New Hampshire maple farmer’s lifetime collection forms foundation of new museum

By Kathy Mccormack, AP
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

NH man’s maple collection makes up bulk of museum

BETHLEHEM, N.H. — To know Charlie Stewart was to know his maple collection.

Old sap buckets and yokes, sugar molds, spouts, yards of tubing, tin syrup containers — he had it all. Along with old postcards and bottle memorabilia, the longtime Sugar Hill syrup farmer gathered hundreds of maple-related items throughout his lifetime. Many date back to the 1800s.

Stewart, who died in 2006 at age 77, frequented farm auctions and antique shops and put ads in local weekly papers in pursuit of anything maple. He paid whatever it took for an item “so that it didn’t end up on a wall in a house in California,” said friend and fellow maple farmer David Fuller of Lancaster.

Stewart, who left his collection to the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, wanted to preserve the past and hoped to feature his collection in a museum one day. Now, it is.

A sampling of the many items — they have yet to be catalogued or appraised — are on display at the new maple museum in the White Mountains town of Bethlehem. The museum tells the story of the enterprise, innovations that have improved the process through the years, how to recognize different maple trees and facts about sap gathering and tree age.

To Stewart, “each one of these artifacts had a story,” said David Scanlan, a maple producer in Canaan for 23 years, now New Hampshire’s deputy secretary of state. “He could tell you who owned it before he did, what they used it for.”

Scanlan, the museum president, said a videographer shot footage of Stewart talking about his collection a while back, and there has been discussion about including it in the museum, one of several in the region. Vermont, which produces the most maple syrup in the area, has the New England Maple Museum in Pittsford. There’s also the American Maple Museum in Croghan, N.Y.

New Hampshire’s museum, which debuted during maple season and reopened for the summer and fall, comes as the state has been working in recent years to boost its image as a maple syrup producer. It usually is listed as third in New England, behind Vermont and Maine. Nationally, it is listed fifth.

New Hampshire promotes maple season nationally through print and online ads and advertises maple sugar hotel and activity packages on its travel and tourism website. The Maple Producers Association publishes articles in specialty consumer newspapers distributed nationally about visiting its sugar houses. Barbara Lassonde, association spokeswoman, said the spring Maple Weekend, in which sugar houses statewide have open houses, has grown more popular in recent years.

“We’ve really promoted that a lot and encouraged people to get out and learn how maple syrup is made so they know the source of their food, and that has been quite effective,” she said.

Lassonde said the association has about 350 members, and there are probably an equal number of commercial producers who are not members. She said many more residents probably do their own syrupmaking on a small scale.

Maple syrup production was down 19 percent nationally this year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. High temperatures were the culprit. In New Hampshire, production was estimated at 87,000 gallons, down 7 percent from last season. Vermont, which produced 890,000 gallons, had the smallest decrease since 2009, at 3 percent; Pennsylvania, which produced 54,000 gallons, had the biggest drop, 41 percent.

New Hampshire’s museum is in a 1906 building, now renovated, that originally housed a sawmill and a pigpen on The Rocks Estate, a former self-sustaining farm that serves as a conservation and education center for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Part of the building is a working sugar house in which sap from the estate’s 1,000 taps is boiled down in an evaporator, a pan-lined box. It eventually thickens and sweetens.

Starting next month, visitors to the building will be able to see a DVD on the syrup-making process. They can lift stones into a hollowed-out log to pretend to boil sap, like the Native Americans did, hang up a bucket and try on a yoke. Outside, they can see stunning views of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains and walk along a maple orchard trail.

If You Go…

NEW HAMPSHIRE MAPLE MUSEUM: The Rocks Estate, 4 Christmas Lane, Bethlehem, N.H., off Route 302, 1/2 mile from Exit 40 of I-93; or 603-225-3757. Open daily through Columbus Day, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Self-guided tour. Free admission; donations welcome.

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