Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Straight from the Heart of Hubbardsville

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
My friend lives in a 19th century farmhouse in the same lovely valley that my house inhabits. These grand old homes are left from the days when “Hops were King” and some farmers in Hubbardsville had the wealth to live like a central New York version of a minor monarch. The hops have come and gone and most of us live a much more modest lifestyle than the hop farmers before us. Many of the old farmhouses are now homes for those who work at schools, hospitals, and local businesses. And, as with my friend, the costume of choice for fall leisure time activity in Hubbardsville, is usually camo or Carharts rather than a fancy gown for a hop-pickers ball.
So, after catching her all tricked out for goose hunting – complete with pink/camo knitted gun cover - it was with some delight that I was able to send her images of our latest find for our upcoming fashion exhibit (Empire Waists, Bustles and Lace). The dresses, which were given to NYSHA by former Hubbardsvillians, the Green family, are opulent 19th century high fashion. It’s hard to reckon anyone in my town being able to wear dresses of this caliber anywhere ever! So it took a step back in time and a little research to see a different picture of sleepy little Hubbardsville that included the possibility of high fashion in the heart of rural New York.
In the mid-19th century Hubbardsville could boast a grist mill, saw mill, and cider mill, two stores, a meat market, a hotel, a wagon shop, two blacksmith’s shops, a cooper shop, and a shoe shop, as well as a boys academy and an opera house. Green Road, the big road in town, is named for Charles Green, a wealthy hops merchant and farmer, who built his large house on that road. It is this large Italianate house that we believe the dresses derive from. The women of the house attended fancy dress parties, including, it is rumored, the Astor Ball in New York City. Apparently hops money could even support buying gowns from Paris, as the label in one of the dresses attests. The hops money is gone and the little hamlet is living a more sedate lifestyle. The population numbered 123 in 1880. Today the population is about double but public buildings have been greatly reduced to a fire hall, old age home and a combo gas station/general store/post office fondly referred to as the Mall. The Hubbardsville Manor, our old folks home, is what was once the stately Green mansion. The view from my porch, however, remains essentially the same as it did in 1880. Looking down the valley I can make out the goose hunters waiting in the corn, and ahead, I can imagine the shadow of one of the Green girls in her velvet riding habit making her way before them through the autumn light.

1 comment:

micheleharveypaintings said...

A very evocative post! I know the area well, and your photos and description do much to enlarge my understanding.
Today, once again, neighbors are sharing young hop plants. Perhaps the camos will be shed for homespun!
Sincerely, Michele

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