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Tunbridge fair brings past to present with ancestral skills and crafting

  • Mario Sacca, left, and Isaac Sacca, both of Tunbridge, Vt., hew a log by hand to make wooden beams at the Tunbridge World's Fair in Tunbridge, Vt., on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. The brothers have been making hand-hewn beams at the fair for the past five years, with the exception of last year when the fair was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Evelyn Gant, of Putnamville, Vt., works on a bobbin lace project at the Tunbridge World's Fair in Tunbridge, Vt., on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. The lacemaking process is labor intensive, and some projects that Gant has worked on have taken her several hundred hours. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sue Lenfest, left, of Woodstock, Vt., explains how she weaves baskets from ash wood to, from left, Meghan Lewia, of Graniteville, Vt., Lydia Whitcomb, 5, Chloe Andrews, 5, and Alyssa Johnston, of Middlesex, Vt., at the Tunbridge World's Fair in Tunbridge, Vt., on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. The group was on a field trip with Websterville Christian Academy to learn about Vermont history. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Displays and demonstrations on Antique Hill help fairgoers learn about Vermont history at the Tunbridge World's Fair in Tunbridge, Vt., on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Write
Published: 9/16/2021 9:19:08 PM
Modified: 9/16/2021 9:19:13 PM

Susan Cain stood outside the Log Cabin Museum at the Tunbridge World’s Fair on Thursday in a homestead-style yellow floral dress and no shoes.

“It’s been a really hard year,” she said. With her family dispersed across the country, the 81-year-old spent much of the year isolated because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cain oversees the museum, complete with spinning wheels and an old-school general store. The fair had to be canceled last year, and she is glad to be back. Her first love is weaving — pulling up the weedy flax grass at the end of July and transforming its stringy interior into linen. On the fair’s first day on Thursday, she displayed samples of her work and handled the wooden antique tools she uses for her craft.

All of the fair’s Antique Hill hummed with 1920s farm equipment brought back to life, the regular beat of axes hitting logs and the thumping of a blacksmith’s hammer. It was education day at the fair, and busloads of children investigated the one-room schoolhouse, the printing press and the historical reenactments. Homestead traditions brought to life proved as popular as ever, and Antique Hill is growing.

Dennis Cilley, a lifelong Tunbridge resident, has big plans for Antique Hill. He is in charge of everything on the hill except the museum — including the printing press, the barn full of carriages and wagons, and the blacksmith shop, where he apprenticed as a boy. He was helping at the apple press and distributing cider with his two sons.

“It’s old Vermont,” he said. “This stuff isn’t done anywhere anymore.”

Each year, there is a new addition to the hill — like the antique wood splitter that joined the menagerie of old machines. Cilley pointed out a row of young maple trees planted in an even row. Soon there will be shops between them and perhaps a church at the end of the lane, “like a little Main Street,” he said. The beams that Mario and Isaac Sacca, of Tunbridge, were hewing from logs just a few feet away would be part of a 20-by-20-foot store.

Elliott Morse’s family has been sugaring at their farm in Montpelier for 200 years. He reenacted his ancestors’ work as he manned a wood-powered sugaring evaporator attached to a red sap bucket mounted on a one-horse sleigh.

“I’ve been sugaring since I was this tall,” he said, lifting his hand to just under 4 feet. “It’s in my veins to make syrup. I can’t think of not sugaring.”

For well over a year, though, Morse has had to stay away from the Morse Farm. He is over 80, and his doctor told him to avoid the steady flow of tourists because of the pandemic. So he has been driving a delivery truck for an auto parts store — “I’m not one to sit around,” he said.

The volunteers behind the buzz of activity on Antique Hill are confident that the next generation would keep their traditions alive. Cain, of the Log Cabin Museum, taught Laura Craft, 56, to spin yarn from wool, and Craft has brought her 13-year-old daughter, Alice, to the fair every year since she was born.

Sarah Corrigan and Brad Salon, who run a school for “ancestral skills” in Corinth, toured the booths with their baby, Ash. At the ROOTS School, they use many of the same tools and natural materials as the historical reenactors. More than anything, they said that they and their students want to reconnect with the natural world by working with natural materials and practicing the skills in “everyone’s ancestry.”

“Making these things with hands and tools, there’s a direct understanding to it — it’s technical and involved, and there’s a beauty to working with natural materials,” Corrigan said. “But there’s a competency that’s hard to feel with modern technology. If my cellphone breaks, competency is a moot point.”

Although Antique Hill was busy, the absence of two people was also noteworthy. Former longtime Town Moderator Euclid Farnham, an eighth-generation Vermonter, died this year at 87. The former dairy farmer helped transform the fair into a family affair and with his wife, Priscilla, was a constant, steady presence on Antique Hill. Priscilla Farnham was not there Thursday morning.

The Farnhams had recruited Cain to the fair decades earlier.

“Right where I am in my life, I’ll always be thankful for people who led me down the path I followed,” Cain said.

“I miss them both,” she added.

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at cpotter@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.




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