A Few Miles Over, But 200 Years In The Past
By George Locke
There comes a time when you just need to get away for a while from the everyday challenges of work and living. So Rose and I occasionally tumble into the Kia and motor off to someplace different. A place that, after you leave, you feel you have experienced something beyond the ordinary.
This weekend was one of those times when, on a hazy Sunday afternoon, we followed the gabby GPS directions and found ourselves in Milton, New Hampshire, about an hour and fifteen minutes from our front yard and about 200 years ago as the old crow flies.
The New Hampshire Farm Museum is an educational organization dedicated to preserving, promoting and carrying forward New Hampshire’s rural and agricultural heritage. It’s also a working farm with some animals and a garden that yields, when tended properly, several acres of hay and an abundant harvest, in season, of squash, peas, beans, tomatoes and such.
In talking with Director Kathleen Shea, I learned that the Museum consists of two adjoining farmsteads situated on 50 acres located on Plummer’s Ridge in Milton. The historic Jones Farm and the Plummer Homestead date to the late 18th century and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The farms were passed down in the same families for generations. And so were the tools used to provide the produce and tend to the everyday living back then.
We were greeted by a friendly young woman at the ticket desk/gift shop and after a nominal fee ($7 for those over 17, $4 for children and $6 for senior citizens – hooray!), we began our tour.
Our first stop was a mini documentary shown every 15 minutes or so in an adjoining wood shed, and which describes the life on a farm years ago. It was well done and aside from a little audio difficulty, it was a perfect introduction to what lay in store.
Next, the chickens in the yard. The “girls” (and one colorful, happy rooster) are all clean, happy, well-fed and kept. “Free range” is the expression and didn’t some of the kids who came to visit have fun with those cluckers.
Incidentally, bring a camera. Photo-taking moments appear in droves.
Our young tour guide, Andrew Towne, began the tour in the “Big Barn,” which was stuffed full of rigs of every shape, size and configuration; farm implements and agricultural aids hung from all the walls and stalls formerly occupied with animals of the bovine nature now filled to overflowing with carpenters tools.
You were on your own back then and you couldn’t toddle down your local Lowe’s or Home Depot to secure what was needed. You made it. From eating implements (cow’s horns) to drinking mugs (oak or maple “fired” limbs cut the right size) to items used to repair wagons, fences and buildings to maintaining the fuel to heat the living quarters in the form of several dozen cords of firewood seasoned, cut, split and stacked.
The barn is several stories high and contains more tools, dairy machines, objects of cheese making and the largest display of different milk bottles I have ever seen.
Every square inch of this extremely large structure is filled to overflowing with wagons, hayracks, hay rakes, sledges, hammers, saws of every conceivable ilk and sleighs and sleds (including one billed as the longest sled in the world that runs the complete 100 feet or so of the inside of the barn – believe me it would make one heck of a belly whopper!).
The barn does not have a fancy interior and at times was a little dusty, but if you don’t mind stepping over a few things or climbing a stair or two, I guarantee you will find more fascinating objects preserved in its original venue then some of the more “swell-ified” museums offer.
Andrew did not follow us on our exploration but let us wander as we wished, and he answered questions we had with a skillful blend of stories and remarkable information.
The “Big Barn” can gobble up a lot of time, and we hadn’t even seen the inside of the house or tavern/inn/stagecoach stop yet.
Andrew took us inside the original farmhouse, stopping in each room we wandered into and explaining many of the items we found. He was more then just a guide as he actually made some of the items he discussed, including the “fired” mugs, so called when hot coals from a fire were lain atop a thick branch of a tree cut to mug size and allowed to smolder down and hollow out the drinking utensil.
As a certain pointy eared Vulcan would say, ”Fascinating.”
The farmstead consists of one of the largest “continuous architecture” structures I have ever seen. It’s 275 feet in length and ranges in date from the 1770s to the early 1900s. Continuous (so called) because every structure is linked together in one line to allow easy access to the building in the harsh winter and mud seasons here in New England and was known colloquially as “big house – little house – back house and barn.”
Insurance companies frown on that design nowadays and you will not find many outside of southern New Hampshire, Vermont and northern parts of Massachusetts.
In the last 200 years, the NHFM has changed ownership a few times.
The original Revolutionary era cape farmhouse was owned by Joseph Plumer; in the farmhouse you will find a vast collection of artifacts used in domestic production of textiles and preservation of food, furnishings and myriad household articles highlighting “Yankee ingenuity.”
From there we flowed into Levi Jones’ early 19th-century inn and tavern where, if you close your eyes, you can almost hear travelers and farmers laughing and talking about the news of the day. If you let your imagination continue for a moment or two, above the hustle perhaps will rise the klink of post- and pre-Revolutionary War coins dropping into hostler Jones’ waiting hands to be joined with the thump of foaming tankards of fresh brewed ale on age scarred oak tables.
It is here that history comes alive.
From the tavern we move into a Victorian parlor and dining room (be sure to pause and look at the wonderfully preserved musical instruments, the entertainment was live in those days) and a fantastic dollhouse that I could not tear my eyes away from.
What skill. You almost feel like Lemuel Gulliver as you gaze at perfectly miniaturized furniture tucked into jewel-like rooms, and finally we wander into an early 20th-century farm kitchen.
While many farms in New Hampshire have come and gone, leaving empty cellar holes, or collapsed building with untended graveyards and mossy covered stone walls to wander aimlessly through new forest growth, the Farm Museum remains a remarkable reminder of what it was like in “the old days.”
The Museum also has two other recently added buildings holding dozens of tractors and buggies and a working octagonal cider house containing tubs, barrels, presses and other items used to produce grampa’s “whistle wetter.”
It is well worth a visit.
The Museum is open to the public five days per week mid-June through mid October and offers special events and programs on weekends throughout the year. They offer guided tours of the farm and the historic Jones farmhouse and exhibits and display on rural life and agriculture in New Hampshire. Special events and programs, work shops, school group visits and day camps are offered throughout the year. They have have a working farm growing heirloom varieties of vegetables for our Community Supported Agriculture Program and for sale in our Country store. They also keep a small selection of heritage breed farm animals to support our educational programs.
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