Historical tours and strawberries make ideal start to Rice Homestead season

Betsy Foster of the Mayfield Historical Society guides visitors on a tour of the historic Rice Homestead in Mayfield for the site’s strawberry festival and season opening on Saturday. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

MAYFIELD — The historic Rice Homestead is like a map of history.

Though its first building in a family farm was constructed in 1790 by Oliver Rice and was later expanded, the Mayfield Historical Society has decorated and furnished each room to reflect different periods in the nearly 200 years the Rice family owned the homestead.

“People really appreciate that we brought the homestead back to what it would have looked like and that each room reflects a slightly different era,” said Betsy Foster, one of the tour guides at the homestead’s seasonal opening Saturday.

“It’s in perfect condition after hundreds of years,” said Karen Blass of Old Chatham. “It’s the most well-kept pieces of history I’ve ever seen.”

She and her husband, Ken, have spent 18 summers on the Great Sacandaga Lake and have traveled to other parts of the world. “We’ve driven past it over and over, but it wasn’t open and we never dropped in,” said Ken.

But now Karen considers it “a must-see.”

Saturday also was special because the homestead had a strawberry festival. Its schedule now is from noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays until Labor Day.

“People get a big kick out of the fact that cooking was done in an open hearth” and was a lot of work,” said Foster.

In those olden days, upkeep of the family and the house was laborious. “These people had very little free time,” she said.

“How hard the people had it back then,” remarked Dorene Wilcox of Mayfield. With fireplace heat, “they must have frozen back then, and this was probably upper class.”

“It’s just great to see the old stuff and how people used to live,” said Deborah Lair of Gloversville.

Foster pointed out the features in each room, such as a sofa made from horsehair and quilted “door curtains to keep the draft out.”

One room had a carpet bag owned by Charles Edward McVeans, who had married into the Rice family. McVean was a proverbial carpetbagger who spent some time seeking opportunity in the South after the Civil War.

The Rices, who live in Florida, visit the homestead in the summer, sometimes bringing more artifacts. “They have great memories of being here in the summer,” Foster said.

Some rooms in the house have non-Rice exhibits such as World War I and Mayfield glovemaking artifacts.

Helen Kentile of Long Lake said, “I’m a Rice. My mother was Elizabeth Rice of Long Lake.”

“I’m here mostly to find my family tree. I didn’t know this place existed.”

“I like looking at the furniture,” said Kathy Powell of Silver Springs, Mass., who summers at Green Lake. “I have furniture like that from my great-grandparents.”

Christine Dahl, a longtime member of the Mayfield Historical Society, said the strawberry festival was both a draw and a fundraising effort and people were generous with donations.

Foster also works with the collection, cataloging and care of furniture and other items at the homestead. She said the historical society has done a good job with that but has still to archive books, records, documents and letters.

By Josh Bovee

Leave a Reply