Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bon Voyage to Buckwheat...

Today we closed the chapter on a story that began more than 40 years ago.  The year was 1971, and the Village was still in its "childhood," having only been open to the public for 5 years.  Visitation to the new museum was steady, but Village Director/Curator Bettie Regester was always looking for ways to improve the site.  One of her loftier goals was to convert one of the cabins into a working grist mill--a place to grind corn so that fresh cornmeal could be ground and sold on site.

Bettie's dream was not without its challenges.  Nineteenth century milling equipment was not something you could find just laying around in someone's attic.  It was usually attached to a mill...and it was fairly large and heavy.  Purchasing it would have been out of the question as well as there were no funds available to acquire artifacts.  So when Bettie saw an ad from the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum (now the American Textile Museum in Massachusetts) in the American Association of Museums (AAM) bulletin for FREE milling equipment, she jumped at the opportunity to procure the items for the Village.  The only visible catch was that she had to pay for shipping, which was quite expensive.

Unfortunately for Bettie, there was an invisible catch.  The milling equipment she envisioned for converting the Shaw Cabin into a gristmill was not the milling equipment that arrived.  Instead of grinding corn, this 19th century machinery was designed to hull and process buckwheat.  And the three pieces would fill a cabin with no room left for interpretation.  In addition, buckwheat was not a product typically grown in large quantities in 19th c. Texas, so it was not an appropriate fit for the Village.  The machines were never formally accessioned but carefully stored on their original shipping pallets in an off-site facility, where they remained protected and silent for 41 years.  Until today.

After several failed attempts to find a good home for the machines, about a year and a half ago we tried again.  We posted a message on the Association for Living History, Farm, and Agriculture Museums' (ALHFAM) listserv asking if these beautiful machines would be a good fit for another site.  Like the AAM posting so many years ago, the only requirement was to pay for shipping.  And that's when we heard from Roger Austin in upstate New York.

After many emails, phone calls, and visits from board members living in Texas, we determined that the best place for the buckwheat processing machines was the museum that Roger was a board member for, the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum, in Madrid, NY.  Buckwheat was a popular item in 19th c. New York and the New England states, and the machines had actually been manufactured not terribly far from where the museum is located.  It was a perfect and very fitting match.

And today, a year and a half after conversations with Roger and the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum started and 41 years after they arrived in Texas, the machines took their first step towards returning "home."

Many thanks to our City of Fort Worth Parks and Community Services coworkers in the Forestry and Athletics divisions, Roger Austin and the St. Lawrence crew, and the phenomenal movers with All Points Pioneer (so perfect for a frontier village) for making this all possible!

--stay tuned for photos and information about the machines' arrival in New York!

P.S.  As you can tell from our iconic logo, Bettie found her GRIST milling equipment a few years later (from Moline, TX)...and it was donated.  To this day, you can come buy freshly ground cornmeal produced on site in our museum store.

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