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A craft fair nearly 400 years in the making

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Visitors check out the wares at the Heritage Craft Fair at the Bronck Museum. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

COXSACKIE — When Pieter Bronck built his single-room stone house in what is now Coxsackie back in 1663, he likely never imagined that one day visitors would flock there to celebrate his then-modest home.

Yet that’s what happened last Sunday when the annual Heritage Craft Fair was held on the grounds of the Bronck Museum that now has 11 buildings, including a kitchen dependency advocates are trying to stabilize and save.

The craft fair drew vendors from around the region and gave museum supporters a chance to share the historic site’s background.

“This is our 20-plus year of the Heritage Craft Fair at the museum,” Curator Shelby Mattice said. “This year we have expanded it as much as we can to purveyors of consumables, so we have olive oil purveyors, we have beef purveyors and I think we even have one person who is selling wine. This year we also have representatives of [Cornell] Cooperative Extension for informational purposes and we have a nonprofit that supports raptors, who is giving out information.”

And, of course, the grounds and buildings were filled with craft vendors.

“The houses are all full of our regular crafters — a lot of them have been coming since the beginning,” Mattice said. “This started out as a demonstration of traditional crafts — no sales, just a demonstration.”

Bill Brynda of Hannacroix Hampshires and Lincolns, a farm that raises sheep, said his family has been bringing their animals to the craft fair since its inception.

“We have been coming to this since the first event they had here over 20 years ago,” Brynda said. “That was just a demonstration — my wife did a demonstration on how to make felt using wool. Now we bring the animals and we let the kids pet them.”

Bill Brynda of Hannacroix Hampshires and Lincolns with several sheep he brought to the event. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

This year’s craft fair is the first in three years to have opened the buildings’ doors to activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020.

“Since COVID, this is the first time we are back in the houses and places we haven’t been for the last three years,” Mattice said. “We had it in 2020 and 2021, but all outdoors. This is the first time in several years we are back inside the main houses.”

This year’s fair also offered a special look at a structure on the museum’s grounds that is currently the focus of a fundraising and repair project.

“We are showcasing and hoping to increase the awareness of a major structural stabilization of our kitchen dependency,” Mattice said.

The structure, built in the early 1800s, was used to prepare meals for the Bronck family and includes a fireplace and cellar. The kitchen dependency is in need of repair.

“Now, at around 200 years old, some of [the] cellar walls are beginning to bow out, causing structural problems,” according to literature from the museum.

The one-room building is thought to be one of the last of its kind.

The 1800s kitchen dependency that local history buffs are trying to save. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

Repairing the kitchen dependency, and indeed any repairs needed at the Bronck property, is costly and as a private not-for-profit organization, the museum does not get any sustaining funds from the county.

“That means we have to raise our own and this [craft fair] is one of our of three big fundraisers — we have By the Light of the Silvery Moon, which is usually in August; this one; and then the Chilly Willy Winter’s Eve in mid-November. That, along with regular museum admissions, are what keep this place going,” Mattice said.

The historic nature of all the structures on the Bronck property make repairs expensive and, in some cases, difficult.

“We have 11 buildings to maintain and you can’t just use any materials. We are a National Historic Landmark — that is the highest rating the federal government will give us — so in order to sustain that rating, we have to maintain the structures, not damage their surroundings, and that takes a lot of money,” she added. “There are certain crafts that only a few people do anymore that we need, and when we do find them, they may come from halfway down to New York City, and it’s very expensive.”

Repairs often call for specially sized bricks or pieces of wood that are of dimensions that are no longer made, so when a vendor is found that can provide them, prices are high.

Handmade items sold by local vendors. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

But for those dedicated to preserving the history of the local landmark, the work is a labor of love.

New trustee Sue Maraglio just joined the Bronck Museum’s board and said it has been a fulfilling endeavor.

“I passed by this a couple of times a day and completely ignored it. I’d only been here a couple of times,” Maraglio said. “And then I started thinking that I wanted to start learning more about the history of our beautiful community.”

The original stone house was built in 1663 by Pieter Bronck on a tract of land that was then known by its Native American name as “Koixhackung” and a stone addition was constructed in 1685, according to the museum’s website. A brick house was built next to the original structure in 1738, and additional buildings include the kitchen dependency and several barns. One is a unique 13-sided barn built in the 1830s that is thought to be the oldest documented multi-sided barn in the state.

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