it in Philadelphia in bulk. So there wasn't much to do. However, it was 365 days a year. You didn't have to worry about a job every day. You got plenty of that.
MK: And you were involved in that?
JF: Yes, well, because I had time, extra time, and I was involved in that.
MK: So that's the dairy, we have a lot of the dairy bottles in the museum now?
JF: Well, the dairy in which we had our own and bottled and pasteurized it and put it in bottles was a latter edition to the original dairy that my brother had. Although it changed names it was still the same organization, although it was privately owned.
MK: By the Frears?
JF: Uh huh.
MK: When did you actually use the milk bottles with the Frear? I mean they're the most colorful milk bottles.
JF: The house delivery was started in the '30's and lasted until the end of the '50's when, of course, the doorstep delivery run out of fashion and you had to buy your milk from the country store or the chain store or whatever happened to be available.
MK: So what were you doing when you were a kid on the farm? You trained mules. Did you ever go out and help plant or?
JF: Oh yeah, just like any of the rest of them. One of the hardest jobs to do was thinning corn and the boys or the younger ones had to do that because you usually had to stoop over and where the corn planter would drop three or four grains of corn, they came up, you had to put them down to two. So you had to either pull one or two of the grains of corn out. And I'll tell you that was a backbreaking job and that lasted all day. There was a lot of corn to thin because corn was one of the major crops then. So all of the jobs were not easy, but they were, I think, enjoyed. I think you enjoyed being out in the open even if corn thinning was a little laborious. It was still a good job and enjoyed.
MK: Did you raise feed corn or corn for truck market?
JF: We raised corn only for feed on our.... To feed our animals.
MK: Did you also raise chickens?
JF: For a few years we produced eggs. The reason for that was because we could sell the eggs along with the doorstep delivery of milk. They delivered eggs in carton with the milk. That did not last too long. We had probably about 2400 layers and the eggs were used by going along with the milk, that's all. But that did not last long. The egg business probably didn't last more than twenty years.
MK: Did you continue on with the orchards when you were operating the dairy the second time?
JF: No, the orchards gradually diminished as the second time we had dairy cattle. That..... The fruit, the peak of the fruit business was from 1900 to 1920, approximately those years. Then it began to change after that from fruit to dairy and then back to grain.
MK: What other kinds of grain did you grow?
JF: In those days wheat was the primary grain, wheat and corn. Wheat was sold, commercially grown. The corn we used to feed our own animals and so forth. A very small acreage of soybeans, also for animal feed. But we did not raise oats or barley or many of the other crops that were raised here.
MK: Because you were concentrating on the dairy?
JF: Yes, uh huh.
MK: And you didn't sell any beef cattle or anything?
JF: JF: No, we never raised any beef cattle during any of the time, my grandfather or father or myself. For a few years we tried having some beef cattle, buying young steers and raising them. But that lasted only a short time. We just didn't know how to do it or couldn't do it commercially where there was any profit in it.
MK: Were you and were your parents and your grandparents involved in the Grange or Cooperative Extension or any of those organizations?
JF: Yes, the Grange was just coming in, I think, when my father was a youngster. My father was more active in the Grange than my grandfather and I think that was because of age. The primary interest my father--grandfather had when me moved here was in education. When he bought the farm on which I lived there was no public school in the area. And, of course, kids were not forced to go to school. But many of them did and they had to go away to school. And Dover was the closest high school and both my brother and sister ......... ??????? It was so much earlier. But they built that and they hired this professor, as I said came from Rochester I believe. They could not afford to pay him and he was interested in education obviously. And he wanted to go somewhere where he could just teach kids and feel that he was doing something for underprivileged children where they would not get an education. So, therefore, he came to work for nothing. A farm.... Each farmer would keep him six months and then another would keep him six months. He was an unmarried man. But that went on for several years where he only had ...... Finally I think they did pay him maybe up to a hundred dollars or something as long as the school was there. And it was succeeded by a school in Rising Sun which was a four room school. And by that time my father was interested in education. So he, I think by the inspiration of his grandfather became interested in the Rising Sun school. And he was one of the..... I don't know what they called the board members or whoever had the authority to run the school, and I...... He was treasurer for the school district for, I guess, fifteen or twenty years. They didn't have much money because the teachers weren't paid very much. In the four room school they had three teachers. Two were females and one was a man. They didn't get very much pay. But my sister was one of the teachers. That was her first job when she got out of school was to teach school in Rising Sun. She was my first teacher.
MK: Oh, dear that could have ???????
JF: Oh, I'll tell you. I always called her Sister at home you know.
I called my brother by his first name but I called my sister, my sister
Eva, by Sister. That's what I said. And my first day at school I called
her sister and that was the first reprimand that I got in school. She
called me up to the front desk and she said, "I am Miss Eva. I'm
not sister to you. When you're in this school you call me Miss Eva."
MK: Did she really.
JF: Yeah, she was a strong disciplinarian, as were all of them. I mean, kids, I don't know. They weren't upset when they were disciplined. As a matter of fact they expected it and the families expected it. I went to that public school in Rising Sun. It went to eighth grade and I went there in 1917. The Camden-Wyoming schools had consolidated, the two schools, the Camden High school and the Wyoming high school consolidated and they called it Caesar Rodney. Caesar Rodney was the first consolidated school district in Delaware. Rising Sun school was not part of the district. So going from Rising Sun school to Caesar Rodney I had to pay tuition and it was twenty cents a day. The others who went from Rising Sun also had to pay tuition that went to Caesar Rodney too. That only lasted a year or two and then the Rising Sun district was incorporated into the consolidated district of Caesar Rodney. So the tuition was eliminated.
MK: That was pretty expensive.
JF: I finished high school in 1920.
MK: Then you went on to college?
JF: I went to Delaware from there. My father, grandfather, came here
from Northeastern - Northwestern Pennsylvania. A crossroads by the name
of Tiddyute. I think there were only a few houses there. But, anyhow,
he came from a farm out there when he came to Delaware. And as I said
he was interested in education and his connection was with Penn State,
then College. He wanted me to go to Penn State and my father did too
in a way only because of family connection, nothing else. My sister
at that time was married and lived in Philadelphia. I had registered
from Caesar Rodney to Penn State and had been accepted out there. On
my way to go to school - I was going to Penn State. I was going to stay
all night with my sister in Philadelphia. I got on the train in Wyoming
and when I got on the train in Wyoming I met Abe Baynard and Harry Jones
and a couple of other people that were going back to the University
of Delaware. At that time it was on the railroad and they changed up
there to get off and go over to Newark on a side track, side road. So
they said well come on over to the University of Delaware, which was
then Delaware College and you can watch the Freshman, Sophomore action
so you'll know what to do when you're a Freshman out at Penn State.
So I did. I got off the train. Although the ticket read Philadelphia
I got off the train and went over to Newark with those boys. And do
you know, the second day I registered at the University of Delaware.
I don't know how I did it, but they took it. They may have called down
there, but it wasn't too hard to register in those days at the University
of Delaware. And that's how I got to the University of Delaware. My
father was unaware of that. My grandfather was not then living, of course,
but when I told my father, called him on the telephone and told him
what I had done, he wasn't particularly pleased or happy. But he says,
" I expect you to get the best education that you're capable and
MK: What did you major in?
MK: So you had in your mind that you wanted to go back in farming?
JF: Oh yeah, yeah. I had registered in agriculture at Penn State also. So agriculture was my subject. There were not too many boys in the Freshman class in agriculture at Delaware. But there was one person by the name of Dr. Palmer who was a professor who took interest in the students and the children. He worked after hours or he would help them. He would do things for them and he was just loved by everybody. He was a bacteriologist.
MK: Was that Hoak Palmer?
JF: His name was Charlie Palmer. Charles E. Palmer, I think, but I'm not too sure. But his main subjects, as I said, were bacteriology. And, of course, they were courses that you had to take in the School of Agriculture. Two of them. He as a veterinarian took care of the herd, the dairy herd of Holsteins at Winterthur. And he used to be called out in the middle of the night to come see an animal or sick animal or something like that because they all had all registered and high-priced. And he would call me and I would go up with them. And I thought that was the greatest thing ever that could just happen to a boy. I had heard of the duPonts and the Winterthur and things like that. They were only names to me. But I got in on the ground floor of those things and it was extremely interesting. And I was very fortunate in that he took the pride in me and that I got to do things that otherwise I wouldn't have done. Part of it also was testing milk. And I was sent out. He would send me out to different farms in the neighborhood in Newark to collect samples of milk. And you had to go there and stay a couple of days because in those days there were many farmers who milked their cows three times a day instead of twice a day which was normal as you know. But anyhow you had to be there at milking time to take the samples and so forth and see that they were not changed and got true samples and so forth. That was very interesting. I met some fine families that way. Strange as it may seem that's how I met Dave Levinson's father. He was a veterinarian in Middletown. And he was a veterinarian to some of these farmers where I collected milk. And I met him, he was not much older than I was. And I was a kid, but he was a young veterinarian. I enjoyed him. I liked him very much.
MK: In fact we're going to be receiving his veterinarian tools. We're real excited about it. So that's also how you got started.... You got to know the duPont family then too, right?
JF: No, not really the duPont's themselves. Of course, they would be there, some of them. But there was no personal friendship. Dr. Palmer had their personal friendship. I was just a kid along with him, but, of course, I got to see them and talk with them, or hear their conversation and so forth. As I said, a country boy from Kent County and put him up in New Castle County with all of that money and experience and background and so forth was a bit unusual. And I was very happy to have that privilege. Had it not have been for Dr. Palmer I could not have had it either.
MK: Did you feel like a fish out of water?
MK: Was there as much of a division between upstate and downstate at there seems to still be today?
JF: Much more so then than now. But I don't think the duPonts were the cause of that. They had money and everything like that and they were supposedly put on a pedestal by downstate people. But I don't..... They weren't that kind of people to me I don't think. It was just because people thought that they were that way. But I never had those connections. The connections that I gained later with the duPont Company and family had no bearing.... There were only one or two of the quite older duPonts that had the interest in the dairies in Winterthur and the other places up there.
MK: Did some of the duPonts buy your dairy.
JF: Yeah, Congressman eh........ Can't think of his name. Anyhow he's of the duPont family and they have made a name of their own too.
JF: Haskell, Harry Haskell, that's right. He bought the dairy here. I did not know Harry Haskell before that. But I've known he, of course, much better since that. I like him quite well. He'll still today ask me to do things that he thinks that I can do with members of his family that he can't do. And, of course, that was ?????????
MK: How did you get involved in politics?
JF: Do you really want to hear that?
MK: Oh I do. I really do.
JF: My father was a Democrat. The first time I had the opportunity
to vote he told me that I'm not going to tell you how to vote but I'm
a Democrat and I want you to vote for Democrats if you possibly can.
There is one exception in this election and I'd like you to vote for
John G. Townsend. He was running for governor. And I looked at my father
and I said, "My god father he's a Republican". And my father
said, "Yes, but he's a very fine one and he's a good man. I'm not
going to tell you how to vote, but I'd like you to vote for him".
Well, obviously I did it too. But my interest in politics was more through
my father in my younger days than anything else. He was ...... Later
my father became a Levy Court Commissioner here. But never nationally
or statewide or anything like that. He wasn't really wasn't too interested
in those days. The way it came about as far as I in political... in
politics in which I was directly involved came in the fall of 1948.
Senator Buck, a very prominent and outstanding person as you know, well
know in Delaware, liked by people, had the money, had the duPont backing,
was a senator in the Republican party. The Democrats found nobody in
their party that wanted to run against Governor Buck, which you can
understand. That was just like saying "Well, I'll run, but there's
no way of being elected".
MK: It's phenomenal because races today are so vicious.
MK: They're just totally ??????
JF: Well, in those days they weren't. Of course, Senator Buck didn't campaign. It was a forgone conclusion that he would be elected. With me too. I thought he would. But anyhow, it just turned out that way.
MK: Did you have high turnout in Kent and Sussex County?
MK: Was their high turnout, voter turnout in Kent and Sussex County?
JF: Yes. In 1948 there was a pretty high percentage of registered voters that voted. I don't it was particularly because of the election in Delaware. But it was the Dewey-Truman campaign nationally which drew the, I think, voters to the booth in Delaware and I was in on that.
MK: You think you were elected because of Truman?