During this decade the Transactions, which had been gradually increasing in size, reached a maximum of some 224 octavo pages annually at its close, with an occasional exception, the largest size ever attained. In addition to the Address, which was given usually in some church, with appropriate religious exercises, generous provision was made for the detailed reports of the various committees, the statements of the contestants for premiums for the management of farms, the reclaiming of waste or wet lands, experiments with manures, and the like, and for elaborate essays on special topics. The Addresses of this period were of notable quality. Caleb Gushing, orator and statesman, delivered an eloquent oration in 1850. Gen. Henry K. Oliver, Salem schoolmaster and Lawrence mill agent, spoke in 1852. Richard S. Fay in 1854, Dr. James R. Nichols of Haverhill in 1855, Major Ben: Perley Poore, the famous war correspondent during the Civil War, in 1856 ; Dr. George B. Loring, the elegant and cultured farmer, politician, future Commissioner of Agriculture and diplomat, in 1858. Edward Everett was a speaker at the dinner in 1858, taking the same part that fell to him in 1836, when he was Governor of the Commonwealth. The Reports of this period vied with each other in unique and grotesque peculiarities. Fitch Poole’s report on “Poultry” was a broad burlesque, entitled “The Convention of the Domestic Poultry.” Gen. Oliver followed with a humorous deliverance on “Bees and Honey,” and as these literary novelties proved attractive, no doubt, he contributed a long poetical and classical essay on “Flowers,’ and in 1854, reporting on “Poultry,” already celebrated in Fitch Poole’s masterpiece, he produced a marvellous compound of poetry and prose, embellished with quotations from Virgil and Anacreon, Shakespeare and Milton, Dryden and Gray, the New England Primer and Mother Goose. Whereupon Fitch Poole launched into poetry in 1858, with the humorous “Ballad of 1692 — The Second Dream of Giles Corey.” This seems queer diet for the everyday farmer, and it is in no wise surprising that it was remarked in 1857 that not more than a third of the thousand members of the Essex Agricultural Society were exclusively tillers of the soil. But though it bore the earmarks of a literary club, or a coterie of fine gentlemen, the old Society was still true to its ideals. There were essays of a more practical sort, Samuel P. Fowler’s on “The Destruction of Insects Injurious to Vegetation,” and David Choate’s report of his elaborate experiments with the Chinese sugar cane.
At the Cattle Shows there were evidences of notable advancements in farm methods. The Michigan sod plough, which turned two furrows at once, was exhibited in 1850. In 1852 a two-day session was adopted. In that year there was a particularly fine display of Suffolk swine, and Charles A. Stetson offered a premium for the encouragement of horse teams in plowing. The address of the President, Richard S. Fay, in 1854, sounded a warning note. Wages had doubled in twenty years, and the return was only half. The farmer must either resort to machinery or give up the unequal con- test. He has much to learn from the English and Scotch farmer. The mowing machine, he states, has been introduced into our fields during the past summer. So the year 1854 must be written down as the year of transition from the Old to the New Era, the Old Era of the scythe and the slow-moving ox and the heavy, unaided toil of man, to the New Era of machinery, revolutionizing the work of the farm and lightening its toil. The mowing machine met with the same captious criticism that always obstructs the progress of a great invention. It was objected that the expense put it beyond the reach of the average farmer, that the fields were too small and rough, that it required a skillful hand to operate it. The Essex Society moved rapidly. The President offered a special premium for the best machine. A committee on mowing machines was appointed, which visited Dr. Loring’s farm on July 16th, 1855, to see several machines in operation, and on the 17th went to Col. Moses Newell’s farm in West Newbury. These exhibitions drew great crowds of spectators, as many had never seen a machine in operation. Many accidents happened and one machine was put out of the race, but the trial was instructive and helpful. A few of the more progressive farmers made practical test of the value of the new invention on their own farms in the same summer. William F. Porter of Bradford cut 116 acres with a mowing machine; Horace Ware, 541 acres with one of the same make. Dr. Loring cut 58 acres with a Ketchum machine, and made successful experiment with his machine drawn by oxen on his salt marsh. As a matter of fact, the committee favored the use of oxen rather than horses with the mower. A hay-tedder of English make, which had been imported by Mr. Fay, was exhibited by Dr. Loring in 1858. The time-honored ploughing match, with the competing double yokes of mighty oxen, was still the most exciting event of the Cattle Show, and in 1858 it was held up for two hours, waiting the arrival of their expected guest, George Peabody, the London banker and philanthropist, then revisiting his old home in Essex County. But there were those who called for more modern accessories, which gave popularity to other County Fairs, though once and again their covert demand was silenced by the scornful query of the elder men : “What have military companies, and fire engines, horse races and female equestriennes to do with farming?” The Society became heir to the Treadwell farm in Topsfield in 1856, under the will of Dr. John G. Treadwell of Salem. He devised the farm after the decease of his mother, to the Society, “for the promotion of the science of Agriculture by the instituting and performance of experiments and such other means as may tend to the advancement of science,” with an eventual reversion to the Massachusetts General Hospital if the Society declined to accept the gift on these terms, or failed to observe the conditions of the gift. Two schemes for the use of the property were considered. One was the establishment of a school of practical agriculture, which might be instituted in case some person be found competent to take the farm and teach young men the essentials of successful farming, receiving the rent for his remuneration. The other plan was to place it in the hands of an experienced and intelligent farmer on a long lease, subject in lieu of rent to various duties and experiments. The latter was adopted, the transfer of the farm was made, and it was leased at once.