Frank Chase

Many of the farm tools in the Old Town Hall exhibit were used on Frank Chase’s farm at the bottom of Quaker Hill. Frank was a farmer for 80 years. He was a local pioneer in raising turkeys, eggplant and late growing cauliflower.  Frank’s daughter, Mary Chase Hanks, donated the farm equipment in her father’s name.

A number of years ago my students at Elmhurst School were studying Portsmouth’s farm heritage.  I was able to bring the third grade students to various farms in Portsmouth to interview farmers about their work.  I brought one class to the Chase Farm at the bottom of Quaker Hill.  The students were delighted to talk to two women farmers.  One was an organic farmer who was renting the Chase land.  The other was Mary Chase Hanks whose family had been farming the land for generations.  In many ways their farming techniques were similar.

It is difficult to find information about many of our Portsmouth farmers, but a 1994 Newport Daily News article by R.E. Reimer on Mary Chase Hanks give us more information on both farmers.  At the time Mary was growing peaches, pears, tomatoes, peppers, berries, flowers and corn and selling them at her “Stonewall Stand” on East Main Road.  Mary was using organic techniques and was quoted as saying, “I like natural things, the natural way of preserving life and doing things that’s going to help the other fellow.”  She didn’t use herbicides or insecticides.  That was the Chase farm way since before the Civil War.

Mary stated that the farm was once part of her great-great-grandfather Samuel Chases much larger farm.  Frank Chase inherited part of that farm – around 18 acres of it from Quaker Hill to Bloody Run Brook.

Mary said her father Frank worked long, hard hours and expected the same of everyone who worked with him.  “Remember he started out when you delivered milk in the horse and buggy at 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Mary related that her father liked to plant cauliflower because he loved to watch it grow.  He teased that he had the sweetest melons because he put sugar on the land.

Mary Chase Hanks was dedicated to farming on her father’s side, but she was also artistic like her mother.  She earned a degree in commercial art, but didn’t use her training for a while.  She married and went on to raising four children in California.  She became a portrait painter with children as her subjects.

Mary Chase Hanks – part of Daily News photo – Kathryn Whitney

Mary returned to the Chase Farm in 1954 in order to help her father and she brought her children with her.  As her father aged she would farm in Portsmouth from April to October and then return to her California life over the winter.  Farming was an essential part of Mary’s life.  She died at age 88.