GUILFORD — On a recent afternoon at the intersection of Routes 77 and 80, sheep grazed. Chickens squawked. Calves mooed in their pens and kicked up their heels amid the sweet aroma of hay.
“People tell me how privileged they feel when they’re here, whether they’re helping out or picnicking or doing a walking tour or watching their kids discover the farm animals,” said Dudley Farm museum director Beth Payne on a recent afternoon, as she surveyed the scene from the front porch of the 19th-century farmhouse. “It’s almost as if time stands still.”
Maybe so, but while everyone else was on shutdown and lockdown over the past year, the descendants of North Guilford’s rich farming past never stopped working. With social distancing and face coverings, of course.
Sure, there’s some stonework that needs to be completed, a milk house cabinet to be found, and farmers’ equipment to be identified and catalogued. And the apple orchard: last week saw six new heritage apple trees planted, but it’s not fully restored.
Overall, though, “the grounds look phenomenal,” Payne said. “I’ve never seen them look as good as they do now, and that’s thanks to some hard-working volunteers.”
While the museum won’t officially open until June 1, “people can always call us and I can arrange for them to take a private tour,” Payne said. There’s also a self-guided walking tour on the website.
Then there’s the museum farmhouse, which introduces visitors to life in the late 19th century through its rooms, as well as stories of the home’s inhabitants and their lifestyle. After eight years of meticulous exertions, “it’s fully furnished in 1878 style,” Payne said, highlighting a doll in a cradle of the bedroom of Erastus and Martha Dudley that bears a striking resemblance to Mabel Dudley, who was born in 1878.
“Almost everything in the house has been donated by locals, and I think that makes it particularly special, because this is all stuff that was used by local families at the time,” Payne added.
There’s also the Big Barn Project, the decade-long effort to restore the physical integrity of the Big Barn, a complex assembled over the years with a dairy, tool barn, and granary, as well as animal stalls, to meet the needs of the farm.
To hear Dudley Foundation president Bill Black tell it, the mission to reinvent the rare multipurpose structure as a place for visitors to experience a late 19th-century working farm is nearly accomplished.
“The structural portion of the project is done,” he said. “Our focus now is on setting up the exhibits and installing the barn’s lighting needs on our way to turning the Big Barn into a museum and a farm animal habitat that everyone in Guilford will be proud of.”
Another source of pride is the Saturday Farmers’ Market, which offers fresh local meat products, organic fruit jams and produce from area farms, as well as home-baked goods and handcrafts.
“It had the advantage of being outside, so we kept it going all winter every other Saturday, and people were able to go around and get what they wanted,” Payne said. Starting in May, it will be open each Saturday.
“It’s not just a market,” she said. “You can bring your children to visit the livestock and romp on the hillside, you can see exhibits in the farmhouse museum, listen to music, or just have a cup of coffee and visit.”
With the near-completion of the Big Barn Project, she said, “I think this year people who came to market had an appreciation for the fact that they had a farmer’s market on the grounds of a museum. That wasn’t as obvious to them but it is now.”
There’s only one scarcity, it seems: docents to lead tours of the farmhouse as well as the grounds.
Payne said no previous background in history is required. A passion for learning and sharing knowledge with visitors, though, is essential. Training will be provided.
“Anyone who’s interested in 19th-century agriculture, or just interested in the day-to-day lives of a farm family in North Guilford in the late-1800s, or has a certain theatrical streak, would be ideal,” she said.
Whether it’s to apply for the position or just experience a pastoral peace, “everyone is always welcomed to visit us down on the farm,” Payne said.
The Dudley Farm Museum is located at 2351 Durham Road in Guilford. For more information, visit www.dudleyfarm.com, call 203-457-0770, or email email@example.com. Those interested in the docent position should call 203-457-0770.