Kids get a sense of farm life in the 1800s
Published: Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 7:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 7:36 p.m.
Men in pioneer-era attire hovered over the large, steaming syrup in a kettle in a manner reminiscent of witches in Hollywood films.
One of the men used a tool to skim the surface, removing impurities. And when they added heat to the kettle, a heavy steam formed that smelled like molasses and seeped over the sides of the kettle and down toward the ground.
Traditional sugar cane syrup production is just one of the many things visitors can expect when visiting Dudley Farm Historic State Park, which held its monthly Dudley Kids event on Saturday.
The event, which is held the second Saturday of each month, focuses around tours of the 18 historic buildings on the 325-acre farm and various children's activities. This month's event was primarily focused around sugar-cane grinding.
Employees and volunteers in pioneer-era dress — long skirts, blouses, full aprons and a bonnet or straw hat — showed children and their parents the many different buildings on the farm.
"When we step off the concrete at the end of the path here, we tell the kids ‘You're stepping back in time. Pretend you're back in time,'?" said Sandra Cashes, park services specialist at Dudley Farm. "We try to keep anything that's modern out of the farmstead … so we can try to portray the reality to the kids of what it was like back then to a certain degree."
The group was led down the Old Gainesville Road, which is a dirt road that once served as Gainesville's main road during the late 1800s. Cashes said the Dudleys were commissioned to form the road when Gainesville was just beginning to grow.
"Gainesville was just a small town," she said. "It was almost nothing … basically that was what was here, the middle of nowhere."
Part of the tour focused on the Dudley Farmhouse, a period-furnished house that was built in the 1880s by the first generation of Dudleys, who settled there after migrating from South Carolina.
The farm features a stand-alone kitchen, tobacco barn, and dairy, canning and smoke houses. Throughout the tour children were offered the chance to pump water and grind corn.
"I like that (at) every station they seemed to be able to give us something to put our hands on, which was good for the kids," said Josh Miller, who attended the event with his son Jonathan.
The children seemed most excited by the animals that could be found on the farm: turkeys, chickens, shrub cattle and mules. At one point the group was led into a chicken pen and told to form a circle. Then, staff released some Rhode Island Red chickens, which calmly walked within the human enclosure pecking at insects in the ground. Some of the more fearless chickens came right up to children's feet.
Stephanie Bartsch, a volunteer at the farm, led the group to the sugar cane field, which housed rows of sugar cane that towered above the children's heads.
Here she explained the process of preparing the sugar cane for grinding. First, she showed the group how to cut the sugar cane and strip the stalk's leaves with a machete. Then, she explained that the green tips must be removed, as they mostly contain water, and she showed the group how to peel the stalk.
Children were given small chunks of sugar cane to chew on, and each child was given a piece of sugar cane stalk to then take to the cane mill for grinding. At the newly built cane syrup house, the children were shown how the cane mill is used to grind the sugar cane in order to extract the raw sugar used to produce cane syrup.
Meanwhile, the Dudley Farm Porch Pickers played old-time songs using fiddle, guitar, autoharp and resonator guitar.
During and after the event, those in attendance were welcomed to stay and watch the process the syrup being made, in which it is heated in a kettle for five to six hours. Cashes said that once the impurities have been removed by skimming the boiling liquid and the contents have reached the proper density, the syrup is then strained using a cloth strainer.
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