I had never understood why the farmlands of the US had been settled in such a sparse and isolated way, whereas the farming communities in Europe seemed closer, more convivial, centered around village life. It turns out it was mostly due to the Homestead Act, passed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, which granted land to homesteaders, 160 acres each, from unappropriated federal land.
I’ve been reading the autobiography of Loren Eiseley, “All the Strange Hours”, and found the explanation. In it he wrote:
The medical observers of the early century had a good deal to say about the life of women in soddies, on lonely homesteads, and what it could do to them. Americans made a mistake they have been paying for ever since. In response to the Homestead Act they have been strung out at nighttime into a vast solitude rather than linked to the old-world village with its adjoining plots.