In Episode 173, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger hike up to an old cellar hole and cemetery in Pawtuckaway State Park in New Hampshire, in search of an eccentric photographer from the late 1800s named George Goodrich. However, folks around the nearby town of Raymond called him: The Barefoot Farmer. Though he looked like a disheveled vagabond to the untrained eye of tourists, locals knew he was one of the wealthiest men in town.
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RAY: Hey Jeff, is that the same Goonies t-shirt I saw you wearing last week?
JEFF: Maybe. I admit it Ray, since this pandemic hit, my wardrobe has suffered.
RAY: I totally get it. I’m not shaving much, I wear the same jeans for days on end. It’s tough to make an effort right now.
JEFF: Do you think once this is over you might start trying again?
RAY: I’ve never really been a fashionista, so probably not. Besides, it’s what’s the inside that counts, right?
JEFF: It’s tough once you go casual to go back to the time and expense of dressing up. Plus, where we’re heading today, I don’t expect we’ll see anyone except maybe a hiker or two.
RAY: We just passed through the town of Raymond, New Hampshire. And now we’ll head north on Route 156.
JEFF: Hopefully those hikers don’t judge us by our appearance.
RAY: I know, right?!
JEFF: We’re making our way to the State Park right by the lake north of Raymond in search of the Barefoot Farmer of Pawtuckaway.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 173 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m RAY Auger, it’s fitting that RAYMOND, New Hampshire, is the next stop on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. Did you know that so many of our story ideas come from you legendary listeners? That’s what Dana Stewart did. We love it when you reach out to us through our web site, through social media, our super secret Facebook group, through our free New England Legends smart phone app, or by calling or texting our legend line anytime at 617-444-9683.
JEFF: But before we get too far into Pawtuckaway State Park searching for the Barefoot Farmer, we’d like to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals. Ray, it’s getting colder, and I have been sipping quite a bit of Nuwati Herbals tea these days.
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JEFF: Okay, Ray. Back to finding this Barefoot farmer. It looks pretty empty here at the Tower Road parking area of Pawtuckaway State Park in New Hampshire.
RAY: Yeah, just a few cars. I imagine this place looks pretty different in the summer. With Pawtuckaway Lake right here, this area is a great summer getaway. But the guy we’re looking for isn’t associated with the lake, is he.
JEFF: No, we’re looking for a farmer named George Goodrich. His family owned all of this land long before it became a state park. This used to be a big farm. So let’s head up this trail into the park.
JEFF: If you look up ahead…
RAY: Yeah, I see an old cellar hole. And yeah… over there I see a small cemetery surrounded by an old Colonial Stone wall.
JEFF: This is the Goodrich Family Plot. These headstones give us a clue about the tragic tale we’re about to explore.
RAY: Wow! Look at this headstone. It reads: Sally, wife of Barnard Goodrich, aged 101!
JEFF: Yes, a long life for her, for sure. But some of these other stones tell a sadder story.
RAY: You’re right. Look at these five headstones: four Goodrich boys and their father all died in the span of just a few months during the winter of 1833 to 1834.
JEFF: To find out how this happened, and so we can meet the famous Barefoot Farmer, let’s head back to 1790 and set this up.
RAY: It’s the Spring of 1790, and Sally and Barnard Goodrich have just moved to the area north of Raymond, New Hampshire, from their former home in Massachusetts.
[MOO OF A COW]
JEFF: Farming up here is tough. We’re in the mountains. The soil has a high acid content, making it difficult for crops, and there are TONS of rocks, meaning plowing fields is treacherous.
RAY: Part of the reason you see colonial stone walls marking property lines all over the country side of New England is because all of those rocks were pulled out of the ground for farms. The rocks had to go somewhere, so the walls became the place to leave them.
JEFF: Though the Goodrich Family are one of the first families to move in and setup a farm here in the Pawtuckaway region, they’re not the last. Soon, there are several families here trying to make a go from working the land. It’s a tough life, but folks like the Goodriches are tough people. Barnard and Sally will have seven children in the coming years.
RAY: More kids means more helping hands on the farm. Though the conditions here aren’t for the faint of heart, still, the Goodrich farm is growing. Crops are growing, apply trees are doing well, and there’s more cows now.
RAY: And even though other locals farms are starting to fold up as families abandon their New Hampshire, farms for more fertile soils in the west, the Goodriches continue to prosper.
JEFF: But then, it’s July of 1825 when tragedy strikes. Sally and Barnard’s only daughter, Delia dies from illness. She’s only two years old. They bury her in a plot of land near the family’s house.
RAY: Though the loss of Delia is tragic, these things do happen. But Sally and Bernard are in for more than their share of tragedy less than a decade later. It’s now December of 1834.
RAY: Winter has settled in to these New Hampshire hills, and soon one of the Goodrich boys gets ill. Then another, and another. Smallpox is going around the community, and this plague can be a killer. By the time winter ends in 1835, four of the remaining boys and Bernard all pass away from illness. They take their places alongside Delia in the family burial plot. Four years later, another son, Samuel, dies, leaving Nathan as their only surviving child.
JEFF: Nathan marries Betsey Cate of Deerfield, and the couple have only one child in August of 1844. A boy named George. And George Goodrich is the real star of our story.
RAY: From a young age, George takes to farming life. He’s good with the animals, with crops, and he doesn’t mind getting dirty. It’s part of the job. And his grandmother is grateful.
JEFF: She is. This farm the family built from nothing looks like it will live on. So many of the New Hampshire Hill Farmers have moved west, so there’s less competition now, which means higher prices for the crops, milk, butter, and other products.
RAY: The matriarch of the family, Sally, passes away in 1854, which leaves the farm in the hands of George Goodrich and his parents. Sally was 101 years old when she passed. As we said, these Gooriches are tough. Time goes by, and George grows up in farm life. He regularly makes the trip in his horse-drawn carriage into nearby Raymond to sell apples from his orchard, or his maple syrup, or cream from the cows.
JEFF: He’s quickly gaining the reputation as quite the… eccentric?
RAY: How so?
JEFF: First, he almost never wears shoes. He’s barefoot all the time, even in cold weather. If it’s deep snow, and he simply must wear boots, he refuses to wear socks, and if you don’t believe him, he’s happy to slide a boot off and show you.
JEFF: Also, he doesn’t shave. George grows his whiskers down to his chest. And then there’s his clothes, if you can call them that. His pants are often torn off at the knee, his shirts are ripped and frayed everywhere. He doesn’t look like a respectable member of society.
RAY: George Goodrich is the last of the Hill Farmers, and around Raymond, they know him better as the Barefoot Farmer of Patuckaway. With the lake nearby, this region is filling up with tourists, especially in the summer. The out-of-town folks take one look at the Barefoot Farmer and figure he must be some impoverished vagabond.
JEFF: And they’d be wrong. The thing about George… he’s rich. One of the wealthiest men in the region. First, he now owns a farm and hundreds of acres of land. Plus, with no other area farms, his business is booming. He dresses the way he does because he sees no need to make a fancy show of himself. He is who he is.
RAY: The other thing about the Barefoot Farmer, is he’s taken up an expensive hobby.
RAY: He’s an amateur photographer. And his favorite subject to shoot, is himself and his farm, which is why we have so many pictures of George working his land.
JEFF: Plus, he’s also known to take tourists on guided trips up into the hills. He takes their picture, and makes prints and postcards to sell back to them.
RAY: He’s quite the enterprising man, but also quite the loaner. When asked why he never married, folks around here will tell you that none of the local girls live up to his high standards. Once he’s in his fifties, he decides to place an ad in the newspapers of Manchester, New Hampshire, looking for a wife. And that’s how he meets and marries Susan Carlton.
JEFF: George and Susan never have children. They live out their years on the farm as George takes photographs and makes stops in the town of Raymond being the Barefoot Farmer.
RAY: George loves the land around his farm, considering he’s already been bringing tourists up here for years, he feels this land should be enjoyed by all, which is why George helps found the Pawtuckaway State Park. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: When George Goodrich died, he left his land to the state to expand this park to what you see today. If you look at some of the old photographs George took, you see a different landscape. It was rolling hills back then with outcroppings of rocks. Not the thick forest that’s grown over the last century.
JEFF: A book came out in 2007 about the Barefoot Farmer of Pawtuckaway, further cementing George Goodrich’s reputation as a local folk icon. An eccentric, sure, but an artist too. While his photography never won any awards, there’s something so honest about it. There’s this respect for the land and livestock that comes across in his pictures. His life seemed simple. No need for frills. Maybe that’s why we’re still talking about him?
RAY: Because we’re suddenly living in a no-frills time period once again?
JEFF: Maybe. Or maybe that simpler time and simpler people are something we pine for during these complicated times. I know it’s cold out here in the woods of Pawtuckaway, New Hampshire, Ray. But whadaya say? You want to go barefoot back to the car?
RAY: No, I do not. I love how we remember the eccentrics. Though many judge them by their appearance or outward behavior, a deeper dive always shows us something more interesting. If you want to see some pictures of George Goodrich and other photos he took, head over to our Web site and click on Episode 173.
JEFF: While you’re there you’ll find a link on how to become one of our beloved Patreon Patrons! These folks kick in just $3 bucks per month to get early access to new episodes plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. We appreciate you folks more than we can say! If you want to join us, head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
RAY: Also, be sure to subscribe to our podcast and tell a friend or two about us. The more people who share these stories, the more strange tales that come in for all of us to explore.
JEFF: We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals, and our theme music is by John Judd!
VOICEMAIL: Hi, this is the Friedels from Welcome, North Carolina, until next time remember the bizarre is closer than you think.