Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

September 9, 1998. All rights reserved.

Bucolic, Unvarnished Past

The cow poke alone is worth the trip. That’s not "cowpoke"

as in hired hand or cowboy, but cow poke as in "wire fencing

hasn’t

yet been developed and the cattle may get into the vegetable garden

or wander away, so we’d better invent special necklaces with long

prongs, to keep them from getting through the split-rail fence."

That kind of cow poke.

And if cow pokes don’t do it for you, the two-horse treadmill might.

Before steam or electric power, and long before therapeutic treadmills

for people, there were animal treadmills, connected to drive belts

and then to whatever needed powering up, such as threshing machines

or cider mills. Baby chicks were shipped in cardboard cartons you

can see here, along with metal crates used to mail eggs. And potato

forks, about the size of today’s snow shovels but much heavier, are

on hand to remind us that potatoes don’t grow on trees — or in

supermarkets.

These are the artifacts of rural life from the 18th into the 20th

century. And this weekend, as today’s pitchmen might put it, you can

see and marvel at "all this and more" during a two-day

Celebration

of Farming at the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead Museum in Lambertville,

Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13. For the second year, the

historic farmstead on Route 29 at Route 202 hosts an old fashioned

farm festival, complete with antique farm produce truck and a farm

lunch.

The property includes the oldest farmstead in Hunterdon County —

a farmhouse built in 1711 — along with a three-story barn that

houses the museum, and a post office, print shop, blacksmith shop,

and carriage shed. In 1968, Holcombe House owners Milo and Rachel

Jimison (descendants of Richard Holcombe, who in 1733 had bought the

house from its builder) deeded the Farmstead to the Hunterdon County

Historical Society, and in 1983, after Milo’s death, the property

was deeded to the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead Inc. Since then, the

museum’s trustees and other volunteers have added outbuildings and

restored the property, which is open Sunday afternoons from May to

October, with occasional special events.

Together, Irvin Hockenbury, president of the Holcombe-Jimison

Farmstead

Inc., and the museum’s curator, Claire Young, walk a visitor around

the property. They finish each other’s sentences on one recurring

topic: the volunteer effort that made this place happen and still

supports it. The farmstead board numbers 18. Asked whether that’s

a lot of chiefs, Hockenbury and Young just laugh. "We’re all

Indians,"

they say, and proceed to prove it.

An unpaid volunteer herself, Young’s walk-around includes chats and

updates with those working on site: one trustee does woodwork; another

mentions his plans to acquire a Civil War saddle blanket for the Farm

Fest; a third donates her expertise in publicity; Hockenbury had only

temporarily rested his hammer to tour. Volunteers, all.

A display of early plows manufactured in nearby Pittstown by Hiram

E. Deats, from his father’s original design, dominates the top floor

of the barn museum, together with sleighs and ice equipment,

cylindrical

metal cornshellers, and a scary display of barbed wire samples. Young

observes, "We don’t usually think of what a boon it was for a

farmer when wire fences became available." Until then, it was

the cow poke, or running wooden fences that had to be built and

maintained

by hand.

Perhaps the most compelling curiosity to be seen at

the farmstead is found on the second floor of the barn museum, where

the office of Dr. Morris Leaver, who practiced both medicine and

dentistry

near Flemington, in Quakertown, New Jersey, has been reconstructed.

Looking just as it did at his death in 1954, the area includes a

clutter

of cabinets and shelves, various tools, and Leaver’s dental chair,

where patients were treated with a foot-powered drill. Some of his

medicine and denture-making materials are also on view — no nearby

pharmacy or lab in those days.

Not content with operating in two branches of medicine, Dr. Leaver

also farmed, maintained his own family and various other relatives,

collected and repaired musical instruments, and established and

conducted

a brass band. An early car buff, he drove a red Maxwell, though he

reverted to house calls by horseback in bad weather.

Like most of the museum’s holdings, Dr. Leaver’s office was donated.

Young says when farms go out of business, their barns are often full

of implements and tools that are perfect for this museum. The massive

beam loom on display came from Dr. Leaver’s ancestors. So, one good

thing led to another.

Of Dr. Leaver and the farmers who lived before him and during his

time, Young says, "Today, we earn money so we can pay other people

to do the work. They just did the work." This is borne out by

the display of household non-gadgets: a wood stove, a lard-renderer,

canning equipment, flat irons, candle molds, and a 1911 Regina vacuum

cleaner that required using one hand to pump up an air tank to create

suction while directing the intake wand with the other.

And don’t forget the continuous need to pump water and to clean

clothes

via a wooden wash machine with a pump handle on top to move the

agitator

inside. A farmer’s wife would perform such tasks in a long dress,

often with hoops and petticoats; the only small blessing may have

been the split drawers women wore under their voluminous clothes,

facilitating visits to the outhouse.

For a long time before beef, hogs were the chief source of meat. They

ran wild in the woods and fed themselves, generally requiring little

space or upkeep. Once in the farmer’s butcher shop, a hog was

slaughtered,

then lowered into a tub of boiling water to loosen bristles for

scraping

off. Next, the carcass would be hung and slit for removal of organs

to be used for other purposes, and finally it would go onto a

slaughter

bench for cutting into hams. Irvin Hockenbury claims to remember

eating

fried hogs’ brains with eggs, and of course the origin of "blood

pudding" becomes perfectly clear (if not appetizing). In short,

Hockenbury says, "Everything was used but the squeal."

Demonstrations of blacksmithing, weaving, quilting, soap-making, and

sheep-herding are scheduled for one or the other day of the Farm

Festival

weekend. Children can also take a hayride, find their way through

a hay maze, and visit farm animals in the carriage shed. The post

office will be open on Saturday with a special commemorative stamp

cancellation, and farmhouse tours will be available. Local artists

will show, and sell, crafts — sweaters, jewelry, pottery, tinware,

and baskets — and handmade candy will be sold as well as lunch

and fresh produce.

The Farm Fest promises a mix of instruction and fun. So get into your

car (not powered by a two-horse treadmill), wearing your chinos and

polo shirt (not woven or hand-sewn at home, not washed in hand-pumped

water in a person-powered "washer," or ironed with tools

heated

in a special oven), enjoy your breakfast (not preceded by butchering,

boiling, and scraping a hog, or collecting fresh eggs or baking in

a wood stove) . . . and head for the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead.

You’ll

learn about a lifestyle that only looks bucolic.

— Pat Summers

Celebration of Farming, Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead,

Route 29 at Route 202, Lambertville, 908-995-2237. $5; $1 students.

Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13, 10 to 5.


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