LouAnn Wurst, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at State University College at Brockport, will speak on “Farming the ‘Sub-Margins:’ Dominant Myths and Archaeological Realities,” beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24 at the Geneva Historical Society's Prouty-Chew Museum on South Main Street.
Wurst's research addresses the decline in family farms in New York state from 1900, when there were 226,720, to 1950, when there were only 124,977. Similar reductions occurred across the northeastern United States as people left farming for work in the cities.
The speaker and her team have spent several years excavating eight abandoned farms in the Finger Lakes National Forest. These farms are on an area called “the Hector Backbone,” a north-south ridge between Seneca and Cayuga lakes extending through Seneca and Schuyler counties.
During the Depression, the federal government purchased the farms; in 1954, the land was consolidated into the national forest. In the past, historians have viewed this purchase as a bailout for farmers working marginal land.
Wurst’s archaeological data contradicts the traditional view that hillside farmers were struggling to make ends meet and barely surviving. It suggests that those who lived on the Backbone were building new houses, improving their property, and buying expensive consumer goods during the decades before the federal buyout.
This archaeological evidence reveals that these families actively responded to social and technological change; it also challenges the prevailing theories regarding the loss of their farms.
Parking for the lecture is available on South Main Street or in the Trinity Episcopal Church lot across the street.
For details, call the museum at (315) 789-5151.