Durham (Google Maps location)
CT museum visit #507.
*Fair Dinkum: slang, Australia. : unquestionably good or genuine : excellent. often used as a general expression of approval.
I’ve been to Australia. People do actually say this there. People do not say it in Durham, Connecticut, but if they did, they could (and should) use it to describe the Durham Fair Farm Museum. Especially relative to other farm museums around the state, even those beyond the town fair circuit.
Yes, it’s fair to say I was happily surprised at the size and quality of this museum. I’ve been to at least two other town fair farm museums I can remember off the top of my head, and Durham’s has them beat. Granted, the Durham Fair is the largest fair in the state, so it stands to reason I suppose.
I believe that the way these things work is that the museum sits here, year-round, in its dedicated building waiting for its time to shine for four days a year. Heck, the Fair only ran three days until 2011. I’m sure the museum is thrilled to have that extra day.
If you’re wondering, yes, it’s true. I bought a ticket, paid the insulting fee to park in some church parking lot (so much for being charitable), walked the mile to the grounds, and headed straight for the museum. I’m not big on town fairs. Perhaps the reason is that I didn’t grow up in an area where such things existed? Maybe.
But I am big on museums! So after winding my way through the midway on a beautiful Friday morning, I found the museum building and went inside.
It’s big! It houses a, “vast collection of antique farm equipment and collectibles like hand-cranked tractors, blacksmiths, and pot-bellied stoves.” I’m assuming the blacksmith does not live year-round in the museum building. (Although, I must say, he was really eager to talk to passersby so maybe he does.)
The Durham Fair Farm Museum was started about 30 years ago. All of the items in the collection have been donated over the years. It has collections of equipment, tools, belt pulley engines, and implements that were typically found in the 1900s on different types of farms and farm houses. There are displays focusing on milking, beekeeping, raising chickens, logging, harvesting of large and small crops, ice harvesting, to name a few.
The Farm Museum continues to maintain and restore tractors and equipment year round including a recent acquisition of a 1930 John Deere GP tractor, which will begin its restoration this year.
I assume “this year” is 2023. So get excited for that in 2024.
I was immediately confronted with two things: people and a 1967 DIVCO Milk Delivery Truck. Yes, there were actually a lot of people coursing through the museum. And for the most part, they all seemed interested in all the stuff. What a breath of fresh air – always welcome when you’re at a town fair with so much livestock.
The truck was placed front and center and is in beautiful condition. These trucks were everywhere in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s with home milk deliveries. And of course in a farm town like Durham, the local dairies all had them.
They also had milk bottles. This museum purports to have 850 of them – all from Connecticut farms. These are a staple at these types of museums, but 850 seems like way more than elsewhere. Want to know something even more awesome here that doesn’t typically exist elsewhere?
The Fair’s website lists a good chunk of the stuff on display here. You know why that’s awesome? Because I can now do this:
Some highlights of this museum are: 25 DFA Posters, a farm Kitchen area, a whole mechanics shop, old timey beekeeping supplies, a water Pump from the old Durham Viaduct, old timey dairy/Milking equipment, old timey logging tools, old timey ice harvesting equipment, old timey large and small garden implements, old timey wheat threshers, old timey cobblers tools, old timey apple harvesting tools, old timey horse sleighs and saddles, etc., old timey ox yokes, old timey farrier’s tools, an old timey slaughterhouse wheel, many old signs depicting dairy companies, displays on old timey local stores and businesses, old timey chainsaws, old timey lawnmowers, horse drawn buggies, an early Americana working miners display, an old timey restored hay press (old hay baler), over 30 restored or unrestored tractors, a display on local farm histories, and numerous other old timey implements and equipment.
In nice weather, the working tractors are fired up outside and a few times per day, they get them all running at the same time. If you’ve never experienced this, it is loud. Very loud. Old timey tractors and things didn’t exactly have mufflers on them. Things like corn grinders, a hay press, a lime crusher, a corn chopper, a wood saw, and other loud engines. Speaking of tractors, you’ll be amazed to learn the oldest one here is a circa 1920 Centaur.
I slowly made my way though the museum, taking it all in. After all, this is why I was at the Fair in the first place. It’s all very pleasant.
Especially the little set up of a farm child’s farm playroom, complete with a cute doll:
As farming was certainly a dangerous occupation, and things like barn and silo fires were an ever-present danger, I guess having a doll showing the effects of a severe burn is necessary. It’s just not cute.
At least the live blacksmith demonstration was going on during my visit, and that guy was much more lively than the creepy doll up there. He had a crowd gathered who were mostly intent on asking him questions like, “Why are you good at this?” and “why do you do this stuff in the 21st century.” He handled each slightly insulting question with grace.
My question is, how many people have bought this book?
Everything here is well-kept and less dusty than a typical farm museum. I mean, it was still dusty of course, but not like some of these places.
I appreciated the strong sense of local pride here. A large percentage of what was on display was from Durham. The diplays about local farms from the past really exhibit what the Durham Fair is all about in the end, right? Like, that’s why these fairs started in the first place so many years ago.
In a sense, this is one of the most expensive museums I’ve been to in the state, considering the fair entry and parking. But you know, in the end, I’m fine with that. These museums that are only open a few days per year are my white whales, so I’ll pay any price to see them.
And that, my friends, is Fair dinkum indeed.