September 1993

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The Crooked Lake Review Visits

The Cohocton Valley

Farm Museum


Bill Treichler

One year ago a museum in Cohocton, New York, was only the dream of Stanley Clark and a vision in the mind of Richard Sherer. Mr. Clark was making plans for an excursion train to run from Hammondsport where his dinner boat the Keuka Maid is berthed, through Bath to Cohocton. He wanted an attractive feature for excursioners when they reached Cohocton, and he approached Steuben County Historian, Richard Sherer for ideas.

Dick Sherer immediately suggested a farm museum with a focus on the Conhocton River Valley and Pleasant Valley, the route of the proposed train ride. The two men came to an understanding: Richard Sherer would design and construct a museum and Stanley Clark would purchase a vacant lumber yard along the tracks by the Cohocton depot and finance the project.

Sherer's plan was to feature farm life in the valleys for the 200 years from the early settlements. His inspiration came from the four engravings in the book by Orasmus Turner on the Phelps and Gorham Purchase. These illustrations show the development of an imaginary homestead over 45 years. Mr. Sherer expanded the time to 150 years beginning with 1790 and progressing in 50 year increments through 1840 and 1890 to 1940. Murals similar to the engravings would form backgrounds for the display of antique farm implements of the four eras. Marcel Rouin of Hammondsport and Charles Sawdey of Pittsford agreed to paint the wall scenes.

Work began in the building December 1, 1993, and continued all through the winter, down to the Museum opening July 16th when the first visitors came aboard "The Champagne Trail" Excursion Train, and in their own automobiles.

Train passengers arrive at the old Erie railroad station right along the Conhocton River in the village of Cohocton. Tickets for the train ride, and the museum are on sale in the depot building. Just across the tracks is the museum building.

Inside the entrance is a large room with many commonplace and curious items of farm life used in the Cohocton Valley. Opposite the doorway is a long workbench with farming tools, fencing pliers and stump pulling chains, lying on it underneath the words "The Farmer was Jack of All Trades" painted on the wall. A grain cradle hangs from the ceiling; a shingle making bench stands on the floor. Along the wall are sets of wood boring braces and bits used by carpenters and wheelwrights, smoothing and beading planes, and an inshave for hollowing chair seats, all the kinds of tools required on an isolated and self-sufficient homestead.

Down the wall to the right are the household tools used for winding yarn, making bread, pitting cherries, lifting pies from a hot bake oven, pressing cheeses, churning and working butter.

Across the room is a foot-operated cow milking machine, probably more nuisance than good, and a centrifuge for determining the butter fat content of milk to be sold.

In addition to the work tools of farm life including sleds for hauling wood and milk cans, there are items for recreation, sleds for hillsides, skates for creeks and ponds. In the middle of the room is an 1875 Studebaker four-runner sleigh that at one time carried the Masson family in Hammondsport on winter rides.

All of this display is preliminary to the main feature of the museum and its theme "200 Years of Farm Life." Passing through a door in the far end of the entrance room visitors walk onto a carpeted balcony, and around the first corner view a diorama of a settler's 1790 cabin set in a clearing. The mural on the wall shows the man wiping his brow from the exertion of felling one more tree to expand his opening in the forest. At the door of their cabin his wife is throwing grain to her first few chickens. From the forest, deer look out on the newcomers. In the foreground is a real wooden plow set in a furrow while a plowman rests.

Moving along the balcony past a divider, the scene is of summer fifty years later. A new generation has increased the clearing and enlarged the cabin. There are sheds and a fenced garden, and a bridge across a stream with a boy fishing. All of this is in the mural; in the foreground is an 1847 McCormick reaper from Bradford, New York, cutting into standing wheat. The field in this exhibit is bounded with ancient split rails that came from the Myrtle farm on Mitchellsville Road.

Passing the next divider a visitor sees another mural showing the farmstead in the 1890s with still more of the land cleared. A larger barn has been built. The house has been enlarged. Two dogs are running to greet the farmer coming along the stream in his buggy. It is the fall season now, and potato digging time. In the foreground is a Boss digger that was manufactured in Corning in 1893.

Continuing along the balcony a viewer comes in sight of a wall scene of a well-established farm of the 1940s By this time the forest is gone. The only trees remaining are in woodlots, along fence-rows, and as shade trees. The season is winter, the wood has been piled in the shed and a boy is belly whopping down a snow drift on his sled.

Across a bridge along an opposite balcony are four corresponding exhibits of indoor farm life for the same periods showing changes in the work and living spaces of farm wives.

First is the one-room interior of the 1790s cabin. At one end is the stick chimney fireplace where household cooking and washing chores went on. The cooking pots and griddles are cast iron. Pewter plates are set out on the trestle table. At the other end of the room is a rope bed in the corner with feather tick comforters on it, a cradle alongside, and a leather trunk filled with clothes. Hanging on the wall is a shoulder yoke used to carry two pails of water from the spring. There is also a single yoke for the ox to be hitched to a sod-breaking plow.

In the next room along the balcony the farm wife has a soapstone sink and a cast iron cook stove. The table is set with 1840s gold-banded English bone china. Also in this kitchen is a large loom set up for weaving rugs. Phyllis Martin and Anne Brewer warped this loom and Nancy Freelove weaves on it every Saturday and Sunday.

A little farther down the balcony is an 1890s kitchen with an 1882 Leonard icebox and a Kalamazoo enameled stove that has a warming oven. On the plate rail are hand-painted china plates. The 1890s gold-flecked wall paper came from a roll with its price stag still on it and marked 80¢ a roll. There is 1890s Ironstone China on the table, an 1893 baby walker on the floor with a doll buggy and toy piano nearby.

The last kitchen is furnished 1940s style with a 1933 G. E. coil-top refrigerator, a Tappan gas stove, and Fiesta ware on the enamel steel-topped table of the breakfast set.

From the balcony a carpeted ramp leads gently down to the main floor where farm machines are displayed that were used for grain farming, potato raising, and grape vineyarding.

The implements are arranged in order of their seasonal use: tilling, planting, cultivating, and harvesting. Along one wall with an old wooden plow, is a Wiard sod-buster plow patented 1893, and made in Batavia, New York, several iron plows, a side-hill plow, and vineyard plows.

There are triangular-framed harrows and similarly shaped row cultivators, and a vineyard take-out plow for dodging between and around grape vines and trellis posts. There is a land roller for breaking clods, a wheel-barrow seeder, a Crown hoe drill made in Phelps, a large wooden wheel hay wagon and other hay handling equipment. There is a hand turned corn shelter, a cylinder shelter, and a Boggs potato and onion grader that was made in Atlanta, New York. Many tools have been donated to the museum by area farmers. From the Brundage farm in Pleasant Valley came plows and corn-harvesting machinery, from Jim Briggs in Haskinsville came a Munnsville side-hill plow, potato hillers and an ice plow used to score pond ice so it could be split into blocks to be floated and skidded to an ice house. Don and Dawn Chatfield who live near Bath contributed a high-wheeled hay wagon and the three-section field roller built by the Little brothers in 1880. Since the Museum opened on July 16, more items have been offered which will expand the display.

Richard Sherer, artists Chuck Sawdey and Bud Rouin, and other helpers worked hundreds of hours over winter and accomplished in seven and one half months what professionals said would take two years at least. Dick says proudly, "It looks as I imagined it would."

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