An early Cheshire County farm

An early Cheshire County farm that survived “The Grasshopper Year.”

The spring of 1826 began on an ominous note. The N.H. Sentinel reported that on only one morning in March was the sun visible through the clouds. The weather then improved a bit until May, when the temperature rose into the 90s day after day and very little rain fell. Even less rain fell during the month of June.

The fields of Cheshire County turned brown as the drought took hold. It was then that the grasshoppers arrived. Huge clouds of the insects filled the sky in and around Keene. It was reported that they rose in the air by the thousands before every step of the traveler. The farmers had feared that the lack of rain would destroy the crops, but now the grasshoppers devastated all vegetation that had survived the drought, especially grass, corn, potatoes and grain. The entire corn crop in Swanzey was destroyed.

One man attempted to save his garden by picking the insects off his plants. He took his baskets out to the garden one morning and picked almost six bushels of the creatures before breakfast. Some farmers in Antrim fed bushels of the insects to their hogs. At dusk the fences in Swanzey were covered by the grasshoppers as they settled down for the night. It was reported that after the vegetation was gone, the insects began to eat recently produced hoe handles.

Rain finally came during the month of July. Once the rain started, however, it did not stop. The grasshoppers were washed away, along with nearly every bridge in the town of Swanzey. September was a perfect growing month and our ancestors survived the drought, floods and insects, but for many years thereafter the residents of the region referred to 1826 as “The Grasshopper Year.”

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.