Princeton Times

News

September 21, 2012

Farming the past: Museum aims to preserve heritage

PRINCETON — Back in the day before phones came with touchscreens and electricity fueled our cook stoves, families did things a little differently.

They churned butter by hand, heated and cooked with wood and plowed with a horse, and all of these chores created artifacts and antiques that are hard to find today.

Those are the items that Frank Nash and the Mercer County Farm Bureau hope to spotlight through the new Agriculture Museum, slated to open Sept. 29, right beside the Princeton Railroad Museum in the city’s historic district.

“I’ve had a dream about doing this for 40 years,” Nash said, surrounded by a gasoline-powered sheep shearer, a rug loom and all sorts of old-fashioned tools. “At one time, we had three different museums dedicated to the Virginian Railway and the railroad, but agriculture was here way before the railroad, and we’ve never had a museum, until now.”

Ironically, the building in which the Agriculture Museum will make its home, is the last remaining wood building left by the Virginian Railway.

“This is the American Railway Express Building,” Nash said. “It was built back in 1909, right after the Virginian came through here.”

The structure was actually moved slightly to accommodate the current access road leading into the Virginian Industrial Park, which sits on the site that was once the Virginian Railway shops.

Nash credits former Princeton City Manager Doug Freeman with the foresight to save the building and seek out a productive service for the structure that was part of Princeton’s past.

“He really wanted to see something good come of it, so we decided to use it for the Agriculture Museum,” Nash said. “It’s taken a lot of work to restore it to its original form, but we are close. You just wouldn’t believe the tongue-in-groove work I’ve had to do with some of the wood, but it was all worth it.”

While the City of Princeton paid to move the building, Nash said restoring the structure required much help from friends and volunteers, some of whom provided professional expertise. For example, Bill Calfee, of American Block, donated the blocks for the foundation; Fredeking-Stafford Construction chipped in with workers to lay the block; the Mercer County Commission funded a new floor, and the Knights of Columbus donated funds for new lighting to illuminate the agricultural artifacts.

Once the building was ready, Nash and his team at the Farm Bureau set out to fill its shelves and floors with pieces of life.

“Everything we’ve got back here has been donated from individuals,” he said. “We’ve got an old-time kitchen, all kinds of agricultural tools, plows — anything connected with our forefathers.”

One of his favorite pieces on display is an old wood cook stove donated by his son. The stove has been handed down through generations of the family, and Nash said it always pleases him to see it on display alongside a hutch-top cabinet and dining set from his own collection.

A butter churn from the farm of the late John Wall and a grinding stone hewn from sandstone, from the Solomon P. Williams farm in Rock, are also among the most unique showpieces.

In addition, he enjoys showing off the gasoline-powered sheep shearer that came from the Hugh Gooch farm.

Gooch was a full-time farmer, who once won the State Fair Sheep-Shearing Contest three consecutive years. Nash has dedicated a short wall in the museum to Gooch’s artifacts and success.

It’s clear the Agriculture Museum has been a labor of love for Nash, and he’s thrilled the doors are about to open, while the facility preserves local heritage.

In addition, the building will serve as a meeting place and an office for the Mercer County Farm Bureau, which is a volunteer organization that operates solely on dues.

“This has been a lot of hard work and some dreams come true,” Nash said.

The ribbon-cutting for the new museum is slated for noon, Sept. 29, at the Agriculture Museum on First Street, right beside the Princeton Railroad Museum.

Once the museum is officially open, Nash hopes to work with volunteers to ensure that the Agriculture Museum is open the same hours as the Railroad Museum.

In the fall, those hours are Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and Sunday, 2-5 p.m.

“We hope to have all the city and county officials here when we open, and we hope a lot of people will come see what we have to offer,” Nash said.

— Contact Tammie Toler at ttoler@ptonline.net.

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