The best books about rural life in upstate New York

Jonathan T. Jefferson Author Of Echoes from the Farm
By Jonathan T. Jefferson

Who am I?

Born in 1969 as the seventh of eight children to two Harlem-raised parents, I benefited from both the inner-city life of Queens, New York and childhood summers spent on a farm in rural upstate New York. Academic, professional, and physical accomplishments have punctuated my life. An adventurer by nature, I became the first African American to hike to the top of every mountain in the northeast US over 4,000' (115 of them) by September of 2000. At that time, less than 400 people had accomplished this feat; whereas thousands have scaled Mount Everest. My home city’s iconic landmarks create a psychological veil that blinds people to the vast open spaces that dominate New York State. 


I wrote...

Echoes from the Farm

By Jonathan T. Jefferson,

Book cover of Echoes from the Farm

What is my book about?

In the early 1970s, when the author (a.k.a. "John-John") was a young child, his parents did something unprecedented for a working-class African American family from Queens: They bought an old, dilapidated farmhouse in Upstate New York's dairy country as a summer home for them and their eight children. Initially fish out of water, over the next decade the Jefferson family became part of the landscape, the children eagerly anticipating those precious weeks of adventure in cow country. Journey with John-John as he reminisces: Enjoy the way his most vivid recollections are brought to life by wonderful illustrations. And be inspired to embark on your own adventure to build precious memories for you and your family.

The books I picked & why

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The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York

By Tom Calarco,

Book cover of The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York

Why this book?

This well-researched book presents a balanced account of the true heroism performed by escaped slaves, church abolishionists, anti-slavery societies, and vigilance committees to free their fellow citizens. Myths related to tunnels, quilts, and yard statues are explained, as well as the legendary contributions of John Brown and Harriet Tubman. My life’s travels have unknowingly placed me on the path of the underground railroad countless times. From shopping with my family as a child in Ogdensburg where African Americans crossed the St. Lawrence River into Canada to have owned properties in Essex, Clinton, and Franklin Counties along the trails to liberation.  


New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State

By Karen M. Johnson-Weiner,

Book cover of New York Amish: Life in the Plain Communities of the Empire State

Why this book?

I first saw Amish people in New York during the mid-1970s while spending summers on my family’s abandoned dairy farm in St. Lawrence County. We (Jeffersons) arrived in 1972, and a Swartzentruber Amish community settled nearby in 1974. Although we overlapped with our simply living county neighbors for ten summers (my parents sold our farm in 1985), I knew very little about them. This book provides readers with a college-level education on the inception, migration, internal conflicts, socioeconomic and sociopolitical lives of the Amish.


More Scenes from the Rural Life

By Verlyn Klinkenborg,

Book cover of More Scenes from the Rural Life

Why this book?

This book can be more aptly titled “Life”. Klinkenborg’s musings over an eleven-year span while maintaining his farm in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley go well beyond the allotted time and location. His many astute observations about nature, animals, and people are expertly framed with blunt and humorous analogies. The Interlude and final chapter ("Coda") state the importance of the sciences exploring cosmology, biology, and archeology and why knowledge morphs through history. A must-read for any urbanite or suburbanite curious about country living.


Greenville

By Dale Peck,

Book cover of Greenville

Why this book?

Divergent, yet shockingly similar, life experiences are chronicled in Greenville and my own book. A poor white family from Long Island with eight children sent one son to live and work on a farm in the Catskill region during the 1950s. Harsh living conditions downstate with an alcoholic father and abusive mother were replaced upstate with a loving uncle, welcoming peers, and athletic success. Circumstances changed again dramatically, and the author tidies up the chaos that was his father’s life by visiting the farm 45 years later. 


From Where We Stand: Recovering a Sense of Place

By Deborah Tall,

Book cover of From Where We Stand: Recovering a Sense of Place

Why this book?

As books by academics are apt to be, this wonderfully rich account of the history of New York’s Finger Lakes region is replete with references, quotes, and poetic stories. Tall begins with the manner in which the Iroquois Confederacy was divided and driven out during the Revolutionary War, and progresses through the influences of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a heavily guarded military base, and struggles with blight in Geneva, New York. “Place” is explored through the lenses of the natural environment, language, religion, psychology, racism, and more. Indeed, Tall’s approach to understanding the community she adopted can be replicated on lands all over the world. 


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