Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hudson River Valley Ramble

Today my DH and I went on a ramble.  In other words, we took an historic tour of the hamlet just south of us.  We usually don't spend a lot of time just looking at the buildings and the history when we are down there - we're just watering the planters.  But today we "stopped and smelled the roses", so to speak.  Of course, it was a charity event to raise monies for the roof of this historic chapel.  That made it all the better a reason to go and see this little hamlet.

This chapel was built around the turn of the century - last century, that is.  Even though there was a church a mere 7 miles away (by horse-drawn cart), the Lady of the town decided that the children needed a place for worship closer to home, so she convinced her husband to build this cute little gem of a place.  I'm guessing that is the reason that they put 'flowers' on the roof tiles.  (Okay, I'm probably wrong about that!)

 One of the main businesses that they had back in the day was charcoal making.  This huge kiln was where they would burn hundreds of thousands of trees down and churn out the charcoal.  I can't imagine the amount of smoke and soot that must have covered the valley back then.

You can still find little pebbles of creosote scattered all over the paths and roads that are left-over from the charcoal burning.  The current owner of the property had the kilns restored several years ago, so they are safe to go into.  The beehive shapes have a keyhole opening at the top to let the smoke out and the air in.  Of course, once they cut down all of the trees in the area, this business kind of fizzled out.

Fortunately for the hamlet, they had a river running through it, so another business could start up.

And it did.  The Borden Milk Company set up shop right in downtown.  Out of all of the little tidbits of information our lecturers gave us, the most interesting thing about the Borden process was Gail Borden's insistence that the milk be untouched by human hands from its' journey from the cow to the can.  Even though he didn't have the benefit our knowledge about germs, I think somehow he must have known it.  The little tin cans of milk are also credited with helping the Union soldiers win the Civil War.  An army, it's said, marches on its' stomach - and with milk to keep them going, the Union soldiers had the advantage.

They built the plant right by the river - and right by the rail lines.  With power and distribution so close, the business succeeded.

Now the plant manufactures industrial plastics, so we couldn't go inside.  We did get to enjoy the park across the road while our lecturer described the processes that went on there back in the day.  (Lovely park - some of the planters that my DH and I water are dotted around the grounds.)

Next we were off to the mill.  Maxon Mill has a very tall grain elevator - 17 stories high.  In these parts, 17 stories is huge!  And since it's not the city, there's no elevator to the top - well, for people.  The purpose of the mill was to create a blended cattle feed - richer in the nutrients that they needed.  After all, they had to produce a lot of milk for the Borden plant across the street.

Inside the mill, you can look up the elevator to the top.  The beams used to construct this place are smaller than I would have thought.  Only a foot wide in most areas.  When you think about all of the weight of the grain bearing down on those timbers, you have to credit the architect of the place.  Well, that and the fact that this wooden building is still standing after so many years.  They now use the place for an artist in residency program - the studios are tucked into the corners and in the summer they have an art festival.  It's quiet fun...if you're prepared to climb the 17 stories to see all of the work.

Finally we were off to Luther Barn.  In a way, the tour seemed backwards.  After the charcoal business, we looked at the milk, then the feed for the cattle, so at the end we went to see the auction house where the cattle were sold.  This place was actually still in business when my DH and I moved here from the city.  They only stopped the cattle auctions a few years ago.  But they still have the tractor pulls, the pasture next to the barn is home to some horses (and a goat), and the barn is now used for more artist studios.

I liked the way that they left little reminders around Luther Barn of what its' original purpose was.  A 60's poster of horses - the tack that is used for the horses out in the pasture.

But it's the little details about the place that make it special.  The details that are built-in, not added for effect.  These hinges on one of the cattle gate, for example, have a little star cut into them.  It serves no purpose (maybe to use less metal?) but it adds a bit of charm to this barn.  Considering that it was built as an auction barn - a very utilitarian type of place - it's nice to see that whoever built it (not the guy who paid for it, but the guy who did the work), took the time to add a bit of beauty to something as simple as a hinge.

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