Sweet History: Memories of Maple Seasons Past and Present

Snow at night that melts into muddy mush in the noonday sun – and the sap’s running!

It’s maple season in NYS.  Hungry?  Just pass the syrup, please.

Maple Sugar Season ADvertisement Google News Archives Schenectady Gazette March 21, 1981

If you have a sweet tooth and know anything about sugar maples, you know this is perfect weather for the sap to rise.  And this year, a number of posts have also arisen about maple sugar farming, pancake breakfasts, and NYS Maple Sugar Festival Weekends.  After reading one particular article about a local farmer’s story where an extended community came together to keep his business afloat, it gave rise to my own memories of maple sugar seasons from my own youth.

Being a bit of a digital history buff myself (I’m the author behind most of eBizDocs’ “Digital History” posts), I decided to hunt for some clues to that history to share with my own family. Maple Sugar Season Advertisement Google News Archives Schenectady Gazette April, 1964

I grew up looking forward to muddy Sundays in early April, when we would cram ourselves into the car for what seemed like the hours-long ride to “Uncle Tyler’s Farm.” (I never did figure out exactly how we were related – a cousin of someone’s in-law, I think).  

As soon as we’d turn off the main road, we’d see the hoses on the trees, and BIG holding tanks full of sap waiting to be boiled. Then we’d pull into the parking lot, with the sugar shack  on the left and the big white barn, full of cows on the right.

We’d enter the hall and eat pancakes literally drenched with the best syrup you ever tasted until we thought we’d explode.  Uncle Tyler donated the space, and all the syrup (a very expensive commodity) to the local Methodist Church as a fundraiser.  Talk about community spirit.  Those tables were full – hundreds of people, pouring on gallons of that liquid gold. And all of the profits went to the church.

High on sugar, I’d run off to find the inevitable group of kids hanging around to watch them boil the sap and see how many times we could get the guys watching the boil to give us pieces of maple sugar to suck on.  Then we’d run off to play in the haymow.  That entire farm and working dairy barn, free for a pack of us kids to run around and play in, completely unsupervised.  It was pure, unadulterated fun.

Wanting to learn more about the man that created such an amazing community event, a quick online search helped me to find the images you see on this page.   I love these ads, and what they tell me about these events and their historical context.  (Reading the digital copy of the paper they came from was pretty cool, too!)  The season was short and sweet, and so was the story. Bring those kids, and bring your appetite.  Don’t expect gourmet,  what you see is what you get. Pancakes.  Sausage.  And maple syrup.  Fresh and hot, right from the tap.  That’s it.  And it was more than enough – or at least it was for me.  I still remember those days, and the taste of that syrup, hot from the tap.

I also learned that Harold Tyler was one of the leaders in his field, and was, in fact, inducted into the Maple Museum’s Hall of Fame in 1992. Harold was active in the town of Westford, NY as well as in Otsego County agriculture.  Thanks to the benefits of OCR technology and the archived records of the April 26, 1960 edition of the Oneonta Star, I learned that the Tyler Farm was considered one of the most modern maple production facilities way back in 1960, and was one of the first sugarbushes to use plastic hoses for sap collection and stainless steel evaporating pans.   Pretty nifty stuff.

So, this weekend, although Uncle Tyler’s farm is no longer producing syrup and he himself has long since left us, I’ll pass on the tradition of carb-loading and getting a sugar high from too much maple syrup (although now they say it has proven health benefits – who knew?) with my kids at a local maple farm.  Perhaps we’ll see one of you there!


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One Response to Sweet History: Memories of Maple Seasons Past and Present

  1. Sherry Tyler (Hoke) says:

    That was a wonderful story you wrote. My step-dad was Mr. Harold Tyler and I grew up on that very farm and for years worked in the dairy barn, sap house, sugar bushes as well as serving at the Pancake Dinners. My mother, Evelyn Tyler (Harold’s wife of 30 years when he passed) recently passed away and we have many photos of our farm. It’s a shame to see the farm now, the suger house is gone, the dairy barn is not in good shape. I wish that the farm could have been passed down to another generation but that was not to be.

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