Connecticut Antique Machinery Association Rich with History

Connecticut Antique Machinery Association puts the focus on agricultural history

This Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company tractor is typical of CAMA's collection

This Minneapolis Threshing Machine Company tractor is typical of CAMA's collection. All pieces housed in the permanent exhibit must pre-date 1950, be restored and running.

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Whoever said that the New York metropolitan area wasn't the place for a farm collector never visited Kent, Conn. Not much longer than two hours outside New York City is the quaint backdrop of the Appalachian Trail, antique shops, book sales, town monuments and, in the autumn months, beautiful foliage. Welcome to Kent, Connecticut, home of the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association (CAMA). 

Connecticut is rich with fertile farm land. Once known for its tobacco crop, this New England state is equally rich with history – particularly agricultural history.

To appreciate the state's agricultural history, it's important to understand the technological developments that originated in Connecticut. The state was at the heart of the industrial north during the onslaught of the industrial revolution. It was once the center of production for watches and clocks. Waterbury, at the state's center, was once known as the brass capital of the world. Elias Howe developed the sewing machine in Connecticut in the late 1800s, and the Singer corporation was headquartered there for years. Eli Whitney developed the concept of interchangeable parts in Connecticut. For years, the state was a leader in technology development.

The role of agriculture in Connecticut, though, has diminished over the past century. Once a leading producer of tobacco, the fertile Connecticut valleys today see only limited agricultural production. Much of Connecticut Antique Machinery Association's collection consists of equipment found locally; other pieces were engineered with locally-developed materials and technology. The association strives to preserve that heritage and that of agricultural and industrial production.

Connecticut Antique Machinery Association has been a non-profit corporation for almost 20 years. Through foundation support, the association has been able to erect several exhibit buildings with a display of nearly 100 pre-1950 tractors, five working steam engines and almost 10 working oil field pumping engines.

Connecticut Antique Machinery Association's collection of tractors is one of the most diverse in the Northeast. From the days of steam traction engines through the development of the gasoline tractor, the display spans the first half of this century. The collection includes pieces from manufacturers such as Huber, Avery, Buffalo-Springfield, Fairbanks-Morse, Case, Twin Cities, McCormick-Deering, Caterpillar, Cletrac, John Deere, International, Minneapolis, Hart-Parr and Oliver, all restored and in working order. Also on display are early farm implements such as threshers, grain reaper/binders and plows.

Each fall, Connecticut Antique Machinery Association sponsors a show featuring a wide variety of exhibits and working displays. Exhibitors also bring pieces from their collections. The show features the only working museum of its type in Connecticut. Diversity is the show's trademark: look for everything from tractors to steam engines, oil pumping engines to narrow gauge railroad collectibles to antique construction equipment.

Currently, Connecticut Antique Machinery Association members are restoring two steam engine generator sets in the Industrial Hall. The smaller of the two is a GE vertical DC unit which supplied power to an overhead gantry crane at the Scoville Manufacturing Co. in Waterbury. The larger unit is a Ridgeway Engine and Dynamo from the nearby Waterbury Health Center: For years it supplied electricity to the elevators serving the hospital's operating room. Also in progress: A growing exhibit of large natural gas engines. In a recently completed building, members are working on a large, single-cylinder Clark engine with 6-foot flywheels. Others are at work on installation of a large Seyfang, Boviard and large 5-cylinder Wolverine diesel engine.

A mining exhibit is in development as well. One family even donated a collection of bricks, creating an exhibit detailing the history and technology of local brick manufacture.

Connecticut Antique Machinery Association is located on nine acres of land between the Housatonic River on the west and the Housatonic Railroad and Route 7 on the east, and north of the Sloane-Stanley Museum of Antique Tools. The area is known as Kent Furnace, where Connecticut iron was smelted during and after the Revolutionary War.

CAMA Salvages Early Ag School

A unique aspect of the Connecticut Antique Machinery Association is its preservation of New England's first agricultural school: The Cream Hill Agricultural School, once based in West Cornwall (near Kent). From 1845 to 1869, Dr. Samuel Wadsworth Gold and his son, Theodore Sedgwick Gold, operated the school from their farm on Cream Hill. Now part of the CAMA exhibit, the school's surviving buildings have been moved to Kent to the CAMA museum, where they house rotating exhibits.

Samuel Gold and Theodore Gold started the school – one of the first agricultural schools in the U.S. – with four students in 1845. The first school building was a 20 x 24-foot structure attached to the Gold family home. The first floor contained a classroom; three small dormitory rooms were located on the second floor. Several years later, an extension – complete with cupola – was added, enlarging the dormitory space and creating a laundry. Students ate their meals with the Gold family in the main house, so no provisions were made for a kitchen or dining facility in the school building.

The Golds sought to educate young men in a way that would yield "the highest possible improvement of all the powers of the individual: physical, moral and intellectual." The academic year spanned two 20-week terms. The first term ran from early spring until November. During that time, students tended to their plots and employed what they learned in the classroom. The second term ran from November until mid-March. The second term was more informal, with some students leaving midway through the term.

Theodore Gold, educated at Yale, and Samuel Gold, who studied at Williams College, taught most of the courses at the school, with curriculum ranging from arithmetic to moral philosophy. Annual tuition of $200 (it was later increased to $300) did not include fees and extracurricular projects. FC 

For more information: The CAMA grounds are open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May through the end of October. Mail: P.O. Box 425, Kent, CT 06757; phone: (860) 927-0050; online at www.ctamachinery.com.  

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA.