Hill Hold Museum
Campbell Hall, NY - June 27, 2010
Not far from where we live is a stone house of Georgian architecture built in 1769. Thomas Bull, the son of a stonemason named William Bull and his wife Sarah Wells, built the house. Two hundred years later, in 1969, the last direct descendant of Thomas Bull donated the house to the county. Today it is a publicly-owned museum where schoolchildren regularly go for field trips and is called Hill Hold Museum.

We went there on a Sunday afternoon. We were the only visitors. A slender woman came out of the ticket office as we strolled in from the parking lot. She told us she was removing a sign that said she’s out but will be back shortly. She didn’t want us to leave thinking no one’s around.

Admission was cheap -- $3 per person or $6 for the both of us. And even before we gave our payment, we were already given a dose of the house’s history. The woman -- the tour guide -- Grace Roeder we later learned, did so engagingly.

The tour started at a “one-room schoolhouse”, a wooden structure separate from the Thomas Bull House. The schoolhouse wasn’t originally located there. It was moved there from elsewhere in the region. And I’d say it's a pretty neat idea. Standing alone on top of a grassy knoll, the schoolhouse was pleasing to look at both from inside and outside -- not to mention the guide’s historical narratives in the classroom were educational and entertaining -- and provided a dramatic glimpse of the stone house’s facade framed in its door opening as you head out. It was an ideal way of showcasing the house for a first-time visitor.

The tour continued inside the house. To the right was the living room adorned by furnishings from the 17th century onward. To the left was the dining room where wooden chairs carved to look like bamboo surrounded the dining table. One might notice the proliferation of candlesticks inside the dining room -- indeed inside the whole house -- as we were told that even as late as the 1920s (if I remember right) electricity did not reach the region.

Upstairs there were two bedrooms -- one with a canopied bed and another with a heavy wooden bed folded neatly against the wall. We were told that canopies gave the impression of wealth at the time when in fact they served a useful purpose. Things dropped from the ceiling all the time -- wood chips, scraps of paint, ceiling debris, mites and animals heaven forbid -- and the canopy acted as shield to prevent you from choking on them while you slept.

There were two kitchens -- one a later addition to the back of the house and another in a separate building called the “summer kitchen”. The summer kitchen was used to avoid firing up the indoor kitchen’s stove and oven that would further heat up the house in the already hot summer days.

During the tour I mentioned that we were photography hobbyists and we post pictures we take in our website. We told the guide she was welcome to view them and use them if she wanted. She seemed enthusiastic and said she would give us her e-mail address. We walked back to the office.

While there she showed us a picture of three of her children -- a daughter and two sons -- who recently got back from Iraq. They are in the military. With some unease she said one son wanted to go back. When she asked why, her son replied to save lives. She told us this with what we perceived as profound concern as we surmised no mother would want to see her children in harm’s way.

I wondered how anyone could donate something as expensive as a house. An heir could find it useful or, if none, perhaps a friend. Many people dream of owning a home but few ever do. So I simply supposed the last direct descendant of Thomas Bull felt a calling to give back and perhaps even thought about schoolchildren who would one day come to visit and learn about history.

Perhaps to many of us, knowing that everyone within our fields of vision is healthy is enough. We could sit back, kick off our shoes, and count our blessings. And there is nothing wrong with that. But it is comforting to know, too, that like the last descendant of Thomas Bull, or the tour guide’s son who wishes to go back to a troubled land in order to save lives, there are those among us who are driven purely by the greater good.

Click on a picture to enlarge.
The tour started at the one-room schoolhouse in a separate building. Vi took this picture.
Furnace inside the schoolhouse provided heat during cold months. Vi took this picture.
Corner in rear of the classroom. A 1924 calendar hangs on the wall.
The guide showing us the 48 stars on the flag. Today the US flag has 50 stars.
Vi the student.
Thomas Bull House framed by the schoolhouse door.
Living room inside the Thomas Bull House. Vi took this picture.
The wood-looking assemblage on a stand is actually not wood but whale-bone. It's used for spooling yarn in the same manner that a child would normally have two arms up with yarn spooled around them while the mother knitted. Nowadays, balls of yarn are bought in craft stores.
Couch by the living room window. Vi took this picture.
Dining room. Vi took this picture.
Chairs have bamboo-looking design.
Chairs by the dining room windows. China cupboard is on the left. Notice the proliferation of candlesticks as electricity did not reach the region until the 1920s. Vi took this picture.
Chair by the fireplace in the upstairs bedroom. The chair's
Bible in the bedroom.
Desk by the window. Another night commode -- the white ceramic pot with printed blue designs-- in the bedroom. Vi took this picture.
What's a bedroom without a bed? Our fault, really, as we forgot to take a picture of the canopied bed. At least this photo shows the other bedroom with a bed neatly tucked in the corner -- and a crib. The iron furniture with intricate carvings is the room's heater.
Exposed wall showing wood slats and plaster. A spinning wheel stands on the side.
Weaving machine in the upstairs bedroom.
The house's kitchen.
The white cone on top of the table is a cone of sugar. Diners chip off parts of the sugar cone to mix with their food or drinks. Vi took this picture.
One room schoolhouse.
The schoolhouse was actually relocated there from elsewhere.
Outhouses by the schoolhouse.
Felled tree during the last storm. It will be replaced by another already upright tree.
Well. There was no plumbing at the time so one can imagine the Bull family parents sending their kids outside to
Thomas Bull House.
The architecture is Georgian. Common in such architecture is the prevalence of symmetry. Vi took this picture.
Front door facing northwest.
Front door facing southeast. Vi took this picture.
Country garden. Vi took this picture.
The country garden in the backyard has many scenic spots. Vi took this picture.
Shack. Vi took this picture.
Shed. Vi took this picture.
The house's kitchen at the back. Called
Barn. Vi took this picture.
Barn is located at the entrance by the parking lot.
Plaque commemorating the house's donation to the county in 1969. Vi took this picture.
BACK TO: Home Gallery