Business and Labor

Flashback Photos: Farm Auction in Derby, Conn., 1940

These photos of a farm auction in Derby, Conn., were taken in September 1940 by Jack Delano.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Derby Farm Auction Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Delano worked for the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal program that later evolved into the Office of War Information. Photographers for the FSA/OWI took iconic photos of America during the Great Depression and World War II. Other well-known photographers for the agency included Walker EvansDorothea Lange and Gordon Parks. Delano later settled in Puerto Rico, where he composed music.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

E. S. Beardsley in action. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Derby Farm Auction

Local auctioneer E.S. Beardsley was selling off Anthony Yacek's farm and household goods.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Two harnesses. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Above, a pair of harnesses were being auctioned, according to Delano. We know little about the auction itself.  Why, for example, was the farm being auctioned off in the first place?

It's quite possible that Yacek, like many farmers, took out bank loans in the 1920s to pay for land and equipment. Then, when prices plummeted during the Great Depression, farmers couldn't afford to repay the loans. Between 1929 and 1933, a third of all U.S. farmers lost their farms to foreclosure.

So President Roosevelt intended the photographs of farmers' distress to build public support for continued government intervention in agriculture.

In 1933, he persuaded Congress to pass the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The new law gave price supports to farmers so they could have decent purchasing power -- and keep their farms.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Dress model and furniture. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

We can also assume Anthony Yacek had Polish ancestry because Derby, the smallest municipality in Connecticut, has a large Polish population. Today, 18 percent of all Derby residents claim to be of Polish descent.

Many Poles came to New England to escape poverty and starvation around the turn of the century. In a typical pattern, they found work in textile mills and then used their savings to buy cheap land viewed as useless for farming. The Polish farmers turned the land into thriving onion and tobacco farms.

Delano's caption for the photo above reads, "Furniture and old dress model auctioned off at the auction of Mr. Anthony Yacek's farm and household goods."

E.S. Beardsley

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Suffering through the Derby farm auction. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Women, above, wait while their husbands bid at the auction. They look like they'd rather be elsewhere. Perhaps they knew the Yaceks and found the farm auction depressing. Or perhaps they'd lost their own farms.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The photo above shows onlookers taking a break for lunch.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The photo above shows auctioneer E. S. Beardsley in action. Delano called Beardsley a typical New England auctioneer. "A great talker, he is active in local politics and in church work," Delano's caption reads.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

"An old couple listening to the auctioneer at the sale of Mr. Anthony Yecek's farm," read the caption by Delano, who was 26 at the time.

This story was updated in 2019.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: 40 fascinating pictures of Connecticut history from the 18th & 19th century

  2. Pingback: Flashback Photo: Walden Pond, Then and Now - New England Historical Society

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