Hatfield fall festival showcases historical corn brooms, carving

  • Bob Osley of Hatfield carving Courtesy Photo/Hatfield Historical Society—

  • Bryan Nicholas of Hatfield bending down corn stalks Courtesy Photo/Hatfield Historical Society—

  • Bryan Nicholas of Hatfield inspects broom corn, which will be featured at the Hatfield Historical Society fall festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. SUBMITTED Photo/Hatfield Historical Society

  • Bob Osley of Hatfield carving rosette and scroll Courtesy Photo/Hatfield Historical Society—

  • Bryan Nicholas of Hatfield in a broom corn patch Courtesy Photo/Hatfield Historical Society—

  • Bob Osley of Hatfield tapping out cuts Courtesy Photo/Hatfield Historical Society—

Published: 9/28/2016 11:03:15 AM

HATFIELD — Two former industries with rich significance to the town will be briefly resurrected Sunday during the Hatfield Historical Society’s annual fall festival.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., visitors can learn about how corn brooms were made and how fancy colonial doorways were carved.

For 16 years, the festival has aimed to bring history back to life by offering a window to the past.

Corn brooms

Some 200 years after the first broom corn was planted in Hatfield, Bob Osley and Bryan Nicholas, both of the historical society, are growing their own.

Farm Museum curator George Ashley will use their crop to make brooms during the festival, using a mid-19th century broom machine. 

But before that, there is work to be done.

Both Osley and Nicholas are still in the process of “tabling” the corn tassels, which means bending down the stalks when the tassels turn red on the ends. The corn is then hung to dry, and later, seeds will be removed from the tassels.

Nicholas, who serves as the historical society treasurer, said he has corn drying “all over the place.”

This year marks the first time he’s tried to grow corn. The exact strain used by farmers in the mid-1800s was wiped out by blight, he said, so he and Osley chose a variety typically used for ornamental purposes.

The whole project has been a real experiment, Nicholas said.

He knows who grew the corn historically, and where it was grown, but exact instructions for making brooms from it remain a bit of a mystery.

“Fortunately, YouTube is out there to help out a little bit,” Nicholas said with a laugh. “We’re going to experiment, fail, learn and probably fail again. Maybe we’ll come out with a good broom at the end of all of this.”  

Between the 1820s and 1850s, the corn broom-making business thrived in Hatfield. Nearly 1,000 acres in the town were planted in broom corn, said Kathie Gow, curator of the Hatfield Historical Museum.

An excerpt on the local industry is found in “A History of Hatfield in Three Parts,” by Daniel White Wells and Reuben Wells.

That 1910 text indicates that 70,000 corn brooms were manufactured annually in Hampshire County, according to 1810 records from the Massachusetts Valuation Returns.

For almost 50 years, production of broom corn boomed in the Connecticut River Valley.


Another interesting industry was that of a joiner, described by Gow as someone who constructs the wooden components of a building, such as stairs, doors, and door windows and frames.

Osley will offer a wood-carving demonstration using the tools a colonial joiner would have used – gouges, chisels, planes, hammers and saws.

He will focus specifically on carving the Connecticut Valley rosette, which was used in the scroll pediment atop colonial doorways during the mid-1700s.

Osley, who serves as historical society vice president, called the doorways “beautiful works of art.”

The scroll pediment is regarded as “the greatest overall accomplishment of the 18th century CT River Valley house joiner,” according to author Amelia Miller in her 1983 text “Conn. River Valley Doorways.”

“In older times, things had to be made from hand, by scratch,” Osley said. “They couldn’t just be purchased from Home Depot or Lowe’s.”

“If they wanted a piece of trim, they had to make it,” he said.

Osley’s demonstration will accompany a related exhibit opening Sunday in the Hatfield Historical Museum. At least two of the historic carved doorways, still on their Main Street homes in Hatfield, will be pictured in the exhibit.

One such doorway at 31 Main St. has served as the model for a scroll and rosette Osley is creating for the exhibit. 

He’s been carving wood since his teenage years, but this kind of project is a first for him.

Osley lives nearly a half-mile from the inspirational doorway and drew up an informal pattern for his project by “riding his bicycle back and forth a hundred times,” to compare details.

In a time when so much of the past is disappearing, it’s nice to know some history is still visible, he said.

Three of the town’s historical carved doorways have since been removed and sold to museums in Deerfield and Boston.

Other activities

In addition to featuring the two past livelihoods, the Hatfield Fall Festival and Antique Car, Truck and Tractor Show is set to include music and children’s activities, a farmers’ market of local crops, food by the Hatfield Boy Scouts and the Hatfield Fire Department, demonstrations of wheel-thrown pottery, sauerkraut-making, loom weaving and other textile arts, town crafters and a used book sale put on by Friends of the Hatfield Public Library.

Festivities will take place between the Historical Museum and the Farm Museum. The antique car show starts at 10:30 a.m. at the American Legion and will end on Billings Way, where they will park.

Sarah Crosby can be reached at scrosby@gazettenet.


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