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Historical Lecture Series: Made in the Happy Valley – The Corn Broom Industry in Hatfield & Hadley

Monday May 19, 2014 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

During the first half of the nineteenth century many farmers in Hatfield and Hadley, Massachusetts grew a variety of sorghum, a plant in the grass family closely related to maize (corn).  When the plants, which the farmers commonly called broom corn, were mature, the farmers cut off the stiff tassels from the top of the plants, raked off the seeds attached to them, and dried the tassels in barns.  They then spent the chilly winter months tying the tassels to broom sticks using a broom-making machine they set up in their homes or barns.  The round brooms they made were sold throughout New England and New York until about mid-century when the Shakers invented a machine to manufacture flat brooms.  Because the new flat brooms were more efficient and were manufactured in huge quantities, they quickly came to dominate the market.  Farmers in Hatfield and Hadley stopped growing broom corn and making brooms by hand as a cottage industry, some of them eventually taking up the growing of tobacco as a cash crop. Learn about he rise and fall of this industry from lecturer George Ashley.

George Ashley is professor emeritus of History and Anthropology at Holyoke Community College.  In his retirement he serves as the volunteer curator of the Hatfield Farm Museum (which is open on Saturday afternoons from Memorial Day to Columbus Day) and is Co-Chairman of the Hatfield Historical Commission.  He and his wife spend each winter in their second home near Telchac Puerto on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

$7 general / $5 members

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