The old sugarhouse still sits peacefully in the woods, its joints creaking with the wind, its wood slowly decaying as young maple trees grow up around it. The first picture was taken in the 1960's and the second picture was taken last week.
The sugarhouse was built by Harvey’s father, Wilfrid. He bought the land it sits on in 1941. The property was a very old farm with various outbuildings that were in disrepair. The sugarhouse was built shortly after Wilfrid purchased the land with lumber that was salvaged from the old buildings.
Wilfrid started out with buckets, a wood fired arch, and no electricity. He gathered the sap with two sturdy work horses that followed voice commands. Several local workers helped Wilfrid with sugaring, but two men, Richard “Keiser” Elkins & Cat Lumbra were his main help. Keiser & Cat were known as tough, hard-working men. Anyone trying to keep up with them for the day had their work cut out for them. Keiser was the person who would issue the commands to the work horses during gathering times.
Boiling was an art and a science during this time (as it still is today). The time to draw-off the perfect syrup was gauged by holding up a scoop of hot syrup and having it drip off the scoop. When the syrup was ready it would fall off the scoop in sheets just the right way. It took a lot of experience to judge this exact moment.
Wilfrid married Bea in 1945. Bea joined in helping with the maple business. Bea would cook meals for the men and help with cleaning the sap filters. The sap filters were washed in the cold brook next to the sugar house to remove any niter and then they were finished washing with an old wringer washer to complete the job. Niter is a suspension of minerals and other solids that precipitate out of the sap during the boiling process.
The family time in the sugar house was the best time. Boiling eggs and hot dogs in the sap, serving hearty hot meals after a long day gathering sap, family visiting from New York & Canada, and cousins playing hide & seek in the woods. Springtime in northern Vermont was a celebration of the end of the very long, cold winter and the promise of warm sunny days to come.
Wilfred was an early adopter of sugaring technology. In the mid 1960’s the Chaffee’s began using plastic bags for collecting sap instead of buckets. These bags were hung on the spout that was attached to the tree and were pear shaped. They had a narrow neck and bulb shaped bottom. There was a problem with these bags. When the sap would freeze in the bags you couldn’t get the sap out through the narrow neck. Latter that decade the Chaffees added tubing, electricity, a vacuum system, and an oil burning arch. In 1965 Wilfrid was honored by being named Sugar Maker of the Year. The sugarhouse was last used in the early 1970's. Today Harvey and Lisa have their house on this hallowed property.
A lot has changed in sugaring in the last 80 years since this sugarhouse was built, but a lot has stayed the same. The thrill of that first run of sap, the sweet smell of steam filling the sugarhouse, the taste of syrup fresh off the evaporator, the first daffodil sprouts poking their heads through the spring snow, and finally the sound of spring peepers in the pond, signaling the end of sugaring is getting near. Sugaring still connects us with the rhythm of the seasons. We think Wilfrid and Bea would be proud knowing we at Barred Woods are carrying on the sugaring tradition.