Working Down on the Farm

Recollections of My Summer at Hale Farm & Village

Old-time Fiddling at the Hale House

My internship for the Summer of 2022 was at the Western Reserve Historical Society, specifically their Hale Farm Village historic site as a researcher and costumed interpreter. My reasons for choosing the position were twofold: firstly that I have some experience as both a Civil War reenactor and an intern doing costumed interpretation, and secondly that I was familiar with the WRHS thanks to previous courses and experiences. I was pursing my Master’s Degree in Museum Studies in the Summer of 2022, and as my internship was all that remained for me to complete my degree I was excited for the opportunity. The WRHS, and especially Hale Farm & Village, did not disappoint when it came to exciting experiences which furthered my education in the field of public history.

One of the early highlights of my internship was an opportunity to take a behind the scenes look at the Cleveland History Center’s collections. These, as it transpired, we witnessed at a moment of flux: as the former offices had vacated the former mansions which are the core of the center’s architectural fabric, many collections were being moved to safer and better climate controlled areas. We were fortunate to be able to view the society’s renowned costuming collection, and see some of the many hundreds of immaculately preserved and colorful dresses. I was also pleased to discover, on a personal note, an example of corduroy fall front trousers, which I intend to replicate at some point the future.

We also had the pleasure of seeing their amazing weapons collection, including the Civil War sabre of society founding father Col. Charles Whittlesey, and an example of the rare French WW1 Chauchat light machine gun, famous somewhat unfairly as one of the worst guns of all time.   

I spent my time at Hale Farm and Village dividing my attention between working as a costumed interpreter and franticly researching various topics for a research paper.  Hale Farm & Village was working on a new site interpretation plan, to replace their current one which had not been updated since the 1990s, and was seeking various internship projects that aided in this plan.

My initial plan was to develop a project reinterpreting Hale’s approach to woodworking, in which I had a recent interest. My hope was to develop a living history demonstration of hardwood working. Ultimately, the latter proposal proved infeasible to implement, and my research began to lead me in a different direction. As I learned more about the new interpretation plan, I was able to develop a project which better fit with it’s stated goal.

The goal of the new interpretation plan was site wide implementation of “thematic interpretation”, which involved tying greater narrative themes into our presentation of history, and especially emphasizing local history connections to these themes . After much debate, I wound up focusing on the universal theme of “Family”, with which almost all visitors can relate, and which is a useful way to contextualize history. 

My research focused on the Jaggers, a local family which had originally lived some three miles from Hale Farm in Bath, Ohio, at a place called “Hammonds Corners” at the intersection of Ira and Cleveland & Massillon Roads. Their family home, a small but fashionable Greek Revival home of ca 1845-53, was where I spent most of my summer and focused my research. My project focused on the three generations of men from the family: Elmus, Clement, and Charles. Elmus Jagger was a farmer, and briefly a schoolmaster and general store owner. Towards the end of my project, I was very happily surprised to discover his General Store remains at Hammond’s Corners as a Huntington Bank! Clement and Charles were both carriage makers, and thus my research also applied to updating the interpretation of the carriage museum at Hale.

My time as a costumed interpreter was spent working at the Jagger House. Spending an entire summer in a house, while researching it’s residents, one comes to feel as if they too have inhabited the home. I felt a deep connection to the Jaggers by summers end. I knew where very door originally led to, which windows to open for the ideal cross breeze, and could even identify the various household members by sight thanks to historic photographs!

I also had the pleasure of working several memorable special events. My first event was the very weekend I started at Hale: the Pollinator Sow & Grow Festival, working at the Fritch Cabin. I learned how to use a hand cultivator to plow a garden, and got to know many of my lovely coworkers with whom I’d continue to work with throughout the summer. Working this event was particularly rewarding as it afforded me an opportunity to work with families, many of whom enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to tend the garden using period tools. My work that weekend drew positive comments from our executive director, which was a point of pride for me.

Playing in the Herrick House parlor at Music in the Valley

The second special event I worked was the Music in the Valley country and folk music event. I took special interest in the event, as I am a fiddler, and had previous preformed some Civil War period music at the Cleveland History center in 2019 for a event with the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable. For the Music in the Valley event, I served as a sort of mobile exhibit, wandering the village with my fiddle and playing a variety of period musical pieces. It was some of the best fun I have had in a long while, and was well liked by the public. It was a truly moving experience to be able to bring music back into the parlors of the many 1840s homes which are part of Hale Farm & Village, which have for too long sat silent. I discovered that, of all the parlors at Hale, the Herrick house has one of the best for performers: a gentle cross breeze serves to keep cool, and the parlor is large enough to easily accommodate a sizable audience or performing group without being “catch-your-death-of-cornona” crowded. Most importantly, for an intern, it possessed a working clock to inform you of the lunch hour! 

One of my fellow interns, Ms. E, was a music historian, and was fellow violinist. I particularly enjoyed their playing of the Psaltery, a type of bowed harp instrument in the Zither family who’s existence I was previously unaware of. The sound is etherial and haunting, truly unforgettable. Her research into the role of the Hales, particularly Johnathan Hale, in a signing school helped to spur my participation in my final special event of the season: the “Hands-on-Hale Music Day”.

Through my discussions with Ms E. and the rest of the staff at Hale, I discovered the Johnathan Hale was himself a violinist. Thus when the opportunity arose, I was able to bring violin music back to the Hale house, just as Jonathan would have played in the 1820s and 1830s in the house’s heyday. This particular event, coming as it did a day before the end of my internship, was also a very personal day for me: an opportunity to round off my experience at Hale. I had the pleasure of bringing my mother, also in costume and preforming acapella that day, around Hale and introducing her to my colleagues with whom I had worked so many long days. I also had the opportunity to reunite with special musical guest and longtime friend, Mr. G.R, who I had not seen for several years. Mr. G.R. and I have known each other since my undergrad days, and I am greatly in debt to his support of me as a musician: he gifted me the other instruments that I play: my mandolin and viola several years ago. 

In my time at Hale, my work often took me all over the site and I had the pleasure of visiting many of the preserved structures of Hale. Spending time in various persevered 19th century building taught me a great deal about the class distinctions between the different structures. The variety of social classes homes represented at Hale is a unique strength of the site, and something not often seen in historic house museums. The growth of the prosperity of Connecticut’s Western Reserve in Ohio as a result of the canal had a drastic affect on the affluence visible in even ordinary homes. This was particularly evident in the various types of interior decoration, which one can only experience at a site like Hale, as historic preservation too often focuses largely on buildings exteriors. My research also taught me much about vernacular architecture in the Western Reserve, particular that of Johnathan Goldsmith, an profile architect one of whose houses is preserved at Hale. Goldsmith was renown for his treatments on doors, particularly, mixing Federal and Greek Revival styles and using a signature Acanthus leaf corner block in his door moldings. As I intend to earn a certificate in Historical Preservation in the future, I thus found these experiences to be most enlightening. 

Overall, my work at Hale was very rewarding, not simply because of it’s nature but also because of the exceptional staff with whom I was able to spend my summer working alongside.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the interpretive staff at Hale were some of the best coworkers I have had over the course of my three internships to date. There are so many who deserve mention, but time and space do not permit. Special commendation must go to my coworker at the Jagger House, Mr A., whom humored my long winded rambling about the latest Jagger related gossip and made good company in the long hours on exceptionally hot and muggy summer days. We made an excellent team and I wish him best of luck at Hale and future endeavors!

I would be remiss, too, if I did not mention the most valuable members of staff: the Oxen, Sheep, and Chickens, without whom Hale would hardly be a farm and not half as fun!

A kinder and more dedicated staff one could not ask for.

As an intern, there were several lessons which I learned during my time with the Western Reserve Historical Society, working at Hale Farm & Village. 

Firstly, I learned that frequently one’s internship project will drastically morph as you become better aware of the limitations under which you work and what resources are made available to you. This might be a source of frustration initially, but almost always results in a better final product as a result. The important thing is to be adaptable and to take opportunities as they present themselves.

This lesson was learnt not just from my work on my project, but also in learning about the varying career paths which my coworkers has taken to become involved in history. For example, Hale Farm’s executive director had a variety of different careers, and was originally planning on being a lawyer, before realizing through a summer job at Colonial Williamsburg his passion lay elsewhere. 

Finally, I found that many of the skills I have for researching history are more transferable than I had first imagined. Working on Dr Souther’s Cleveland Green Book project the preceding semester, I was able to leverage much of my existing knowledge of local history. Working at Hale Farm helped me move beyond the bubble of preexisting knowledge and use my skills in a completely new context: Bath, Ohio.

Many of the skills which I had previously used in the Green Book Project were useful to me in my research of the Jagger family. My ability to interpret vintage aerial photos was tested by an 1954 image which showed the Jagger House, Carriage Shop, and related buildings still en-situe. By comparing this image with present day imagery, I was able to precisely pin-point the location of the Jagger buildings in 2022. 

I also worked with a text clearly based on family and oral histories, which proved that such documents can be incredibly accurate: it provided value answers to a variety of questions, was verifiable based on other primary sources, and provided detailed dimensions for many of the buildings I researched. This experience built off greater discussions I had with Dr Souther previously about the importance and accuracy of such unconventional histories.

In conclusion, I would urge that any future CSU interns looking to experiencing living history ought to consider Hale Farm & Village. The opportunities offered by Hale are unique and require skills in all facets of living history from researching to learning period skills to dealing with the modern public. If prospective interns already have a background in living history through reenactment, or previous experiences, they will be all the better for the position as it requires a dedication and passion for the work greater, I think, than other internship positions. Their passion, however, will be amply repaid to them through the experience they will gain.

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