The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown (Otsego County) in upstate New York opened its doors to the public in 1944 on land which has been part of a working farm since 1813 when it was owned by James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851). When it opened nearly 80 years ago, the Farmers Museum had 5,000 tools and objects.
Today the Farmers’ Museum’s collections number more than 23,000 artifacts. And the parklike setting of the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown now includes, not only the barn, creamery and herdsman’s cottage (constructed of local stone in 1918 when Edward Severin Clark built a showcase complex at Fenimore Farm for his prize herd of cattle then maintained on the property), but also a 19th-century Historic Village comprised of buildings gathered from rural communities around New York State. Painstakingly relocated and restored, piece by piece, the buildings now number over 20. They provide a tangible recreation of commercial and domestic practices common to rural life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The barn, creamery, and herdsman’s cottage, all designed by architect Frank Whiting in the Colonial Revival style and constructed of local stone, still stand over 100 years later and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
And the Farmers’ Museum now also has what it describes as A Museum You Can Ride On. First conceived in 1983, the extraordinary Empire State Carousel, which reopened on July 2, 2021, is not only a carnival ride but an ongoing work of American folk art. Featuring original contributions by over 1,000 New York volunteer artisans and artists, it has 25 hand-carved animals representing the agricultural and natural resources found in New York State. It is housed in a twelve-sided building built specifically for the carousel.
The Farmers’ Museum is committed to sharing its resources with a wider audience. Hopefully, in the months ahead post-pandemic, it will again offer its popular School Field Trip program and Museum Workshops.
And in 2010, the Cooperstown museum initiated PLOWLINE: Images of Rural New York, with the goal to create in one comprehensive photography collection “change over time in agricultural practice and rural life in New York State.”
This remarkable photography collection has now grown to more than 17,500 images. Last year, two extensive collections of photos were purchased, while an additional three collections were the gifts of generous donors.
Photographer Dana Matthews donated her portfolio “One Farm, One Decade,” a digital collection of 51 images of the Lucky Dog Organic Farm in Hamden ( Delaware County), New York, described as providing an artistic glimpse into farm labor.
Cooperstown photographer, Richard Walker, donated a collection of 220 color slides taken for the Gilbert T. Vincent book, An Agricultural Legacy: Farm Outbuildings of Central New York; A Guide to Identifying and Dating Farm Outbuildings.
And photographer Wesley Bernard has donated a second collection entitled “Blue Ribbon,” a portfolio of 40 images of young farmers who have won competitive exhibitions of livestock and farm products at county fairs in upstate New York.
The museum’s goal is to make available an improved data system that will include an accessible website presence for its photography collection. Check out Plowline’s current website presence!
(Frank W. Barrie, 7/29/21)