In 1940, Alfred and Vivian Staebner, along with their 3 young children, Ann, Beverly and Ernest, purchased the farm on Blue Hill Road in Franklin and Bozrah, Connecticut. As a young child, Ernest (Ernie) took an interest in farming which he maintained his entire 88 years.
Alfred was interested in registering his black and white Holstein dairy cows with the Holstein Association. To register with the association, farms need to submit a name. “Blue Hill” was already taken, so he chose “Blue Slope” to represent the sometimes hazy blue slopes which surrounded the property.
Over the years working the farm Alfred uncovered many unique items. One farming tool left behind by the previous property owner was a light weight crowbar. Being such a good steward of the soil, Alfred removed stones from the fields to provide better growing conditions for his crops. While prying out a “particularly recalcitrant stone” it broke (quote by Alfred). Much to his surprise, buckshot spilled onto the ground. The crowbar was hollow. “The crowbar was a blacksmiths delight for a ‘smithy’ had transformed a 1779 gun barrel into the tool which worked so ‘slick’ to pry stones from the field”. (Quote by Alfred) The initials stamped on the gun barrel enabled Alfred to learn the gunsmith was Henry Nock, a well-known 18th century English craftsman in London, England. The crowbar had once been a Revolutionary War Musket. This story reaffirms the old saying of “turning guns into plowshares”. The family surmises that the crowbar was the beginning of Alfred’s interest in collecting old tools. During this time, the Connecticut State Department of Agriculture hired Alfred to inspect dairy farms in the area. As he traveled about he noticed abandoned tools and implements. If the farmer was not interested in retaining the old tool, Alfred would bring it home, clean it, and add it to his growing collection.
He started acquiring craftsman tools and farm implements as well as a sizeable library of bound agricultural publications. He became a highly regarded authority on agricultural history.
After Alfred’s passing in 1987, Ernie’s family purchased the collection which became the nucleus of what was to become the Blue Slope Country Museum. BUT, all of these treasures were being “housed” in basements, closets, barns, and under beds! They needed organization!
In 1991, a 2 story building, figuratively called “Ernie’s Toy Box”, was built to display the growing collection, which by now included 4000 implements, tools, books and journals representing agricultural history from the 1700’s to the early 1900’s. The lower level of the Toy Box now displays ox yokes, tools for logging, saw milling, dairy equipment and milk bottles, planting and harvesting implements. A blacksmith forge was included to provide for working demonstrations. The upper level exhibits kitchen wares, a spinning wheel, an 1850’s weaving loom, the library, many carpenter planes and tools, and a few children’s toys.
With the limited current space to display and house the growing large scale collections, an additional facility was carefully planned. In 1998, a group of 9 Pennsylvania Amish men arrived to build an authentic Amish Style Bank Barn. It was completed in just 9 working days! The lower level housed the 4 Belgian Draft horses and their wagons. The upper level now displays historic wagons, antique tractors, and other farm equipment. The large open space can also be used for educational programs and square dances.
In September, 2005, the museum became a 501©3 tax free charitable organization, becoming Blue Slope Country Museum, Inc. It is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors who are committed to the established mission and vision statements. Since there are no paid staff, volunteers are a vital part of the museum. Volunteers sit on the museum’s activity and other committees, assisting with programs and activities, writing grants, tending gardens and keeping up with social media and marketing.
In 2009, the time was right to begin restoration of the 200 year old stone spring house. Clearing brush and debris away, uncovering stones and framework, and securing replacement stones took place. The rebuilding process took over 2 years. The design includes an arched stone ceiling and side walls. The building maintains a cool temperature of 50 degrees enabled by an underground cold spring that flows up from the ground and out the front.
Over the past 30 years, Blue Slope Country Museum has developed and provided educational programs for all school ages through “the young at heart”. School programs have included butter making, The Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall with activities, loom demonstrations, programs explaining corn to corn meal, and the sheep to shawl process. Other offerings have included dairy farming including learning about crops, tractors, and machinery. Fall Festivals have offered historic reenactors in period dress, demonstrating colonial cooking, pewter casting, tin-smithing, Windsor chair making, and stone work, just to name a few. Educational demonstrations by horse, oxen, and donkey owners were always very popular. Summer activities have included square dances, campfires, storytelling, and astronomy stargazing with after dark wagon rides.
Now, seasonal opportunities for visitors include Maple Days, CT Summer at the Museum, square dances in the bank barn, autumn activities in conjunction with The Last Green Valley “Walktober” ,and tractor driven wagon rides at winter holiday time. The museum offers educational programs for schools and homeschoolers for all ages.
Over the years Blue Slope Country Museum has partnered with many organizations including the local Ashbel Woodward Museum, numerous times the Connecticut Farm Bureau /Farm-City program has brought local school children to learn more about farming. The former Eastern Connecticut Draft Horse Association offered yearly programs. Several years Cabot Cheese Open House programs were hosted here, as well as Girls Scouts, Boy Scouts and 4-H Club programing.
Through the opportunities of grants and volunteers, the museum continues to grow its programing, activities and visitor experiences.