Farm-Life Festival Boosts Christmas in April - Southern Maryland Headline News

Farm-Life Festival Boosts Christmas in April

By David Noss

CHARLOTTE HALL, Md. - It was a perfect fall weekend in St. Mary’s County. The sky was blue, the sun was bright, and the air was cool. Based on the number of parked cars in the lot, the word was out and people were coming en masse. The occasion was the Ninth Annual Farm-Life Festival in Charlotte Hall, Md. The festival is sponsored by the John K. Parlett Farm-Life Museum of Southern Maryland.

According to John K. Parlett Jr., it was a “record year” and he was well pleased with the weather and the turnout.

John Knight Parlett, Sr.Parlett is the son of the museum’s founder, John Knight Parlett, Sr. His father was a notable personality in southern Maryland. Born in 1937, Mr. Parlett served in the Maryland House of Delegates for Charles and St. Mary’s Counties from 1981 through 1986. Palett, Jr. noted that his father also served as a St. Mary’s County Commissioner.

"John Knight Parlett was a man who loved the farming community," said Senator Roy Dyson, Southern Maryland's ranking elected state official. "He was a great voice for the farming community and because of that interest he established one of the great and most diversified farm museums in the country."

Parlett, Sr. was born and raised on his parent’s farm near Trent Hall on the Patuxent River in Mechanicsville. He began collecting tools and farm equipment in the 60’s. According to his son, “the more he collected, the more his passion grew.” Darene Kleinsorgen, Chairperson for the Festival and a member of the Board of Directors for Christmas in April, added that he had an equal passion for his wife, children, and grandchildren.

He and his wife spent every free weekend going to sales and auctions where he would buy pieces for his collection. According to Kleinsorgen, Parlett recognized most pieces on sight—he knew their name and what they were used for. “He had a very good memory,” said Kleinsorgen. “He knew exactly what he had in his collection and what he needed.”

As his collection and his passion grew, Parlett developed a network of friends with similar interests. When he needed a particular piece, he would put the word out to his friends. Someone would ultimately locate and procure the needed item.

This network of friends became crucial to the advancement of the museum’s collection over time. It became more and more difficult for Parlett to leave his home as he was overcome with illness. He ultimately passed on in 2005.

Inside the Farm History Building - John K. Parlett Farm-Life Museum of Southern MarylandParlett originally converted some of his chicken houses for use as his museum buildings. Since that time the museum has added several buildings including a 22,000 square foot building that was constructed specifically to hold many of the museum’s artifacts. Currently, the museum has a Trades building, a Tobacco Museum, a Farm Life building, the 22,000 sq-ft Farm History building, a general store, and a 1900 hardware store.

The buildings house thousands of the museum’s artifacts. The museum has everything from its 50 tractor collection, to hundreds of farm implements, to horse-drawn buggies and sleighs. They even have an old Burch Oil delivery truck. Chances are if it was used on a farm in southern Maryland, they have it in the museum.

A few years ago, Parlett purchased the contents of an old hardware store that was known as “Ritterhoff & Sons.” The contents were moved to a building at the Farm museum and setup to resemble the environment of the original store. According to an old wooden crate that adorns the small, one-room store, “Ritterhoff & Sons” was located at 1159 E. Baltimore Street in Baltimore, Md.

According to Kleinsorgen, the sole purpose of the Museum was not simply to collect and preserve artifacts from America’s farming legacy. Parlett not only wanted to preserve the culture, he wanted today’s children to have an appreciation for the roots of the life they are now living. “Mr. Parlett wanted people to realize that most everything happening today originated with the farmers,” commented Kleinsorgen.

Parlett was so concerned about educating today’s children about America’s farming heritage that, even before the beginning of the Farm Festival, he used to invite school classes to come and visit the Museum. Kleinsorgen noted that students came from as far away as Montross, Va.

While the Museum is the center of the Farm-Life festival, it is not the only attraction. There were plenty of live demonstrations of old farm equipment
from a 1930’s rock crushing machine to a corn husker and a hay thrasher. They also had vintage functioning tractors on display—one steam driven and another petroleum-based. The old machines could be seen driving around the festival grounds throughout the day at their slow but steady pace.

Frick Co. Steam Tractor - John K. Parlett Farm-Life Museum of Southern MarylandThe old Frick Co. steam tractor was originally manufactured in Waynesboro, Pa. It was trucked in from the Eastern Shore of Maryland just for the festival by its owner. He noted that Frick is still in business today selling refrigeration systems. He also proudly noted that Frick recently invited him and his tractor to the factory for the company’s 150th anniversary where they both were given VIP treatment.

There were plenty of vendors on hand offering anything from old tools and antiques to fresh fruit and jams from a local commercial orchard. There were also many antique vehicles on display. The Mechanicsville Volunteer Fire Department had their old 1950’s Ladder Truck
reminiscent of life in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry—available for inspection. A firefighter was proud to note that the vehicle would shortly be on its way to Pennsylvania for a complete restoration.

The children were kept happy with a small petting zoo where they could touch a hog, a billie goat, and a calf. There were also tractor and horse-driven rides to keep the youngsters amused.

Horse-drawn Wagon Ride - John K. Parlett Farm-Life Museum of Southern Maryland

One of the original, driving goals for the Farm-Life Festival was to raise money for the Christmas in April program. Once a year, in the month of April, local volunteers gather and fan-out into southern Maryland where they make repairs to the homes of the neediest citizens. A team is assigned to each home. The team is usually headed by one or more professional contractors assisted by various laymen volunteers.

John Parlett, Jr. is especially fond of the Christmas in April program. In 1989, he helped found the program in Charles County. The following year, he founded the program in St. Mary’s County. He noted that 100% of the proceeds from each festival go directly to the program.

The Parlett family purchased the farm where the museum resides in the late 50’s. The previous owner used to run a turkey farm. After the Parletts purchased the farm, they raised approximately 40 head of cattle and 20,000 chickens. They also grew corn and tobacco—tobacco being one of the trademark crops in southern Maryland during that era.

While the original farm was 200 acres, it has since dwindled to 135 acres. Pieces have been subdivided out to Mr. Parlett’s children so that they could establish their own homes.

Today, all that remains of the active agricultural endeavor are a few head of cattle. John Parlett, Jr. spends his professional time as the President of CMI General Contractors, Inc. CMI is a successful commercial contracting company. They are based in Charlotte Hall, Md.

All-in-all, the Festival was a great way to spend an otherwise quiet fall weekend day. In addition to the history, culture, and fascination of moving machine parts for the mechanically inspired, it was a good way to make the acquaintance of many friendly and knowledgeable people. If you missed it this year, mark your calendars now for next year.

Editor’s Note: We will be adding photographs of the Farm Festival to our Multimedia Gallery in the coming days.

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