A Museum of Farming History In Search of a New Home on the South Fork - 27 East

A Museum of Farming History In Search of a New Home on the South Fork

icon 28 Photos
Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

Ron Bush had been collecting Long Island farming tools, equipment and memorabelia for 60 years.

authorMichael Wright on May 3, 2023

Ron Bush will turn 90 this year and is growing increasingly worried that his collection of antique farm equipment — possibly the largest in the country — and the implements of life before consumerization of manufacturing, will not find a proper home when he is gone.

A descendant of a family that ran dairy farms across eastern Suffolk County, including East Hampton’s largest dairy, Dune Alpin Farm, Bush still operates two summer farm stands with his daughter, Meghan.

The pair are also the curators and overseers of their own personal museum of farming history on Long Island — one they desperately want to be seen by more eyes who appreciate the cultural history of the towns they live on, the ground they walk over and the street names they see whiz by through car windows.

The Bushes and Prudence Carabine, the creator and chairwoman of the East Hampton Farm Museum on North Main Street in East Hampton, are trying to find a home in East Hampton for at least the portion of Bush’s collection with South Fork roots — which is about a quarter of the total, they estimate.

They had hoped to put it at the farm museum property, but there is no room. Town officials have proposed a town-owned lot adjacent to the Bistrian farm in Amagansett, part of the former Eichorn Dairy, behind the municipal parking lot. Carabine says she is hoping a more visible location can be identified, even if on private property.

“This is art — this speaks to people,” Carabine said of the mechanical history of lives long passed that Bush has compiled and arranged meticulously. “It tells our story. A story that began in the 1600s and ended in around the 1980s, when people decided they didn’t like the sight and sound of tractors and the dust in the air.”

The Bushes’ sprawling collection is arranged carefully between several buildings and much of the outdoor areas of a former duck farm in Shirley. A dirt driveway wends through the property and out to Montauk Highway through heavy wooden gates Bush built himself and adorned with likenesses of chickens his daughter crafted from old iron pitchforks, horse shoes and other bits of farm equipment. An old outhouse — a four-seater called “the Privy” that was on a Bridgehampton farm in the 1860s — sits at one bend, a new roof and whitewash making it look as though it’s open for business.

One barn holds a 1925 Ford Model T dairy truck that shuttled milk from Dune Alpin Farm to homes in East Hampton through the war years. It still drives.

Another barn is filled with farm trucks lined up bumper to bumper and mechanical potato sorters dating back to the 1950s, labeled with farm logos from East Hampton to Holbrook.

Tractors from the 1940s and 1950s are lined up like tanks awaiting orders to attack under an open shed roof. Bush flits from one to another, easily firing up their engines with a flick of their ignitions — as though they had plowed a field that morning.

Bush and his wife, Nancy, and daughter have spent decades rescuing the artifacts of Long Island’s gradually dwindling farming history, snatching them up before they’re sent to the scrap heap or the doom of slowly rusting into the ground they once cultivated.

“I have all the history of every dairy on Long Island,” Bush said recently, lounging in the chilly sitting room he’s fashioned in “the milk house” — the farm’s former milk storage building — adorned with milk bottles and memorabilia from his daughter’s decorated competitive equestrian career. “I have the logs from the auctions.

“When interest rates started going up and potato prices fell, there were a lot of farmers going under and they would have these big auctions of all the equipment,” he explained. “At first, we thought it was great, but then we realized that history was vanishing. So I started buying stuff, just to save it. When the auctioneers realized I was there buying stuff to preserve it, they would not even look for another bidder.”

Between the barns sit dozens of antique plows, bailers, harvesters and various other implements. Some have been recently painted and bear fresh tires, ready to be put to work with the coming farming season. For some others, their careers over, the rust is their skin, but their hardy iron bones remain illustrative of their former mission. As he wanders between them, Bush rattles off the provenance and purpose of each almost subconsciously and the tallying tap of a crooked finger.

He pushes open the door to the largest building on the property, a two-story hay barn. An office is home to the archives, stacks of photo albums filled with newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, fliers and logos — anything having to do with local farms. The walls are papered with more, the windowsills lined with milk bottles bearing the logos of myriad dairies long since gone, and filled with white plastic pellets to give them the appearance of still fulfilling their original mission. Two books of yellowing order tickets sit on table, bearing the emblem of Dune Albin Farm and its owner, Abe Katz — Bush’s uncle — and the phone number: 968.

The first floor of the barn is crammed with all manner of equipment, from a horse-drawn “runabout buggy” from Dune Alpin to dozens of iron tractor seats hung like ornaments on the support beams. Photos of local farmers are hung next to the equipment they once employed.

Climbing a spiral metal staircase in one corner leads to the barn’s second floor, where first beholding the scale of the heart of Bush’s collection can be startling. The towering cathedral of a space, with the open doors at one end where farmhands would once toss pitchforks full of hay down to the ground, is filled with thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of tools, all arranged with dozens of their kind.

Shelves milled from red cedar former telephone poles that his father had snatched up when they were felled, line the walls. One, probably 50 feet long, holds only hammers and mallets — 900 or so, including a double-clawed contraption that looks custom made for a horror movie.

Another is filled with wrenches that he had a tool historian number and catalog — all 1,500 of them — for him.

A few dozen hand-cranked apple peelers and corers take up one section, blacksmith wheels for sharpening tools another, and various specialized mechanisms for corking bottles, grinding millet, knocking the pits out of cherries or splitting rails for a fence each have their own stretch of shelf. Dozens of plumb bobs dangle from one section of ceiling high overhead.

The artifacts soar into the rafters, where whaling harpoons and lances and long eel spears rise overhead.

“This is literally the biggest collection of farm equipment in the country,” Carabine says, as her husband, Brian, strolls the rows of tools he’s perused dozens of times before but says still contain treasures he’d never noticed before. “This is all part of our personal history. I grew up with my grandfather, Ferris, telling us that the farmers fed the nation.”

The bard of the fading fishing history of East Hampton, the late Stuart Vorpahl, had visited the Bushes’ museum often, helping them compile and catalog the bits, and piece together the stories behind them. Schmidt’s Produce owner Dennis Schmidt, a collector himself, has contributed dozens of items.

Among the literally countless artifacts, Bush has poured though and marked all of those that are of South Fork origin with red stickers — the mise en place of a hoped-for transfer of those items to East Hampton for display.

Bush has offered to donate all of the artifacts with South Fork origins to the town if it will take them and house them appropriately, but has been frustrated by efforts to identify a suitable location for them to be displayed.

East Hampton Town officials have said they are eager to accommodate the collection — but acknowledged it will take a substantial amount of private support, also.

“You’re going to need at least 5,000 square feet of building space and that’s not even all of it,” Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who has visited Bush’s collection, said. “We’ve had conversations with the historical society, we’ve offered them the Field property we bought as a place for a building, but he feels it’s not visible enough.”

Van Scoyoc lamented that the town tore down the former horse barn at the property known commonly as 555, because they were told that the building could not be repaired or preserved with Community Preservation Fund money. The building would have been big enough, and well-suited to display Bush’s entire collection if he so wished. He said that the town is working on a new land acquisition that has a barn on it and a farming history — which could be a potential candidate for a farm equipment museum.

“What I’m hoping for is to find a perfect place to put this amazing collection,” Carabine said. “Ron is going to be 90, I’m 75, so we need to get it done. Maybe it will be a private property — there are people here with more money than I can even imagine. I hang on to glimmers of hope wherever I can find them.”

You May Also Like:

Mary Kernell Graves of East Hampton Dies June 17

If Mary Kernell Graves, who, at the age of 72, died of an apparent heart ... 20 Jun 2024 by Staff Writer

Sag Harbor Village Police Reports for the Week of June 20

SAG HARBOR VILLAGE — Village Police received a call for a dog running loose on Main Street Saturday night. A small brown dog had gotten away from its owner and was running down the street. Two officers combined to corral the pooch and reunite it with its owner. SAG HARBOR VILLAGE — A Sag Harbor real estate broker was contacted by phone by a caller claiming to be the owner of Bridgehampton residence which, the caller said, they wanted to list for sale with the broker. But when the broker visited the house in Bridgehampton, he was told by its ... 19 Jun 2024 by Staff Writer

Sag Harbor Village DWI for the Week of June 20

Rebecca L. Schwartz, 47, of Sag Harbor was arrested by Sag Harbor Village Police on a misdemeanor DWI charge on Sunday afternoon. Police said that Schwartz, driving a 2017 Jeep Compass, struck two cars with her vehicle while pulling into the Havens Beach parking lot, where she sat for a short time before leaving. Two different witnesses contacted police reporting the incident. Police located Schwartz and the Jeep at the intersection of Hempstead and Hampton Streets and initiated a traffic stop. The arresting officer reported that Schwartz appeared intoxicated and “was unable to perform any of the standardized field sobriety ... by Staff Writer

Sag Harbor Village Police Reports for the Week of June 13

SAG HARBOR VILLAGE — Sag Harbor Village Police arrested Moises Perez Monica, 44, of Springs early Monday morning on a charge of assault in the third degree, a misdemeanor. Officers had been called to a bar on Main Street where a reported fight had taken place. Police spoke with witnesses who pointed out Perez Monica as someone who had gotten into an argument with a female at the bar, then had taken her into the bathroom. At that point, the witnesses said they began hearing the woman screaming in distress. Police spoke with the woman, who said that after Perez ... by Staff Writer

Challengers McMillan, Landis Are Running for Seats on Sagaponack Village Board Against Incumbents Clark and Thayer

In what is something of a rarity, there will be a contested election for two ... by Cailin Riley

Sagaponack Village Mayor Tillotson, Running Unopposed, Throws Support Behind Challengers in Contested Trustees Race

When Sagaponack Village voters go to the polls on June 21, they will be asked ... by Cailin Riley

Promises Kept

News of a link between a cold case 1993 murder in North Sea to the infamous Gilgo Beach serial killer earlier this month left the local community shocked that the heinous killing spree that has made international headlines extended to what was, at the time, a pretty remote corner of Southampton Town. While it doesn’t appear that the murder took place here — prosecutors are speculating that the body of Sandra Costilla was dumped in the woods near Old Fish Cove Road on November 20, 1993, after she was killed elsewhere — the idea that suspected killer Rex Heuermann appears ... by Editorial Board

No Bad Guys

If it’s not too late — though it probably is — it might offer some perspective to remember exactly what the Southampton Town Board decision on June 11, involving Liberty Gardens, really was: The board merely declined to change the existing zoning on a property. It was not a monumental decision in that regard, nor does it bear quite the philosophical significance it has been assigned by the disappointed developer, Concern Housing. It was, in fact, a much less dynamic choice than if the board had voted in favor. Yes, the Town Board had seemed to be moving toward allowing ... by Editorial Board

Trial and Error

Sag Harbor Village officials have a conundrum on their hands when it comes to parking — a small village with limited space, and incredible demand in season — but should get full credit for pursuing some creative strategies to find a workable plan. There are two parts of the problem: How do you manage spaces for visitors and shoppers to be accommodated on a rolling basis throughout the day? And what about all the people who work at village businesses, catering to those visitors and shoppers? Paid parking can be used for the first purpose — the trick is finding ... by Editorial Board

Avlon Amasses More Endorsements as Primary Election Nears

On Friday, one day before the start of early voting for the Democratic Party primary ... by Christopher Walsh