Hancock Shaker Village hosts annual Country Fair


HANCOCK -- It was a beautiful day to go to the chicken races.

The chicken races are a significant part of the Country Fair at Hancock Shaker Village. The fair is one of the biggest events the village hosts on an annual basis, according to Lisa Ballentyne, an interpreter at the village.

About 1,400 visitors stopped in on Saturday, she said. While there were no estimates of Sunday's attendance, most observers estimated between 1,400 and 1,600.

PHOTO GALLERY | The Country Fair at Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield

The chicken races are probably not the most significant event at the fair, unless one is a 6-year-old child.

But they're a big deal to The Chicken Lady.

The Chicken Lady is Laura Field, an employee of the village. Her official title is Barn Manager. But she runs the chicken races. Laura is into the chicken races in a big way. Her business card says "Chicken Lady."

"I just love chickens," she said. "And the kids have so much fun."

"You should," she joked, "write a story just on the races."

Sorry. But the kids do love the races. Field lines up five chickens and the kids root for their favorite. There is no wagering.

The chickens tend to take their sweet time getting to the finish line, which is pretty much half the fun. The kids go nuts as one chicken or the other nears the finish line. The chickens, unaware of their role in the contest, usually get almost to the finish line and wander away. It makes for an exciting contest. Kind of. For the record, chicken No. 3 finally made it over the line. Field was having at least as much fun as the kids.

Alas, one young lady of 5 or 6, rooting for chicken No. 1, stifled a few sniffles when her clucker didn't win.

In addition to chicken races, the Hancock Shaker Village Fair offered a host of booths with crafts, food, jewelry, quilts and other items over the weekend. There are also wagon rides at the Kids' Tent.

"It is like going back in time," said Wayne Randall a visitor from Walton. N.Y., "My kids love it, and there is always something interesting to see here."

There is an antique tractor exhibit, which is something of a misnomer. There are certainly a number of antique tractors, but in addition, there was a whole slew of fascinating machines.

Included in this exhibit is a meat grinder/butter churn/washing machine owned by Ed Slavinsky of Hancock.

You read that right. Slavinsky found it in Rochester, N.Y. Made by Maytag in 1928, it is a marvel of design. One can insert a liner to wash clothes, remove that and insert another liner to churn butter, remove that and insert a third liner to catch the meat ground up by a strategically-placed grinder.

Slavinsky said he collects the machines because of his fascination for the technology of an earlier era.

"I have power saws from the ‘40s that still run," he said. "That technology is still valid today."

There was also a seminar on timber framing, conducted by Jack Sobon, one of the nation's foremost experts on timber framing techniques. Sobon was overseeing a dozen or so builders on Sunday afternoon.

"It's a minuscule part of the market, but it's making a comeback," said Sobon, "these builders all want to learn how to build their own timber frame houses."

Sobon teaches workshops on barn restoration throughout the year. He has been teaching these techniques for 29 years.

The irony of the Hancock Shaker Village confronts a visitor when he or she enters the grounds from the main driveway: More than 80 solar panels at the front of the grounds of a museum devoted to the technology of the previous two centuries.

Actually, according to Bill Mangiardi, solar energy accounts for about 25 percent of the village's power needs. And the panels fit right in with the way the Shakers operated.

"The Shakers were always on the cutting edge of technology," he said. "This is pretty much in keeping with their philosophy."

To reach Derek Gentile:
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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