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Living History at Belgenny

The CHN blogger was out and about recently and attended an informative and interesting talk at Belgenny Farm in  the Home Farm meeting hall. The presentation was delivered by Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018 sign
The signage at the entrance to the Belgenny Farm complex at Camden NSW. The farm community hall was the location of an informative talk by Mr Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Mr Watson, an advocate of the living history movement, was the guest of the chairman of the Belgenny Farm Trust Dr Cameron Archer. Mr Watson was on a speaking tour and had attended a living history conference while in Australia.

 Peter Watson and Howell Living History Farm

Peter Watson presented an interesting and far ranging talk about Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey and its programs. He was responsible for setting up the Howell Living History Farm.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018May2 Peter Watson2 Talk
Mr Peter Watson giving an interesting and information talk in the community hall at the Home Farm at the Belgenny Farm Complex on the experience for visitors to the Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Mr Watson said, ‘He initially worked in the US Peace Corps in West Africa and gained an interest in the living history movement through teaching farming methods.’

‘The 130 acre farm was gifted to the community in 1974 by a state politician with the aim of showing how farming used to be done in New Jersey.

Mr Watson said, ‘We took about 10 years to get going and deal with the planning process, which was tenuous for the government authorities who own the farm. Politics is not good or evil but just develops systems that do good for people. New Jersey state government have purchased development rights per acre from land developers.’

Howell Living History Farm is located within a one hour of around 15 million and the far has 65,000 visitors per year and 10,000 school children.

The experience

Mr Watson said, ‘The main aim at the farm is the visitor experience. The farm represents New Jersey farming between 1890 and 1910 – a moment in time.’

Mr Watson says, ‘We do not want to allow history to get in the way of an education experience for the visitor. The farm visitors are attracted by nostalgia which is an important value for them.

Camden Belgenny Farm 2018May2 Peter Watson Talk
An interesting presentation was given by Peter Watson on 2 May 2018 at in the community hall at the Belgenny Farm complex outlining some of the activities and experiences for the visitor to the farm in New Jersey, USA. (I Willis, 2018)

 

Most historic farms are museums, according to Mr Watson and he said, ‘At Howell Farm visitors become involved in activities.’

The farm uses original equipment using traditional methods and interpretation with living history.

The living history movement is concerned with authenticity and Mr Watson said, ‘Living history is a reservoir of ideas in adaptive research using comparative farming methods between decades.

Mr Watson illustrated his talk with a number of slides of the farm and its activities. He stressed to the relieved audience that the farm activities used replica equipment, not historic artefacts.

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 blacksmithing
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. The farm attempts to provide an opportunity for the preservation of the traditional trades. Here blacksmithing is being demonstrated with a forge. (2018)

 

Howell Living History Farm offers a strong education program for schools.

‘This is a different experience for school groups and we do not want to do up all the old buildings. Different farm buildings show a comparative history  – 1790, 1800, 1850,’ Mr Watson said.

Stressing how the farm lives up the principles of the living history movement Mr Watson said, ‘The farm is a learning, education and entertainment facility using traditional farming methods that provide an authentic and ‘real’ experience. The farm seeks to preserve the traditional methods which have cultural value.’

 

Literature prepared for the Howell Living History Farm education program states that:

Howell Farm’s educational programs engage students in the real, season activities of a working farm where hands-on learning experiences provide the answers to essential questions posed by the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Standards of Social Studies, Language Arts, Science and the Next Generation Science Standards. The farm’s classic, mixed crop and livestock operations accurately portray the era of pre-tractor systems, creating a unique and inspiring learning environment where history, technology, science converge…and where past and present meet.

 

‘The farm is a guided experience and there are interpreters for visitors. Story telling at the farm is done in the 1st-person.’

Farm activities

‘The farm has a cooking programme for the farm crops it grows, which is popular with organic producers and supporters of organic farm products. Crops grown using traditional methods include oats, corn and wheat.’

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 farm produce
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. This is  some of the produce sold in the Howell Farm shop to visitors. All produce sold in the farm shop is grown and processed on the farm. (2018)

 

‘The farm sells some its produce and it includes honey, corn meal, maple syrup, used horse shoes, wool, flour.

‘We sell surplus produce at a local market. Activities include apple peeling. There is a sewing guild every Tuesday and the women make costumes.’

‘The farm has an ice house which makes natural ice during winter. Mr Watson made the point that ice making in the US was a multi-million dollar industry in the 1900s.

 

The promotional information for the farm’s seasonal calendar program states:

Howell Farm’s calendar reflects the cycles of a fully functioning working farm in Pleasant Valley, New Jersey during the years 1890-1910. Programs enable visitors to see real farming operations up close, speak with farmers and interpreters, and in many instances lend a hand. Factors such as weather, soil conditions and animal needs can impact operations at any time, resulting in program changes that reflect realities faced by farmers then and now.

 

The farm has run a number of fundraising ventures and one of the more successful has been the maize.

Mr Watson said, ‘The farm maize crop has been cut into a dinosaur maze of four acres and used as a fundraiser, raising $35,000 which has been used for farm restoration work.’

‘The farm is a listed historic site with a number of restored buildings, which satisfy US heritage authorities to allow application for government grants,’ said Peter Watson.

Howell Farm ScreenShot 2018 activities
Screenshot of the Howell Living History Farm website in New Jersey USA. This view of the webpage shows some of the historic farm buildings that are typical of the New Jersey area around 1900. The farm aims to provide the visitor with an authentic farm experience that has now disappeared from the US countryside and farming landscape.  (2018)

 

‘Traditional farm fences in New Jersey were snake-rail fences which have been constructed using ‘hands-on’ public workshops.’

Mr Watson stressed, ‘The farm is an experience and we are sensitive about where food comes from. Animal rights are a problem and you have to be honest about farming practices.’

 

Learn more

Scott Magelssen, Living History Museums, Undoing History Through Performance. Lanham, Maryland, USA: Scarecrow Press, 2007.

Howell Living History Farm  70 Woodens Ln, Lambertville, NJ 08530, USA

The Howell Living History Farm, also known as the Joseph Phillips Farm, is a 130 acres farm that is a living open-air museum near Titusville, in Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. Wikipedia   Area: 53 ha. Operated by the Mercer County Park Commission.

 

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Greens Motorcade Museum Park Leppington, a lost Sydney icon

One of the icons of the southwestern Sydney fringe that has long disappeared was the car museum and picnic ground know as Greens Motorcade Museum Park at Leppington on the Old Hume Highway.

booklet-greens-motorcade-museum-cover
Cover of booklet produced by Ian Willis A Selection of a Collection, Greens Motorcade Museum (1981) that told the story of cars in the museum collection (I Willis)

 

The car museum opened in 1974 and had a collection of cars under cover in a museum hall. Museum volunteer Ray Sanderson recalls that the manager was David Short. He

was George Green’s right-hand man of his large collection, not just at the museum but storage sheds about the country. Not far from the museum was an old chook farm shed (commercial size) [that] housed more unrestored vehicles.

On the car museum site there was a re-creation of a early 20th century village with The Oaks Tea Rooms, the old Beecroft Fire Station, a garage complete with hand pumped petrol, and train ride which was a former cane train from Queensland. Rides were also provided by a 1927 Dennis Fire Engine and a 1912 English Star.

 

The Beecroft Cheltenham History Group states that the fire station was carefully shifted piece by piece from its original site to the museum park. They state:

In 1975 changes in equipment and the expanding number of personnel meant that the oldest fire station building was carefully taken down and reconstructed at Leppington in Green’s Motorcade Museum Park.

greens-motorcade-mus-flyer2-rsanderson
Greens Motorcade Museum Leppington Flyer 1970s (R Sanderson)

 

The museum collection was owned by woolbroker George Green who lived at Castlecrag in Sydney and was a member of a number car clubs in the Sydney area. George Green was a keen collector of Rolls Royce motor vehicles and foundation member of the Rolls Royce Owners Club of Australia in 1956. He was also a member of Veteran Car Club of Australia (1954) and The Vintage Sports Car Club of Australia (1944), which holds the annual George Green Rally in his honour.

gmm-tearoomfireengine-rsanderson
Greens Motorcade Museum with 1927 Dennis Fire Engine and behind them are The Oaks Tea Room and the old Beecroft Fire Station 1970s (R Sanderson)

 

George Green owned the museum in partnership with car dealer and collector Frank Illich. The manager of the museum was David Short of Camden from its foundation to its closure in 1982 when George Green died and the collection was auctioned off on site.

On the old Hume Highway the visitor and their family were met by the steam traction engine that was originally used to drive the timber cutting machinery  at the Woods Timber Mill at Narooma on the New South Wales South Coast. It was presented to the museum by Mrs Woods.

gmm-traction-engine-rsanderson
Former Narooma Woods Timber Mill steam traction engine which met visitors on the Old Hume Highway on the driveway that went up to the museum front gate (R Sanderson)

 

There was also a large picnic area which hosted many community events, car club days, children’s Christmas parties, corporate functions, and other events.

booklet-greens-motorcade-museum-bw-p3
Page from the booklet produced by Ian Willis A Selection of a Collection Greens Motocade showing the interior of the museum hall 1981 (I Willis)

 

The Vintage Vehicle Car Club of Australia held its foundation family day event at the picnic ground at Greens Motocade Museum on 21 August 1977.

 

vvcca-greens-motocade-21091977
First family day outing of the Veteran Vehicle Club of Australia 21 August 1977 (VVCA)
vvca-at-greens-motocade-museum-21081977
VVCA Family Day at Greens Motorcade Museum showing the extensive picnic grounds at the rear of the museum 21 August 1977 (VVCA)

 

The museum occasionally supplied its ‘old cars’ for film shoots, commercials and corporate events all over Sydney. At one time the museum management organised shopping centre car displays across Sydney, with a display at Birkenhead Point Shopping Centre after it opened in 1981.

One car in the collection was a Leyland P76 which was an Australian icon.

Another icon in the museum collection was a 1922 Stanley Steamer Car. The Powerhouse Museum states:

In about 1958 the car was purchased by George Green who from the mid 1950s collected some 100 vintage and veteran cars which he displayed at Green’s Motorcade Museum at Leppington, NSW, from 1974. In 1971 Green swapped the Stanley for a 1904 Vauxhall which belonged to Allan F. Higgisson of 22 Banner Street, O’Connor, ACT. Higgisson was keen to work on the Stanley, while Green wanted to restore a veteran car he could enter in the annual London to Brighton car rally. It was an unwritten agreement that should Higgisson tire of restoring the Stanley it would be returned to Green.

 

The National Museum of Australia’s has a 1913 Delaunay-Belleville Tourer which was part of the Greens Motorcade Museum Collection. Read story of the 1913 Delauney- Belleville Tourer at the National Museum of Australia and here. As well in the NMA Collection Database here

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El Caballo Blanco, A Forgotten Past

Catherine Fields once boasted a national tourist facility which attracted thousands of visitors a year to the local area, the El Caballo Blanco entertainment complex.

The El Caballo Blanco complex opened in April 1979 at Catherine Fields. The main attraction was a theatrical horse show presented with Andalusian horses, which was held daily in the large 800-seat indoor arena. .

 

El Caballo Blanco at Catherine Fields in 1980s (Camden Images)
El Caballo Blanco at Catherine Fields in 1980s (Camden Images)

 

The El Caballo Blanco complex at Catherine Fields, according to a souvenir brochure held at the Camden Museum, was based on a similar entertainment facility at the Wooroloo, near Perth, WA, which attracted over a quarter of a million visitors a year. It was established in 1974 by Ray Williams and had a 2000-seat outdoor arena. The horse show was based on a similar horse show (ferias) in Seville, Jerez de la Frontera and other Spanish cities.

The programme of events for the horse show at Catherine Fields began with a parade, followed by a pas de deux and then an insight into training of horses and riders in classical horsemanship. This was then followed by a demonstration of dressage, then a session ‘on the long rein’ where a riderless horse executed a number of steps and movements. There was a Vaqueros show (a quadrille) then carriage driving with the show ending with a grand finale. All the riders appeared in colourful Spanish style costumes.

The indoor arena was richly decorated in a lavishly rich style with blue velvet ceiling drapes and chandeliers. The complex also had associated stables and holding paddocks, within a Spanish-Moorish setting The stables had brass fittings and grilles, based on the design from stair cases at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

El Caballo Blanco Spanish Horse Show Catherine Fields 1980s (Camden Images)
El Caballo Blanco Spanish Horse Show Catherine Fields 1980s (Camden Images)

 

The horse show at Catherine Fields was supplement with an ancillary Australiana show which consisted mainly of sheep shearing and sheep dog trials, while a miniature horse show was introduced in the late 1980s. The also boasted a variety of rides (train, bus, racing cars, paddle boats, and ponies), a carriage museum, a small Australiana zoo, picnic facilities, water slides and swimming pool, souvenir shop, shooting gallery, restaurant, snack bar and coffee shop, and car parking.

Emmanuel Margolin, the owner in the 1989, claimed in promotional literature that the complex offered an ideal location for functions and was an ideal educational facility where children could learn about animals at the zoo, dressage, and botany in the gardens. At the time the entry charge was $10 for adults, children $5 and a family pass $25 (2A + 2C), with concession $5.

A promotional tourist brochure held by the Camden Museum claimed that it was Sydney’s premier all weather attraction. It was opened 7 days a week between 10.00am and 5.00pm.

By the mid-1990s the complex was struggling financially and in 1995 was put up for auction, but failed to reach the $5 million reserve price. The owners at the time, Emmanuel and Cecile Margolin, sold the 88 horses in July, according the Macarthur Chronicle. By this stage complex was only open on weekends, public holidays and school holidays.

At a subsequent auction in July 1997 the advertising claimed that it was a historical landmark site of 120 acres just 45 minutes from Sydney. That it was a unique tourist park with numerous attractions, luxury accommodation and a large highway frontage.

The last performance of the horse show at Catherine Fields was held in 1998.

Unfortunately by 2002 the good times had passed and the horses agisted on the site, and according to the Camden and Wollondilly Advertiser, were part of a ‘forgotten herd’ of 29 horses that roamed the grounds of the complex. It was reported that they were looked after by a keen group of Camden riders.

Worse was to come when in 2003 a fire destroyed the former stable, kitchen and auditorium. The fire spread to the adjacent paddock and meant that the 25 horses that were still on the site had to be re-located. It was reported by Macarthur Chronicle, that Sharyn Sparks the owner of the horses was heart-broken. She said she had worked with the horses from 1985 and found that the complex was one of the best places in the world to work. She said that the staff loved the horses and the atmosphere of the shows.

Read more on Wikipedia and at ShhSydney which tells stories of abandoned amusement parks and at Anne’s Adventure when she explored the park through a hole in the fence in 2014, while there is more about the story with images at Deserted Places blog.

In 2016 the Daily Mail (Australia) ran a story about the sorry state of the former theme park. It reported that is had finally closed in 1999 and

its empty performance halls, go-kart tracks and water slides were overtaken by unruly grass and wildlife.

Gia Cattiva visited the deserted site and stated:

I have these special memories of visiting there in the 80s when I was a little kid – my grandma took me there.

It was a bittersweet experience. I feel really lucky to have experienced the park as a little kid and get to see the performances.

In 2018 Channel 9 News Sydney ran an item on the news highlighting how housing development is about to overrun the former theme park site. It features archival footage and what the site looks like before the new houses and street put in.

Former horse rider Sharyn Sparks states that working at the theme park was

like being on a movie set every day.