Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Monday, June 2, 2008

HIddenhurst from Sunset Ridge


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The previous image was of Hiddenhurst from Wheeler-Collins Farm to the northwest. That's at least one or two hills, depending on where you count hills, to the right of this image. I never pass Sunset Ridge Farm when Kevin isn't busy around the barns or at work in the fields. On this evening he was in the middle of raking hay.

As he reached us he stopped his tractor for moment of talk. I made the mistake of admiring the stripes painted on the hillside by the newly cut grass, and he observed we must be waiting for the light to shift. There were distant beams that might pass our way. As Kevin drove off, the first bit of the pattern was gone. A few minutes later we heard his tractor power down at the end of the row to wait with us as two darts of light slowly moved across the hills, lest he disturb another blade of grass in the great design.

The beams were in no hurry. The silence around the bird chatter grew deafening as we waited for the clouds to carry the sun into position. Kevin's pause was a gesture of friendship that I will treasure, and the shot I got with the sunlight on Hiddenhurst with a secondary beam on the remaining unraked grass rows in the foreground was good. However, waiting there, Kevin parked at the end of the hay row and us standing, ready to shoot, at the beginning, I knew we would miss the best shot. I wanted to tell him to start his tractor and drive it down the grass row and through the beam of light as it reaches the hill. Sadly, by the time the tractor snatched the next stripe of cut hay, the spotlight had moved on to another hill.

The hills in the background of this shot mark the southern edge of a historic farming district that probably supplied the Sheffield Company with the milk I drank as a child growing up in New York City. Sheffield is long gone and most of the dairy industry with it. Also gone is the train line that carried the milk to Sheffield's New York City plant near Columbia University.

However, most of the large tracts of land in the historic district remain intact with the original 18th and 19th century farm houses and various barns. Most of the land still serves some sort of farming. There's an organic farm with a market on the main highway. I've photographed the Highland Cattle at Wheeler-Collins Farm. Across the highway is a farm raising sheep, and everywhere they're growing corn. Unfortunately, Sunset Ridge is the only farm with a large dairy herd.

The area is easily 4 or 5 times the size of the Great Hollow with that feeling of vast space already mentioned. Hiddenhurst falls as close to dead center as one can imagine. What must it have been like back when the Hidden brothers raced their stallions on the hill over there? Did the bovine herds on neighboring hills stroll to the pasture fence to watch the thoroughbreds?