The Highbanks section of Letchworth State Park—including the Hogsback pictured below—is one of the Genesee Valley’s natural beauties. Looking out across the river, it’s not just the breadth of landscape that amazes but what you might call the depth of time. Trying to think about our area’s past and its ecology together is the goal of OpenValley; it uses archival materials to create historical exhibits with a contemporary focus upon sustainability.
Primitive painting by D. Sterner provides a nineteenth-century view of Gilbert Mills on North Avon Rd. in the town of Avon, N.Y. The grist mill, built…
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For 19th-century farmers, the end of a growing season meant a change in daily activities. They still had to feed (and slaughter) livestock, thresh grains, deliver stored vegetables to market, harvest timber, and repair farm equipment--in other words, a lot of work! A terse diary entry like "We tinkered around some. We killed a calf today" (11 Nov. 1851) still testifies to ongoing, year-round labor. Even so, farmers had more time to pursue interests not otherwise possible during the summer months. This exhibit upon Sheffield Peabody's early years of keeping a diary explores some of his winter activities and, by extension, those of his surrounding community. Looking back upon his life from the 21st century, it is important to remember how much of our time during winter is spent in climate-controlled conditions. We find Sheffield and his community acclimated to outdoor activities that sometimes leave us gazing out of the window at them. Often, he will record a sub-zero temperature--and then go on to describe some outdoor enterprise--but more commonly such information never is mentioned. It reminds us that the experience of cold is culturally and historically relative, and that a tremendous range of life took place during the winter season.