Author Ida Tarbell wasn’t born in Easton, but in 1906 she chose it as her primary home, living here until her death from pneumonia in January 1944. Her Easton farm, Twin Oaks, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1857, Ida Minerva Tarbell grew up in an oil rich region in the northwestern part of the state during the time that the value and importance of that liquid commodity was coming into its own. Her woodworker father began his career in the oil business by building wooden storage tanks, but later became a producer and refiner of oil after the family moved to Titusville. Like many other small operators, he ran a relatively successful operation until the railroads and larger oil companies conspired to raise the shipping rates so high that many of those operations were forced to sell to large ventures such as the Standard Oil Company.
Starting in 1876, Ida attended Allegheny College where she was the only woman in her class. After college, she became a teacher and then a writer. While writing in Paris in the early 1890’s, Tarbell met Samuel McClure, who then convinced her to write feature articles for his publication, McClure’s Magazine. Her work was both prolific and highly successful, but it wasn’t until she penned a nineteen-part series entitled The History of the Standard Oil Company that ran in the monthly publication beginning in November 1902 that she gained national notoriety and earned the not-so-favorable title of muckraker that President Theodore Roosevelt bestowed upon her and several other investigative journalists of the era.
After her father’s death in 1905, and a falling out with McClure in early 1906, Ida Tarbell joined some of her writer colleagues and purchased American Magazine. It was also in that year that she purchased her 40-acre farm on Valley Road and named it Twin Oaks, after an estate she had spent several months at in Washington D.C. a few years earlier. For the first few years, the Easton farm was primarily used as a summer home, but by early 1920’s, she had abandoned her NYC apartment and moved here for good.
When she first bought the farm, it was in disrepair, having not been worked for several years. According to Ms. Tarbell, “Things happened: the roof leaked; the grass must be cut if I was to have a comfortable sward to sit on; water in the house was imperative. And what I had not reckoned with came from all the corners of my land: incessant calls—fields calling to be rid of underbrush and weeds and turned to their proper work; a garden spot calling for a chance to show what it could do; apple trees begging to be trimmed and sprayed. I had bought an abandoned farm, and it cried loud to go about its business.”
Ida Tarbell continued to write, but by the middle of the second decade of the twentieth century, virtually every word she penned came from her home in Easton. She took in her mother and her sister, and Twin Oaks became a welcome retreat for many of her friends and colleagues. Her gardening was a peaceful respite from her socially active writing and frequent lecture tours. Easton became her home, and Twin Oaks her peaceful refuge.