About the Project
Hudson Valley Apples is the product of two intensive sessions carried out over the winter breaks of 2017 and 2018. Five students initiated the project with a first iteration that focused on the Fraleigh family of Red Hook, New York. The four students from the 2018 Winter Session carried the project forward by extending the research to consider two additional family farms of the early twentieth century as well as an example of a tenant farm, a model that is prevalent among the numerous manor estates in the Hudson River Valley. This website exhibits the content that the students from both sessions gathered through primary source research in three distinct types of archives (local historical society, personal collection, and academic institution); analyzed in the context of the agricultural history of the nation, state, region, and micro-region; investigated in a series of oral histories with current apple growers; and, synthesized into narratives that tell a compelling story of agricultural change.
Timeline of the Project
During the 2017 Winter Session, the students began the project with the intent to study the economic changes in agriculture as they affected apple farming in northern Dutchess County. During the two weeks of the project's production, however, we realized how studying the rise of the cultivation of apples as a popular crop instead demonstrated the region’s economic changes. This shift in focus was a result of the primary source material the students researched. The team of five students worked in the archives of Historic Red Hook, researching the history of the Fraleigh family through photographs, letters, and documents, donated by Dave and Karen Fraleigh in 2015.
Rose Hill Farm in Red Hook, New York, owned by generations of Fraleighs since the late eighteenth century, is a prime example of how apple farming became vital for farmers in New York State. In order to study the rise of apple crops in Hudson Valley agriculture, we traced a family tree of the Fraleighs, the owners of Rose Hill Farm, from the 18th century to the present, alongside the history of apples as they emerged as an essential crop on Hudson Valley farms. This trajectory was not a straight line; rather, what we found was an interesting circling back of practices that began with the diversified agriculture of 18th-century farms for sustenance, passing through 20th-century commercializing farms, to 21st-century farms reformed to accommodate agri-tourism.
The 2018 Winter Session team expanded on this narrative by researching two farms that were tangentially related to the Fraleigh farm and family: those of the Teators and Losees of Upper Red Hook. The bulk of the Fraleigh family records concentrated on the generations up until the late nineteenth century. The story of apple growing in Red Hook was only taking off at this point, and so the students turned to the two families (related to the Fraleighs and to one another by marriage) with owners who were meticulous with their records and unveiled the science of apple cultivation that emerged with advances in technologies and changes in market structures. A descendent of these two families and a public historian, Sarah K. Hermans, graciously offered to share the collections of their records that she had inherited. The students spent a day with Sarah, combing through ledgers, piles of photographs, and nearly countless letters collected by the Teators and Losees in their commercial apple businesses.
With Bard College’s acquisition of the manor estate, Montgomery Place, came a massive collection of manuscript materials related to the orchard operations during the last two owners’ tenure. The proximity and accessibility of this collection made it ideal in studying an alternative model to the family farm. Like other estate properties along the Hudson River, the agricultural output at Montgomery Place was under the care and planning of a farm manager, the role of which was taken up by a number of different people through the years since the eighteenth century, down to the current managers — Doug and Talea Taylor — under Bard’s ownership. The students found in these archives the tedious nature of a business in the collection of receipts and letters. However, the story the emerged is one that demonstrates the challenges faced by the mid- to late-twentieth century apple grower.
Bringing the narrative of agricultural change into the present, the four students each conducted an interview with local apple growers during the course of the two-week project. After a one-day workshop on the practice and methods of oral histories, the students individually researched their assigned narrator and visited the farms for the interviews. These interactions proved to be the most impactful, as evidenced in the researcher diaries they recorded at the end of the session.
The design of the website is a collaboration of the Center for Experimental Humanities staff. EH Lead Developer, Ryan Sablosky, built and implemented the architecture of the databases and website during both winter sessions. Digital Projects Coordinator, Gretta Tritch Roman, and Digital Projects Assistant, Grace Caiazza, organized the daily sessions with the archives and growers for the students and designed the website.
The Winter Session teams would like to thank the many wonderful and generous people for their contributions to the project. We owe an enormous thank you to Claudine Klose and Emily Majer for their expertise and enthusiasm about local history as well as the time they spent with us in the Historic Red Hook archives in the Elmendorph Inn during the 2017 Winter Session. Also, our thanks to Emily (again!) during the 2018 Winter Session for providing an essential workshop that oriented the students in the longer history of Red Hook.
We are also grateful for the generosity of Sarah K. Hermans, for sharing her personal collection of family photographs and biographies. Our sincere appreciation to Helene Tieger (Bard Archivist) for hauling the many boxes from the Montgomery Place Orchards collection to the library for the students to study and especially for sitting with us and answering our questions as we looked through these wonderful archives. Also, we would like to thank Amy Husten (Manager of Montgomery Place Campus) for her enthusiasm around the project and her support.
In our decision to trace the Fraleigh family, we relied on the extraordinary genealogical work of Clara Losee, included in the Fraleigh Collection. (Read more about Clara in a biographical note written by her granddaughter, Sarah K. Hermans)
We would like to also express our gratitude to the following group of local growers for so generously sharing their experiences with the students: Dave Fraleigh for spending time talking to students via video chat from North Carolina during the 2017 Winter Session; Doug and Talea Taylor at Montgomery Place Orchards for inviting the students to visit their operations and share in some of the goodies and histories produced there; Chuck Mead of Mead Orchards for spending an entire morning giving a tour of the family's historic barn and cider press during the winter in 2017 and also graciously sharing his experiences with the students during both sessions; and, to Ken Migliorelli of Migliorelli Farm for inviting us to his home and sharing his memories and experiences in farming.
We are grateful to the EH Steering Committee and Maria Sachiko Cecire (Director of Experimental Humanities, Assistant Professor of Literature at Bard College) for their support in continuing the winter session project. And, our thanks to Gabriel Perron, Assistant Professor of Biology at Bard College, for meeting with the students before the project began in 2017 to help imagine the possibilities.
Funding for this project was made possible through a grant to Bard's Center for Experimental Humanities from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and from Bard's Center for Civic Engagement (for the 2017 Winter Session).