Jim Powers Authors 'Saving the Farm'
The first time Jim Powers eyed the historic Dudley Farm was in 1983, on his way to interview for a teaching job at Guilford High School (GHS).
"I drove by the farm, and David Dudley was there," says Jim. "For the next eight years, I saw him on my way to work. I played a game where I'd wave at him, and if he ever waved back one day, I'd stop and talk. And one day in 1991, he finally waved back-but I couldn't stop! I swore I would go back another time and then he passed away."
Jim's now authored a book on the creation of North Guilford's Dudley Farm Museum, Saving the Farm: A Journey through Time, Place and Redemption, (Homebound Publications, 2013). Although they never met in person, in writing the book, Jim learned a great deal about David Dudley's family. In Saving the Farm, Jim also chronicles an imaginative view into hurdles faced by generations of Dudley family members.
"This is a story of the Dudley family and the creation of the Dudley Farm as a museum, from my point of view. I've written fictionalized accounts of the Dudley family, loosely based on how I interpreted historical examples, to make it more interesting for the reader."
Jim describes himself as "just one of many people" involved in the evolution of the Dudley Farm Museum, now a North Guilford community cornerstone.
After the North Guilford Volunteer Fire Department was bequethed the farm upon David Dudley's death in 1991, the company decided to establish a farm museum at Erastus Dudley's 1844 farmstead. The non-profit Dudley Foundation was created and one of the first people the group reached out to, as a way to fulfill its local education mission, was GHS history teacher Jim Powers.
"I was teaching American history through architecture and also local history through archeology," says Jim, who teamed up with then-GHS wood shop teacher Tom Leddy to create a hands-on, one-of-a-kind, learning experience. The friends' teaching collaboration lasted from 1993 to 2000, until district funding was cut off.
"Tom and I both used our knowledge to complement each other. The kids helped rebuild some of the outbuildings, work on the interior of the farmhouse, helped build fences, and did plantings. I tried to teach the kids what it was like to exist back then."
Jim has remained a Dudley Farm Museum supporter and had the idea of writing this book in the back of his mind for years (he thanks his wife, Rita, for her impeccable editing skills, as well).
His research "sprung from teaching at the museum, from helping to restore it, and studying 19th-century life there. The kids did a lot of research on the Dudleys. For me, it was the highlight of my teaching career."
Jim says he also wanted to write a book celebrating "the possibilities of what a community can do to ensure the preservation of our historic resources.
"I've spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of creating the museum. I think there's a real need for communities such as Guilford and North Guilford to look at its cultural background and history. We're losing so much everywhere. Guilford works hard to preserve its past, and in founding the Dudley Museum, it was the first time that idea impacted North Guilford. The credit belongs not only to the Fire Department and the Dudley Foundation, but to all the people in the community who rallied around the whole idea of saving it."
Jim says another important reason for writing the book is "to show people it is possible for very diverse people in a community to come together to work to save historical features in a community. I hope it will inspire others to make a stand, or even just to become more aware of where they live."
Saving the Farm culminates at an historic point in the museum timeline, with the community barn raising of its Munger Barn in the early 2000s. The big, yellow barn's gone on to become a cultural and community center.
"At the time the barn was raised, the school system had stopped the education program, and the farm had been so focused on that, they sort of lost their way," says Jim. "The barn raising revitalized the sense of community and purpose. It was important for the farm in terms of financial survival, and it's a vital building for North Guilford, as a center of the community."
Saving the Farm by James T. Powers is available for purchase online (also in e-reader formats) at www.homeboundpublications.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble. Find the book now at Guilford's Breakwater Books, and meet the author there on Saturday, March 16 from 2 to 4 p.m., during a book signing event at the shop, 81 Whitfield Street, Guilford.