Plattsburgh Press-Republican - December 16, 2009
Lifelong Peru farmer hopes to open agricultural museum soon
PERU — Leeward Babbie has spent a lifetime harvesting the land.
Until his retirement seven years ago, he owned a very successful dairy barn on River Road in Peru.
However, he has not allowed retirement to separate him from what he has cherished since he was a little kid: agriculture and its importance to the history of humankind.
“When I was a farmer, I collected a lot of stuff (related to agriculture and the life of a rural farmer),” Babbie said recently from the workshop he still owns on land adjacent to his former farm. “I didn’t throw anything away. My collection just kept growing.”
That collection, including artifacts dating back to the early and middle 1800s, will soon become the focal point of a museum that he and his nephew, Rick Laurin, hope to open to the public sometime in 2010.
“Opening a museum was always a dream of mine,” he said, noting that several of his artifacts have been on display at the farmers museum during the annual Clinton County Fair. “But I never thought I’d see it happen.”
With help from Laurin, Babbie began cataloging his collection earlier this year. The pair has completed identifying most of the smaller artifacts, including hundreds of farm tools used more than 100 years ago.
The focal point of the collection stretches from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s, he said.
“We’re just getting started (with the display areas), but we want to give people an idea of what it was like to be a farmer over the years,” Laurin said. “We want to set up displays that will include hands-on activities for the kids. We want them to see how this equipment worked.
“I have the same interest in collecting things that my uncle has,” he continued. “The average person who has this kind of equipment will eventually let the pieces rot into the ground. We want to save these examples of rural life before they’re lost forever.”
The partners have not completed cataloging some of the larger artifacts, like tractors, cultivators and antique farming devices, but will continue the process through the winter.
Babbie and Laurin have also submitted paperwork to the New York State Board of Regents to become a chartered, nonprofit organization. The application will go before the review board in early 2010, and they hope it will be approved shortly after to begin fundraising efforts.
With proper grants, Laurin noted, the pair would like to begin research on identifying the history of the artifacts they have come across over the years, both through Babbie’s farming experience and what they have picked up during auctions and visits to antique stores.
For instance, one of the premier attractions could well turn out to be a full-sized stagecoach that Babbie purchased during an auction on the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base a few years ago. The bright red coach used to carry passengers at Frontier Town in North Hudson.
As a farmer, Babbie also learned how to maintain his equipment, and he now has a lot of the historic artifacts cleaned and operational. A shingle mill used to make housing shingles has been restored and will be part of the working display, he said.
The facility, which will be called the Babbie Rural and Farm Learning Museum, will also include a horse barn, complete with horses available to offer hay rides and stagecoach rides for visitors, and a cow barn with an old-fashioned milking parlor.
There will also be a petting zoo for the kids, Babbie noted.
Even the barns behind Babbie’s workshop have a historic flavor to them. They were all built decades ago on other property in the town and transferred recently to the retired farmer’s property.
Babbie and Laurin know that it takes awhile to get a museum up and running, but both are dedicated to completing the project as quickly as possible.
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