The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Dudley Farm Museum added to National Register of Historic Places
GUILFORD — We’re at winter’s sweet spot in New England. Nights snap cold, the morning sun warms into the 40s, and the sugar-maple sap starts to flow. It’s sugaring season, and perhaps no more so, in these parts, than at the Dudley Farm sugar house.
In addition to maple sugaring demonstrations starting on Feb. 18 and 19 and continuing through the next two weekends, there’s another cause for sweet celebration: the recent addition of the Dudley Farm Museum to the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s thrilling,” said Beth Payne, director of the Dudley Farm Museum, the nonprofit 19th-century farm museum and educational center with a mission to sustain Guilford’s rich agricultural past while affording its visitors a chance to experience first-hand the simple farming life of two centuries ago.
“What makes Dudley Farm particularly unique in Guilford, which has five museums, is that we’re not another 18th century building,” Payne said. “We are a 19th century museum and the 19th century is so rich with innovation and social change.
“You had Mark Twain and Noah Webster, the electric lightbulb, the telephone, so it was a very innovatively charged era.”
The designation, she said, “is monumental because it helps to ensure that the historic value in this site is preserved for the future. It’s also something you can use to brag about when you’re looking for grants.”
The process of applying took two years. “We were slowed because of COVID,” she said, offering particular thanks to Jim Powers, whose deeply researched “Saving the Farm,” on the history of Dudley Farm, afforded material essential for presenting a compelling case.
While the plan is to celebrate the inclusion on the National Register at the annual brunch in May, the wait, and the news itself, has hardly, it seems, slowed down activity at the farm.
“In the past year, we’ve really accomplished a lot,” Payne said.
A grant from Connecticut Humanities has helped support the realization of a new Quinnipiac Dawnland Museum, with “permanent exhibits detailing the story of 14,000 years of Indigenous life in the area” toward “honoring the legacy of the Quinnipiac, First People of the Shoreline,” according to the Winter 2023 Dudley Farm newsletter.
Other grants from the state Historic Preservation Office and through the state for COVID relief have afforded a restoration of the granary and the milkhouse, complete with exhibits, that will be ready for the museum opening in June.
“We are making progress with showing things that are relevant to the farm’s history and at the same time engaging visitors,” Payne said. Part and parcel of that aim is Ms. Molly, a life-sized model
milking cow used for a hands-on experience for all ages. The museum is seeking donations toward her purchase.
“She comes with a working udder with teats you can really squeeze to get the effect of milking a cow,” Payne said. “The benefit is no tail switched in your face or a kick that overturns the bucket, and very little upkeep.”
While Ms. Molly has yet to make her appearance, the demonstration at the sugar house is hardly the only reason to venture out to Dudley Farm.
There’s a self-guided walking tour of the grounds, where many of the barns, outbuildings, pastures, and gardens have changed little over the past 175 years. “You’ll find that time slows down out here,” Payne said. “You might even encounter a chicken.”
There are upcoming workshops in rug braiding, rug hooking, and basket making, as well as the annual tag sale in late April. The beginning of May brings the Farmers’ Market, with 42 market
weekends. Coinciding with the opening of the official opening of the museum in June will be the summer-long stay of a few sheep from North Guilford’s Schuyler Beeman in the meadow.
For now, there’s sugar season which, Payne said, “is a time to shake off cabin fever, go for a tromp in the woods, and make some sweet memories.”
“We’re not a dusty old farm anymore,” she said. “Come on down.”
Dudley Farm is located on the northeast corner of Routes 77 and 80 at 2351 Durham Road. For more information or to make a donation toward the purchase of Ms. Molly, visit https://dudleyfarm.com/ or call 203–457–0770.
The maple sugaring demonstration will be from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the sugar house behind the Munger Barn. This is weather dependent, so look for the sign at the entrance to see if sugaring is happening.
Maps for self-guided tours are available on the Dudley Farm website or in the farmhouse.