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From the Bounty of the Land:

Washington's Agricultural Heritage from
Native American Roots to the Rise of Dairy Farming

[Exhibition from Winter-Spring 2000]


We in northwest Connecticut tend to take pride in the beauty of our native landscapes, with their rolling, wooded hills, lovely antique buildings, meandering stone walls through dense thickets of saplings and larger trees, and sometimes unexpectedly breath-taking views.

Rarely do we think, however, about the forces that created this landscape and so nourish our spirits and our eyes today. In fact, ours is a landscape that in the quite recent past was wholly given over to the pursuit of agriculture and the institutions that supported it. This land, rocky and hilly as it is, has richly supported human life and culture for millennia and, if we continue to care for it with respect and love, will support us for millennia to come.

The Gunn Memorial Museum looked at some of the ways that humans have lived off the land and its animals in its exhibit "From the Bounty of the Land". Thanks to a loan of reproduction and original artifacts from the Institute of American Indian Studies in Washington, the Gunn examined the traditions of Indian agricultural practices and philosophies, and the legacies of native plants that have become an important part of our own dietary traditions.

With the coming of the Anglo-American settlers in the mid eighteenth century, a move away from subsistence agriculture began. Litchfield County became a major exporter of fine cheese to other parts of the nation. Later, as technologies improved, Washington became a center for the production of fresh milk that was shipped to New York on the Shepaug Railroad. A display of Washington farms' milk bottles, loaned by Robert Parmalee of Bethlehem, combined with the Gunn's own collection of dairy-related artifacts, traced the connection between the railroad and the rise of dairy farms.

As we debate issues relating to growth and development and try to plan for the future, it becomes increasingly important to think about what makes Washington special. This exhibit provided a perspective for different philosophies about the proper use of the land and our relationship to it. In addition, it honored the contributions of labor and love that generations of farmers and their families, whether of European or Indian descent, have made to this land.

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