Experience Farm Life

The Schlenker barn on Routes 5 & 20 is this tour's signature barn. Photo courtesy Mark Sulkes

Barn tours are few and far between. “Our tour is unique and rare to Western New York,” admits Ray Henry, historian for the Town of Canandaigua and chair of the upcoming barn tour in Ontario County. More typically, people attend private house and garden tours. This October, however, several West Bloomfield farm owners in northwest Ontario County are throwing open their barn doors. Visitors will not need to don protective booties as they navigate through a private home, or be tempted to snip a cutting from a prized hydrangea. Instead, they will roam farmyards, barns and outbuildings to learn about the wide range of uses for these structures, some well over 100 years old.

“The 2012 tour will be educational in nature and focus on family learning,” says Ontario County Historical Society Director Ed Varno. The organization, sponsor of the one-day event, has promoted the area’s agricultural heritage through five previous barn tours beginning in 2002. This year’s tour features eight sites, including an alpaca farm and one location where historic agricultural practices will be demonstrated.

West Bloomfield, characterized by a small town atmosphere with a strong agrarian tradition, is ideal for a barn tour. In 1958, the town became home to the late Sandy Schlenker, who is honored by the 2012 event. The vibrant woman, who died in 2009, owned and operated Bristol View Farms with her husband Corky. She found time to write local history books, and helped establish and support the West Bloomfield Historical Society. Local families trusted her with their heirlooms and family histories. She monitored local barns, often capturing a new one being built, or alternatively, documenting the last days of one near collapse. After being appointed West Bloomfield‘s town historian in 2008, she participated in a county-wide survey of 100-year-old barns.

“Sandy volunteered and jumped right into the project, and, amazingly, finished the survey of all the barns in the Town of West Bloomfield before any other municipality was completed – a total of approximately 116 sites (many of the sites with multiple barns),” recalls Henry. Thanks to Henry, the municipal historians and historical societies, over 1,000 barns are now part of a permanent database. Naming the barn tour for Schlenker honors her “commitment to the 100-year barn project and her love of barns in general,” says Henry.

The Schlenker gambrel-roofed barn is the tour’s “signature barn.” Reportedly, this 1939 structure was the result of the last area “barn raising.” Its hand-hewn beams were salvaged from an old barn that was torn down. Down the road, the Schlenker Farm Market continues what started in the family’s yard and barn. “We still make a pumpkin maze that Sandy started for her first grandchild 16 years ago,” says Katy Schlenker, who is married to Ed, Corky and Sandy’s son. They operate the market seven days a week until November 1. It will be open for business during the barn tour with a great fall selection of squashes, pumpkins, white pumpkins, gourds, apples, cider, grapes, straw, Indian corn and cornstalks.

“As always, there will be guides posted at each barn or site,” says Henry of the eight tour stops. Visitors can expect to see educational displays at several farms and hear stories associated with properties, like how the Native American Red Jacket brought fruit stock, such as apples and peaches, to one barn owner, and even developed a special peach to give the daughter of the original owner as a wedding gift.

The West Bloomfield Historical Society’s museum will be open, exhibiting photographs of town barns not on this tour. The former 1834 Congregational Church was acquired by St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Society in 1866 and used until 1991 when the building, with surviving stained glass windows, was acquired by the historical society. Since then, it has been transformed into a museum to house objects related to the town’s past. The Society received a preservation award for the renovations from the Ontario County Historical Society in 2001.

On the grounds of the Ionia Fire Hall – the tour’s starting point – there will be a display of antique farm equipment and demonstrations of hand-hewing beams, apple pressing, hay carrier systems and blacksmithing.

In advance of the tour, Henry will offer a slide show, “The History of the English Barn in Western NY,” at the West Bloomfield Historical Society. The free program on Tuesday, September 28 at 7 p.m. will include a short history of past barn tours and a “tasting” of this year’s.
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Barns of New York
Rural Architecture of the Empire State
Cynthia G. Falk
Cornell University Press with the Farmers’ Museum
2012
Soft-cover
$27.95

Barns and other farm buildings beckon to us from their roadside settings whether alive with activity or abandoned and structurally compromised. But without an understanding of their use and history, our knowledge is limited. This well-organized survey of the agrarian architecture found throughout rural New York encourages its preservation and an appreciation of our strong agricultural past. “Farming and farm building are central to the history of New York State,” author Cynthia Falk asserts. Using numerous New York examples, the book chronicles a wide array of farm buildings, construction materials and their diverse uses.

Cynthia Falk, raised in rural Wayne County, is an associate professor of material culture in the Cooperstown Graduate Program of SUNY Oneonta. The book is heavily illustrated with black and white photographs and prints, accompanied by clearly written captions that interpret the text.

And while no hay is consumed with a hay fork, the book’s helpful glossary explains how this and other farming apparatuses were used. Terms specific to barn construction are included.

As with any study of architecture, seeing examples is ideal to understanding their design and use. The section “Places to Visit” lists sites with old farm buildings, which offer a different experience than a working farm and opportunities to learn about agricultural practices in the past.

This book is available for purchase through bookstores and in time for their barn tour at the Ontario County Historical Society‘s online store: www.ochs.org/bookStore.htm


by Laurel C. Wemett