The high October sky was beautiful blue, flecked with a few wispy white clouds. The trees were a kaleidoscope of colors – red, yellow, and orange, with the green pines and occasional cedar for complements. Bob was lining up apples on the bench for George and me to peel. Yep, it’s apple butter season. With several bushels of ripe apples to peel, we rounded up two peelers, mounted them on a bench set conveniently on the tailgate of George’s truck, and set to work. That new peeler I was using worked great – I was outpeeling George two to one! Bob kept us supplied, so we were a regular production crew. The peelings flew. Unfortunately, the peelers weren’t corers, so once we had them all peeled all three of us set to work coring and slicing. We could only find two paring knives, but my pocketknife did a fine job. We must have done okay, because later Josh said he only found two seeds in the whole batch.
The task this afternoon – to fix a wiring problem with our International 444 tractor – went smoothly. I had her repaired with time left over, so I did what any good farm boy would do – I foraged for snacks as I went to seek the next task. No, I didn’t raid Josh’s garden. I started with some wild cherries. A cherry tree blew over last week, and it was loaded with ripe cherries. Mind you, we are talking about a black cherry tree. These cherries are small, about the size of a modest pea. The pit is almost as large, so its hard to fill up on them. They are tasty and just a bit tart. It always gives me pleasure to eat a handful.
Walking down the lane, I was still enjoying the taste of black cherries when I caught a wonderful aroma. It was familiar, but I didn't immediately place it until I looked up. On my left, clusters of wonderfully ripe muscadines hung from a healthy vine, just begging me to take a taste. Of course I obliged. I hadn’t had a muscadine in quite a while, and they were every bit as good as I remembered from my childhood. Tough skins and lots of seeds, but oh! They are tasty. Of course, I had to compare them to the concord grapes we grow there, so I sampled a few of them as well. They were good too.
And I grabbed a freshly fallen apple for good measure. Our summer apples are gone, and it is just a tad early for these fall apples. The one I ate was quite good, with a nice flavor that you won’t find in any grocery store. Give them another week or two and they will be perfect. Maybe it is the flavor of heirloom and wild plants, or maybe it is the pleasure of sampling the delightful fare as you walk down the lane. Or maybe some of both, but it just seems to me that everything tastes better on the farm.
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you about the upcoming reenactment of the Battle of Marion. It will be at the museum on September 10-11, 2022. Come on out and watch the excitement! I understand we will have soldiers, cannon, and cavalry. It should be very interesting to see. Come join us!
Welcome back to News from the Farmhouse! Although it has been a while since the last post, we’ve been very busy behind the scenes. A lot has happened over the last year or so. While sometimes it seems that simply keeping up with basic maintenance around the farm is more than enough, we have made several significant improvements. We have a new visitor center building next to the picnic pavilion. It is not open yet – there is still some work to be done – but we hope to open in September. It is a better space than our old visitor’s center – more convenient and comfortable for visitors. Look for an announcement when it opens, and please drop by!
Other improvements include a new roof for the picnic shelter (and don’t forget that members can reserve the picnic shelter for private events for a very modest charge!) and restoration work on the farmhouse. The farmhouse is re-plastered and painted on the inside with floor work and re-arrangement and significant additions to the collection on display. Our board president and go-to for all manner of historical information Josh Powers has worked diligently at this and many other improvements. He deserves a hearty thanks and three cheers all he has done. Please stop by the farmhouse and see the many period-appropriate improvements. I hear rumors that there may even be some wood-stove cooking demos coming in the future….
Josh has also acquired chickens and ducks for the farmyard. They have been doing well, and supplying plenty of eggs (which we share with AT hikers). Unfortunately, a predator, likely one or more coyotes, raided the chickens a couple of weeks ago. Despite the foul act, we still have fowl with us. Josh has also managed to acquire several period pieces of farm equipment, and is in the process of bringing them all back into service. With luck, we may see horse-drawn equipment working the farm in the near future.
Please plan a visit soon – we would love to see you! Remember that while the grounds are open anytime, tours of the farmhouse and buildings are only available when our volunteers are working. The hours right now are variable, but there is a fair chance you will find one of us there when you visit. As my daddy used to say, come as soon as you can and stay as long as you can!
The Settlers Museum is grateful to have our new intern, Katelyn Richardson, here to help archive the stories and history we have accumulated over the years. Katelyn is student of Hollins University, and has past experience as an archivist for the National Army Museum of London.
This summer she is working to archive our catalog of documents and artifacts. We will be presenting these archives on an online database through our website. With the information she collects, we will also be reorganizing how we display our artifacts in our Visitor Center. Katelyn's work will help to provide more information on these pieces of history.
This summer you can find Katelyn here at The Settlers Museum in her new office, and also at The William King Art Museum, where she is doing much the same work there as she is doing here.
Where we live is a beautiful place, but don’t let that fool you! You see, years ago we used to raise chickens here. We’d collect their eggs, and show visitor how the Phillippi’s handled their chickens. It was all good fun, while it lasted. Nestled right along with us are some critters that aren’t as friendly as we think. So let me tell you why we can’t have chickens anymore.
While they do have wings, true flight is something that eludes the chicken. Even still the skies aren’t safe for the chicken. Red Tailed Hawks, or sometimes referred to as Chicken Hawks, make quite the meal from chickens. They are known to pick up chickens, tease them with flight, then immediately drop them so the gravity will do the dirty work. Red Tails aren’t alone in this. Around here, you can find Cooper Hawks, Sharp-Shins, and even a Great Horned Owl or two. Maybe chickens would just be safer on the ground.
Or maybe not! Everyone knows the dangers of coyotes, and bears, but what about smaller, sneakier creatures. Far from safe, chickens have to be weary of the masked bandits, raccoons! Typically working in groups, raccoons will overwhelm the chicken. But around here, we have an even sneakier creature to worry about. The mink, and other species of weasel are banes to the chicken. But these land critters aren’t even the biggest threat. That title goes to someone you might consider your best friend.
Domesticated and feral, dogs and cats are the biggest scourge to the chicken. We’ve all heard the stories of Old Yeller getting into old man Jenkins chickens again, but that is a huge threat to chickens and other small livestock. The family pet has been a problem for chickens since we’ve had family pets.
Turns out, a lot of animals want to take a bite out the chicken. All these threats mount up, and even with how far back we’ve pushed nature, nature keeps coming. Imagine how it must have been with the settlers, and the Phillippi family. Maybe counting the chickens after they hatch is just as much of a gamble!
If you are reading this, then The Settlers Museum of Southwest Virginia is open! Maybe you've noticed the "closed for winter" signs are gone, or maybe the cars in the parking lot. Hopefully you've noticed the museum is open for the season, and is ready to share the history of Southwest Virginia for another season. This year we want to focus on the experience of our 1890s Farmhouse.
From flax, to classes, to games, to everyday life, we will be trying to recreate some of the experiences of life here on the farm. Life wasn't anywhere near easy here, but there something stirred deep down to see what we came from. So we aim to recreate some of that. While you wait for our programs, stop on down, and let us show you the house!
If you're looking for something cultural this weekend, let us welcome you here to the museum for our Grand Opening event! We will have interpreters giving tours, and sharing our history. We will also be hosting The HendersonJAM kids, performing with traditional Appalachian instruments. Come on out and share in Southwest Virginia heritage!
Tours, music, history, and more will be on display this weekend. So stop by and learn a thing or two about where you're from, and where we came from!
The JAM kids will be performing at 2:00 April 6th, at our shelter weather permitting. We will be in the Farmhouse if it rains or gets too cold.
As our April opening date rolls around, now is a good time to talk about The Settlers Museum, and what we are doing to be ready for new and returning guests. This comes with its own checklist: cleaning up the grounds, dusting off the house, and preparing the fields for flax.
With storms comes debris. Last weekend myself and our tireless secretary, Melody, worked to gather up all the limbs the storms have left like little "gifts" around the Visitor Center. This also included all the pine needles that have scattered themselves around the field, and the litter from the road. Who eats mini weenies while driving? Anyhow, the grounds are looking great, and we are ready to start with the house.
As it turns out, farmhouses from the 1890's get pretty dusty. As such, the board will be getting together to dust, and clean the Farmhouse making it look its best for our guest and tourists. So if you have the time, and maybe a broom, come on out to the museum Saturday the 30th and Sunday the 31st. If you don't have a broom, but you do have a shovel...
This year, as we have in the past, we are planting flax. We are going to provide a little class for children where we show them how to harvest and process flax into fiber that can be turned into linen. From there, the kids can weave the flax into linen squares at the Henderson. To get to that point, we have to start planting!
There's a lot to do, but it all comes together for a museum that celebrates what our settlers went through to lay the foundation of our culture today. A little bit of cleaning hardly compares to the Phillipi family's chores. Come by The Settlers Museum to see our work, and the work of George and Sophie Phillipi!