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Discover History at the Durham Fair Farm Museum

If you're headed to the Durham Fair this weekend and have never been to the Farm Museum, now's the time for a visit. Come discover Connecticut's agricultural heritage through tractors, antique engines and more.

If you love history and you're planning a trip to the Durham Fair this weekend, don't miss the Durham Fair Farm Museum. The Farm Museum began in the early 1970s, when community farmers donated equipment and other farm artifacts to the Durham Fair Association.

Those donations went on display in what was until recently the youth exhibit space. The collection soon outgrew the building. Today, the museum is housed in a building near the Commercial Building.

Space restrictions mean that only a small part of the collection can be on display but volunteers have learned to make every inch count.

The displays include a variety of artifacts that depict Connecticut’s agricultural history. During a visit, you can discover different kinds of farm machinery, see how milk was stored, or even learn how a housewife cooked her meals before electric stoves.

While you’re there, be sure to take a look at these fascinating items.[1]

Ackerman’s General Store and Durham Grange Signs

These signs, which hang from the rafters in the Farm Museum, once graced buildings on Durham’s Main Street. Ackerman’s was founded by Durham resident Austin Ackerman in 1927. It served as a general store and then a hardware store until its closing in 2002. For many years, it was a popular place to shop in Durham. Durham’s Grange No. 57 sign hung over the front door of the Grange Hall. The property across from the Post Office was built as the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1836 and eventually purchased by the Grange. A social organization for farmers, the Grange membership decreased with the closing of area. The building became too large for the group and has since been sold. For Durham residents, these signs serve as a reminder of the town’s history and deep agricultural roots.[2]

John Deere Hay Loader

The Farm Museum’s John Deere hay loader demonstrates how much mechanization changed farm life. Among the first farm machinery, hay loaders were introduced in the 1880s. Originally, workers had to lift hay into a wagon by hand. The hay loader pulled hay into the wagon for them, using a series of wheels. The farmer could use two people to do the job of many. The hay loader was used into the 1950s, when it was replaced by the haybaler. The Farm Museum’s piece likely dates from this era. Although it has been heavily restored, it is still an impressive item.[3]

1920s Centaur Tractor

Originally from a farm in Old Saybrook, the Centaur Tractor is among the earliest ride-on gas powered tractors. Tractors first came into use during World War I. These first models were designed to be controlled by a person walking behind the tractor. By the early 1920s, small farms were using ride-on models like the Centaur. The Farm Museum’s Centaur was made by the Central Tractor Company of Greenwich, Ohio around 1921. It symbolizes the farm’s transition from horses to machines.[4]

Working Blacksmith and Furniture Shops

For those of us used to buying our furniture and metal items premade, it can be fascinating to see how our ancestors survived. During the Fair, the Farm Museum sponsors living history exhibits by local blacksmiths and woodworkers. This year, a local furniture maker will be demonstrating how wood was prepared using hand planes. Blacksmiths will complete small projects in a working forge using historic tools. Check with the Farm Museum for the hours of demonstrations.[5]

Durham Fair Poster Collection

A Fair visit to the Farm Museum isn’t complete without a stop at some of the items celebrating the Durham Fair. Since the 1980s, the Durham Fair Association has produced posters commemorating the Fair. They have relied on a variety of local design groups for layout, meaning that the posters all have a slightly different feel. Yet, the posters still relate to one another. Each year’s posters tie into the theme of that year’s exhibitor’s guide. Posters have depicted carousel horses, butterflies, and more. The Farm Museum’s collection is a glimpse into the artwork inspired by Durham’s agricultural history, especially the Durham Fair.[6]

Sources:

[1] Durham Fair Farm Museum Volunteers, interview by Bryna O’Sullivan, 21 September 2011; transcript privately held by O’Sullivan.

[2] Amy Ash Nixon, “Remembering Marbles And Bulbs And Banter At Ackerman's,” The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, 3 February 2011; digital transcription, Courant.com (http://articles.courant.com/1999-02-03/news/9901310002_1_harrod-mr-ackerman-durham: accessed 21 September 2011).  Amy Ash Nixon, “A Simple Bit Of The Past Passes On,” The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, 27 June 2002; digital transcription, Courant.com (http://articles.courant.com/2002-06-27/news/0206271776_1_dick-ackerman-garden-supplies-ackerman-s-general-store: accessed 21 September 2011).  Durham Fair Farm Museum Volunteers, interview by Bryna O’Sullivan, 21 September 2011; transcript privately held by O’Sullivan. Planning and Zoning Commission, “Minutes of September 15, 2008 Meeting,” Town of Durham, CT (http://www.townofdurhamct.org/filestorage/16168/21152/16266/16268/9-17-08_Minutes_Planning_&_Zoning.pdf: accessed 22 September 2011).

[3] Durham Fair Farm Museum Volunteers, interview by Bryna O’Sullivan, 21 September 2011; transcript privately held by O’Sullivan. “Draft Horse Powered Hay Loader,” YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JN_zBuL5Phk: accessed 22 September 2011). Charles H. Wendel, Encyclopedia of American Farm Implements & Antiques, 2nd Edition (Iowa, WI: Krause Publishing, 2004), 211-214; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com: accessed 22 September 2011). “History of the John Deere Trademark,” John Deere (http://www.deere.com/wps/dcom/en_US/corporate/our_company/about_us/history/trademarks/trademarks.page?: accessed 22 September 2011).

[4] “John Deere Company Time Line,” John Deere (http://www.deere.com/wps/dcom/en_US/corporate/our_company/about_us/history/timeline/timeline.page?: accessed 22 September 2011). Oscar H. Will III, Garden Tractors: Deere, Club Cadet, Wheel Horse, and All the Rest, 1930s to Current (Minneapolis, MN: MBI Publishing Co, 2009), 8, 10, 11; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com: 22 September 2011). Terry Dean and Larry L. Swenson, Antique American Tractor and Crawler Value Guide, 46; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com: 22 September 2011

[5] Durham Fair Farm Museum Volunteers, interview by Bryna O’Sullivan, 21 September 2011; transcript privately held by O’Sullivan.

[6] Durham Fair Farm Museum Volunteers, interview by Bryna O’Sullivan, 21 September 2011; transcript privately held by O’Sullivan.

Tina Hurlbert September 24, 2011 at 02:58 AM
Best building to do honor to the agricultural history and importance of farming in our area. It would be wonderful if the building could be open during the rest of the year for school groups to visit. One correction - it is not near the cow palace, but right next to the commercial building.
Michael Hayes (Editor) September 24, 2011 at 04:42 AM
Duly noted! Thanks Tina, that's a good idea.

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