Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hiddenhurst from Wheeler-Collins Farm

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - Standing amid the tall grasses of the Wheeler-Collins Farm I watched as the clouds rolled over the valley from the north-west, past Wheeler-Collins and then to the south-east where Hiddenhurst stood. Wheeler-Collins is the farm where the previously posted photo on "Threesomeness," was shot.

The cloud cover was solid and the broad valley looked flat and unappealing, so I did what I've learned to do in such situations; I waited. When a first beam of light came into view I crossed my fingers that it would eventually move toward Hiddenhurst. Then a second beam followed it at a short distance. What would be the chances that both would slide into position to clarify my shot? They moved toward me at the speed of a passing car, and then the light was on me for less than a minute, and then I was back in shadow again, but the trajectory looked good. I watched the first beam pick out a foreground tree from a row of trees behind it, and then the second beam came my way. Yes, everything was aligned, and I watched as the two beams subsequently revealed and concealed each level of the scene. I snapped many shots, but I knew that I had found the right moment when that second beam caught the foreground tree again at the very same moment the first beam was shining on Hiddenhurst.

So, what is the story of Hiddenhurst? Well, the truth is it was built by millionaire paint manufacturers from New York, Edwin and Thomas Hidden in 1903 for the breeding and training of their race horses. Here is how Amenia Historian Arlene Pettersson explained it to me:
They did build this place specifically to raise and train their driving and harness racing horses. There was a 1/4 mile track which encircled a magnificent stable which housed the horses and an indoor arena which was very unusual at the time. The price for the barn was $100,000 (or that may have been the price for the entire construction but I don't know for sure-I kind of lean toward it being the cost for the whole place because the house itself sold for $45,000 in the 1940's. ) Anyway when Thomas Hidden died he left no will, and the estate went to his three nieces (this was in 1918), Frances Hidden, Maria Watson Hidden and Sarah Hidden. I didn't do a detailed search, but the house and estate changed hands a few times after that. It went at one point to the Sheffield Dairy which was a big milk operation around the corner and then to the Fitzgeralds. They changed the name to FITZLAND FARM when they got it in 1945. It was shortly after that the great stable described above and two silos caught fire and burned to the ground.

So it is not entirely clear to me what the barns in the picture are. They have the form of dairy barns. The current owner tells me that he, "renovated the old barn." Arlene thinks they were all destroyed. One doesn't install three giant harvester silos like those unless one has a major cattle operation, and three clay tile silos suggest cattle farming must have spanned a considerable period of time. Nothing on the barns looks especially old, but they do play well to theater lights. While their history may be a bit atypical for this dairy region, it is only their flamboyant setting atop their hurst that sets them apart from the many dairy farms still standing in the region.

The silo in the previous TODAY'S is the one on the far left of the barns, partly hidden by the tree in the center of the picture.

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