We’ve added Big Spring Farm to our Hidden Gem list for a good reason. With no website, no official or regular hours, no main contact information, no obvious advertisements, and yet huge preservation efforts and achievements – Big Spring Farm may very well be our most hidden gem of all.
Somewhere around 5am Saturday morning, I was woken up by the loud, shrill sound of a steam whistle. Momentarily confused (since I live nowhere near a railroad where steam engines run much at at all, yet alone at 5am), I wondered if I was dreaming.
Then I remembered – today was the thresher’s reunion at the Swiss Pioneer Preservation Association’s Big Spring Farm, just a few miles from my door. Apparently, threshers start their work early in the morning. (Actually, later in the day I learned that the steam engine had to start traveling to Big Spring Farm that early because it took three hours to take it that short distance. Yes, it really does drive slower than one could walk.)
The Swiss Pioneer Preservation Association (SPPA) was founded in the 1970’s as an organization dedicated to preserving the early pioneering experience of Swiss immigrants in the U.S. Their initial project was the re-construction and restoration of log cabin home from the 1700’s. Spending nearly 30 years to raise funds and find the right location, their dedication to their mission is obvious and the results of their work is stunning – they have reconstructed the log cabin to a full-functioning cabin that exists as it did when it was built in the 1700’s. Including a working squirrel-tail bake oven they use to bake bread as a demonstration at their events.
Big Spring Farm was willed to the Association by founding member Paul Martin before he passed away. He wanted the farm to not only be a location for the cabin, but also a preserved working farm operating as it always has over hundreds of years. SPPA maintains is as a family home and farm, as well as their museum and location of their preservation projects. The log cabin was their initial preservation project, but the SPPA also restored an original stone springhouse on the farm and recreated a stone root cellar after finding the foundation of one while restoring the springhouse.
The Shirktown Thresher’s reunion has been occurring annually for over ten years now, though it was originally held at a farm near Churchtown, PA, moving to Big Spring Farm only a few years ago. The reunion is a gathering of not just historic tractors, engines, and other farm implements – but also a demonstration of the evolution of threshing over the course of American History. There were several threshing machines operating at the reunion to show how wheat berries have historically been separated from the straw stalks, including two different horse-powered threshers.
One was even powered by a horse on a treadmill. I kid you not. The horse’s walking turns the belt, which in turn powers the gears on the machine.
The other threshing machines there:
The log cabin rebuilt and restored by SPPA sits on the lawn of the farm, not far from the large stone farmhouse. It’s a tiny two-room cabin, with a full basement and an open attic that would have been used for sleeping space. Several Martin generations inhabited the cabin and sometimes over ten people lived in the cabin. That is mind-boggling to me. I don’t own a large McMansion, but even still the entire living space of the cabin would easily fit in my living room and kitchen. And there are days (usually the rainy, too cold, or too hot ones that keep us from spreading out into the fields and forest that surround our house) when I pretty sure the six people in our family are way too many for our house.
The springhouse and root cellar:
Other features of the farm:
Activities and demonstrations at the farm during events: