My visit to Hurry Hill Maple Farm, in Franklin Township, came at the tail end of the maple syrup season – a fact that was confirmed by owner Jan Woods.
“Hear that? Those are the peepers,” she said, after we stopped by the sugarhouse. “That means spring is here. The season of mud and snow is over.”
The sugarhouse, a rustic little building tucked away in the trees, is situated down the road from the main building that greets visitors to Hurry Hill Maple Farm.
The main building – a repurposed cattle barn – houses a small shop and a detailed museum. The museum, which highlights the history of syrup making, is designed around the driving force behind Hurry Hill: The 1957 Newbery Award-winning book “Miracles on Maple Hill,” by one-time Edinboro resident Virginia Sorensen.
The book, about a family’s experiences after moving to the countryside and befriending syrup makers, features real-life local figures. Woods, a former school principal, uses Hurry Hill to showcase the book as well as preserve the sugar-making tradition that it details. The end result, Hurry Hill Maple Farm Museum Association, is a blend of history and agriculture.
As part of that preservation, Woods relies on the old ways to tap her trees and make her maple syrup. Silver buckets, some overflowing with clear, waterlike sap, hang beneath spiles from the trees in her maple orchard. There is no network of modern tubes weaving among the trees to collect sap at Hurry Hill. Instead, they do it the way the Chris family did in “Miracles on Maple Hill.”
Besides, Woods says, “No one wants to come take pictures of tubing.”
But savvy uses of technology surface around Hurry Hill, including on a walking trail. Visitors can use their smartphones to scan QR codes on signs, so that they can download information about each location around the property.
It’s just another way that Hurry Hill is weaving together present and past, in order to unite today’s families with history, agriculture and literature.
About Hurry Hill Farm: The operation, like dozens of sugarmakers in the Erie County region, reaches its peak in late winter and early spring. The sap needs several days of the freeze-at-night, thaw-during-the-day cycle to get going, Woods says. But it is open beyond the syrup season. Hurry Hill – including the shop, filled with glowing amber flasks of pure maple syrup and other maple products – is open in spring and fall, and the museum also welcomes groups for private tours.
Why Erie County: Hurry Hill is unique in that it is inextricably tied to its location – not just to Erie County, but to that specific area outside Edinboro that is the real-life Maple Hill. A driving tour, listed on Hurry Hill’s website, even lists locations from the book. In addition, Erie County is square in the maple syrup-making region, which stretches from northeastern U.S. and Canada across the Great Lakes.
Challenges of Erie County: Woods says her biggest challenge might be in getting publicity for Hurry Hill, particularly for the museum. As it highlights the local connection to Pennsylvania’s only Newbery winner, she would like to see a stronger connection to other tourism opportunities in the county. In addition, she is seeing fewer tours of students, as schools are working with limited budgets and greater attention to standardized testing.
Fun fact: Hurry Hill welcomes about 4,000 visitors per year.
Next week: We brush up on our math skills at Larson Texts in Millcreek Township.