Harvesting the Past
Jul 01, 2015 12:07PM
Courtesy of Bradford County Heritage Village and Farm Museum
Every museum tells a story, and the Bradford County Heritage Village and Farm Museum in Troy tells a rich and varied story close to the home and the heart of this rural county. Its authentic nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings and exhibits give visitors a walk through a portal to life in rural Pennsylvania before electricity and automobiles.
Wilmer Wilcox, a Bradford County farmer who witnessed all the changes of the last eighty-plus years, planted the seed of this complex. He was a collector of antique farm implements, many bought at local auctions. By the late 1980s he had over 700 items. But collecting was not enough. He wanted people to have a chance to see all the farming tools that were passing from memory, now that so many jobs were done with power tools and automatic devices. The search to find a home for his collection ended in a building erected on an acre of land leased by Troy Fairgrounds and adjacent to the Alparon Park in 1991. The Farm Museum was born.
The seed was set in good soil, as the community embraced the museum. According to Dale G. Palmer, historian, and Ralph Knapp, president of the Heritage Village and Farm Museum, the Wilcox collection initially filled half of the building. But many other people had antique items that were used in the area, and they, too, wanted others to be able to see them. And so the collection grew to fill the building, then to fill an addition. Now, Knapp says that they have more local artifacts than the building can hold, and are working on a rotation process.
The variety grew as well. The museum has expanded from farm implements to farm machinery, kitchen utensils, looms, dairy processing, uniforms, wedding dresses, scouting, the Grange, hunting and wildlife, and more. The murals of the First Bank of Troy decorate the walls, along with many signs and banners that used to be everyday sights in the area. Not only are the exhibits created from donations by local people, but all the work done, including landscaping, groundskeeping, and construction, is done by volunteers. And, in less than ten years, this band of volunteers set their sights on collecting a bigger crop—this time of buildings. In 1999, they moved and restored a sugar shack from a nearby farm, and created an exhibit that included early tree taps, wooden yokes, buckets, and a vat for maple sugaring. A building from the fairgrounds was moved next to the museum and sugar shack, and restored to contain the collection of carriages, sleighs, and tractor seats. There are over fifty horse-drawn vehicles on display, including a hearse on a bobsled, and the gray horse-drawn school bus that was used to transport students from Farmer’s Valley to the Troy schools.
The Thomas one-room schoolhouse was disassembled and reconstructed on the site in 2007, then filled with desks from the time, a primitive blackboard, and many school materials used in one-room schoolhouses throughout Pennsylvania. The Children’s Church, a chicken coop that twelve-year-old Charlie Rockwell created and ministered to, was also moved to the growing Heritage Village. The little church was photographed by Life magazine in the late 1930s, and the little chapel is open for special events. And, in 2009, Porter’s Barber Shop was moved from Columbia Cross Roads to the village, and outfitted with both barber’s tools, and, in the rear, a small medical office.
But the cornerstone of this village is the Gregory Inn. It was built in the Greek Revival style, and was the inn that served first stagecoach travelers, and then later train travelers from Elmira to Williamsport. According to the Bradford County Heritage Association, it was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, beginning in the 1840s. The gardens, including a dye garden for cloth dyeing, are maintained by the garden club. Dale Palmer added, “When we purchased the property, we couldn’t afford the furnishings [in the inn]. At the auction, local people bought the contents, and some of them donated the Gregory furnishings back to the association.” The inn is used for Victorian teas, so a visitor can sit at the old boarding table of the inn, or relax in the parlor.
What once was a collection has become a time machine that whisks the visitor to the late nineteenth century, through the efforts of a dedicated volunteer staff and a generous community. And there is something for every age to see and do here. Many activities for younger museumgoers wait in the corners, ready to be tried by young and old hands alike. History becomes alive, and it is a history that is just on the fringes of living memory. It’s hard to stand here and not remember stories from a grandmother, hear the sound of the threshers, see the old milking parlor, or hear the whistle of the train as it brings weary travelers to the inn. Open from late April to mid-October, one of the best times to visit is during the Pennsylvania Heritage Festival September 19 and 20. This year’s theme for the festival is timber and the timber industry, and the weekend will be filled with living history demonstrations, food, music, and crafts. Or, you can make a side trip when you visit the Troy Fair from July 27 through August 1.