Making Hay

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By Christopher Klose

"Putting up" a load of loose hay into the barn c. 1899.

We are indebted to avid, early photographer Harriet Martin Dey, of the Upper Red Hook Martin family, for this turn-of-the-century tableau of haymaking. Such a scene today is virtually impossible to imagine from the air conditioned, darkened confines of our speeding cars.

But big red barns, horses pulling heavy loads of hay, and lots of sweating, straw-hatted men teaming with them to store summer's bounty dominated the rural landscape until relatively recently. Having reached their peak of more than 25 million head in 1920, horses only ceded power to tractors in 1954. According to that year's U.S. Census of Agriculture, there were almost five million tractors and only four million horses (and mules) on America's farms.

Although blessed as perhaps the largest, most-intact farming town left in the Hudson Valley, Red Hook is losing its red barns at an accelerating pace. Every few months, it seems, another of these rural icons falls victim to decades of neglect and a leaking roof.

The latest example is the old dairy barn, now in ruins, on the west side of Route 9, south of Red Hook village, a short distance from the Old Stone Church. Until the mid-1960s, traffic routinely stopped morning and evening while the farm's Holsteins crossed from pasture to milking parlor.

That would never happen today, of course. But it is reassuring to know that family farming is very much alive and well in Red Hook, supplying the best the Hudson Valley has to offer.

"...So jolly boys now, Here's God speed to the plough.

Long life and success to the Farmer."

-- 15TH-century English song fragment

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