5.20.16 - 10.10.16
The Park-McCullough House Association has always preserved and presented history for the community, and this show is no different but it does depart from the usual focus. To counterbalance the house's story of architectural rarity, material legacy, and family wealth, Connected Through the Land highlights the hundreds of employees who supported the house and cared for the land. Indeed, their histories are as indelibly ‘written’ into this estate as those of the Park and McCullough families, yet they have never been given a dedicated exhibition. We've unearthed documents about the farm, listened to neighbors’ stories, recovered old tools, mapped geographies, and done literal digging to collect the material for this show.
The Hall Farm predates this house by almost 100 years, but the earliest settlers were the Algonquian and Abnaki peoples. They called this region the “Dawn Lands”, and visited seasonally for thousands of years, establishing networks of small towns with an overall population of approximately 10,000 people. The majority were forced out by the Iroquois in the 1500s, who used the land for hunting. When French colonists landed here, they found it sparsely populated and named it “Vermont” meaning “green mountains”. They killed or drove out the majority of the remaining native population, either directly or through conflict with the British. And so, when the Halls arrived in 1779, the land carried a complex history. After French colonization, the British briefly claimed the region before American revolutionaries took it from them and founded the Vermont Republic. The Halls began farming their 150 acres to keep food on the table, but their focus shifted considerably when their son began practicing law. As his family grew in size and wealth, they purchased surrounding properties until the farm reached 650 acres. At that time, many people were employed to manage the dairy herd and the numerous fields of grains, hay and vegetables.
The Hall Farm utilized advanced farming practices. A sophisticated fencing system allowed employees to easily move cattle to new pastures for the freshest, youngest grass. This encouraged the production of more milk per cow without necessitating large amounts of grain or the use of hormones, and effectively fertilized the soil in tandem with crop rotation. Haying operations utilized an ingenious air-drying system that sped up the harvest, allowing fields to be cut and stored in a single day. Where land was too rocky or steep to graze the herd or grow vegetables, the managers cultivated the forest, and planted Maple trees in ideal spacing for sugaring. And because the farm was supported by the family’s income from other ventures, it didn’t need to break even; instead, farming and gardening were pursued with an eye towards perfection. Farm hands were paid well, and offered generous pension plans upon retirement, which made for immense loyalty. A majority of the employees stayed on for 10 years, and some even kept working for 50 years or more. By charting generations of these families through their interactions with the same landscape we enjoy today, we're tracking history beneath our feet. Their legacy is strong - if you know where to look.
Agriculture, at its simplest level, is a series of intentional interactions with the landscape: clearing forests, mowing, haying, fertilizing, building stone walls, tapping maples, raking, shovelling, weeding, etc. Such interventions shape and change the land, which can later be read like a text, offering us a glimpse into the work of our ancestors. Looking back hundreds of years can help us look forward to the landscape of our future. For example, recent revelations about PFOA contamination require that we take the long view. Projected to remain in the water table for centuries in concentrated areas, the chemical's estimated lifespan will be longer than recorded colonial history in Vermont. How can we best care for the land with a view towards 3016? Perhaps by studying the last few centuries, we can understand what our relationship and responsibilities to the landscape can be going forward.
Fortunately, conservation easements will keep this pocket of land preserved and in agricultural use in perpetuity. “Intentional interaction” takes many forms, and we want to acknowledge the many people who help keep these acres mown, watered, tended, protected, explored and considered today. We hope this exhibition will help you consider your part in this region for generations to come.
Supported in part by the Vermont Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Special thanks to the Skidmore Sound Mapping Collective, UVM special collections, The McCullough Free Library, The Fund for North Bennington, GVH Studio, Inkspot Press, and Brown Computer Solutions