The level stretch of land called the Hurley Flats that runs between Tongore Road at one end and the junction of Routes 209 and 28 at the other has been under cultivation for hundreds of years. So it’s no wonder that the newest exhibit housed in the Hurley Heritage Museum at 52 Main Street in the village of Hurley has titled its newest exhibit “Hurley Harvest: By Hand and by Horse.” The exhibit is changed every two years, and this one is ready to welcome visitors to the 35th annual Corn Festival this Saturday, August 15.
Tracing agriculture in the region from the farming practices of the indigenous Lenape tribe up to the recent purchase of Gill Farm by the nonprofit Hudson Valley Farm Hub, it displays photos and artwork, farm tools and implements and other antiques and memorabilia, including a 19th-century rooster weathervane that looks quite contemporary in style. All the pieces are artfully arranged to give visitors a timeline sort of sense of history. Some of the artifacts have been borrowed from the Ulster County Historical Society and from Locust Lawn in Gardiner.
“This is the first time we’ve filled out the display with borrowed pieces,” says Gail Whistance, Heritage Society secretary. “And we also had two interns from SUNY-New Paltz to help us set up the exhibit. They took information that I had collected and, with help from Ward Mintz of Friends of Historic Kingston, learned how to write the blurbs for the exhibit. It was a good experience for them.” Students Kyle Moore and Thomas Einhorn also worked with Bruce Whistance, Heritage Society trustee, on an eight-minute video highlighting various farms and practices, such as the use of Dutch siths and mathooks to harvest wheat: a crop that dominated the Flats from 1600 to 1840.
Now it’s all about corn, and has been since the 1940s when the thriving dairy industry faded – that is, it has been all about corn, until the Farm Hub began its farmer training and agricultural research into organic methods. Much of the farmland is now planted in cover crops and various other grains. The ecological restoration of the land is underway, but there’s still plenty of sweet corn grown to keep the locals in ears. And this year’s celebration will have its typical variety of corn products to enjoy: corn chowder, corn-on-the-cob and corn salad, along with pork sliders and desserts, as usual.
The feast takes place in the cafeteria of the Hurley Reformed Church, where the rest of the indoor festivities also happen. Craft and antique vendors will be set up for shoppers, and an old fashion bake sale will offer goodies to take home. A raffle of a quilt made by Dolly Woodin of New Paltz (tickets cost $1 each, six for $5), kids’ activities and the encampment of the Third Regiment of the Ulster County Militia will keep everyone busy. Meanwhile, music will be provided by Rick Soshensky, contemporary folk, and the Corntet, a bluegrass ensemble including Michael Hunold on guitar and vocals, Matt Bowe on mandolin, Evan Shultis on fiddle and Jesse Murphy on bass.
Now about the roosters: Folklore has it that the rooster was once a Christian symbol used to adorn church steeples. When a small Dutch Reformed Church was built in Hurley in 1801, it was topped with a weathervane closely resembling the ones produced for this year’s Corn Festival (you can compare them to the drawn silhouette of the original church on the Society’s website). Twenty-two roosters – truly “something to crow about” – have been uniquely painted and done up by local artists: Judy Abbott, Marianna Crans, Mary Elwyn, Barbara Graff, Howard “Hoppy” Hopkins, Chuck Howland, Bob Jennings, Sue Keating, Steve Ladin, Cindy Gill Lapp, Mary Alice Lindquist, Michelle Moore, Tina Oppenheimer, Joe Petrollese, Ron Rifenburg, Carol Schultz, Karen Sheeley, Lou Sorrin, Cindy Sumerano, Laura Trayser-Healy, Becky Veith and Josh Vogt. They’ll be exhibited in the church this Saturday, then in village windows until the great Hurley Rooster Auction in late September, when a serious lecture on the Hurley Rooster will take place.
A photo array and self-guided tour of the Hurley Roosters are also laid out on the website. Check them out. And preview the short film Hurley Harvest here: www.hurleyheritagesociety.org/farm-exhibit.html.
The Hurley Heritage Museum is open May through October, Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
Hurley Corn Festival, Saturday, August 15, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., $3, Hurley Reformed Church, 11 Main Street, Hurley; (845) 331-4121, (845) 331-5331, www.hurleyheritagesociety.org.