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The Silo flourishes at 40 years young

Updated 10:49 am, Thursday, November 1, 2012

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  • Skitch Henderson and Ruth Henderson relax together at Hunt Hill Farm in New Milford on the occasion of the 30th anniversary for The Silo in 2002. Photo: Deborah Rose, Deborah Rose/Spectrum
    Skitch Henderson and Ruth Henderson relax together at Hunt Hill Farm in New Milford on the occasion of the 30th anniversary for The Silo in 2002. Photo: Deborah Rose, Deborah Rose/Spectrum

 

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"Celebrate 40," The Silo's anniversary celebration, will be Sunday, Nov. 4 from 3 to 5 p.m. Admission for $40 includes cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and cake. For $80, admission includes a museum open house and champagne toast from 2 to 3 p.m. For $140, admission also includes a celebration dinner. For reservations, visit www.hunthillfarmtrust.com or call 860-355-0300.
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If you look closely you can still see patches of Louise King's brocade wallpaper in areas of the gift shop at The Silo.

Mrs. King was Ruth Henderson's partner creating The Silo at Hunt Hill Farm in New Milford in November 1972.

The shop at that time was just one room and Mrs. King's apartment was in an area now home to kitchen supplies for sale and the shop's office.

"We were partners originally," Mrs. King recalled. "Ruth and Skitch (Henderson) had just bought the property in Northville and there was this barn that needed filling."

And fill it they did.

This year, under the umbrella of the Hunt Hill Farm Trust, The Silo is celebrating its 40th anniversary. What had originally been cow stables and two silos thrives now as a gift shop, cooking school and art gallery.

The Silo that today holds iconic stature is testament to Mrs. Henderson's ability to, in her own words, "work with a splash of creativity" and transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

"I feel what I want something to be and most of the time it works," Mrs. Henderson said. "I worked very well with Louise because her precision in things confirmed my talents in creativity."

Mrs. King recalled her first time at the barn that would soon become a cultural destination in Litchfield County.

"The building had the traditional fragrance of hay and cow manure and the stables were covered in aged whitewash," she said. "The track that carried the honey pot was still there... how could I resist?"

After Mrs. King returned to New York City in 1975, Mrs. Henderson began holding cooking classes in the kitchen area, in what had been the apartment.

"But you could only fit six or seven people sitting in there," Mrs. Henderson said, "so we converted the heifer shed into a kitchen and cooking school."

There Mrs. Henderson and Fay Fitch gave cooking classes.

"I think one day I may create an antique kitchen show and exhibit it in the gallery," Mrs. Henderson mused.

"I'll exhibit my Robo-Coup, the original name of what became the Cuisinart. It was from France," she said. "At that time, when we started holding cooking classes, we were the only ones in this country with a Robo-Coup."

The cooking school has been extremely successful.

A number of gingerbread house-making classes were televised from there during the 1980s, recalled Susan York, the longtime executive director at The Silo.

Mrs. York departed in 2008 after a 25-year tenure to be near her daughters and grandchildren in upstate New York.

"Attendance at the cooking classes had a waiting list," Mrs. York recalled. "Diana Kennedy, Julia Childs, Jacque Pepin and other celebrity chefs came."

TV personality Robin Leach, who lived in Brookfield, offered classes like "Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams."

"Ruth was involved in all aspects," Mrs. York noted. "She set up a lot of the classes. She knew a lot of these celebrities from New York City and her and Skitch's connection to the New York Pops."

"And they all wanted to be at The Silo because Ruth was there," she added.

The gallery at The Silo similarly became a destination.

Early exhibits included bird and butterfly sculptures created from found scrap metal by Albert Eles of Fairfield and baskets created by Ridgefield weaver Kari Lonning.

They secured the gallery's reputation of showing cutting edge art in what were unusual mediums for the time.

"When you came to work at The Silo, you became part of a family," said Nancy Stuart, assistant director of the cooking school, who has been on staff for 25 years.

"Traditions including the Thanksgiving meal, the Valentine's dinner and the gingerbread house workshop are still part of our program," Mrs. Stuart said.

"I make 600 pounds of gingerbread dough with love and help families create the houses from it -- all edible, with 100 different toppings to dress them up," she explained.

What began as annual barbeques hosted by the Hndersons for their friends have become The Silo's annual fundraiser called Smokin' In The Hills.

In 2003, the management and maintenance of The Silo came under the auspice of the Hunt Hill Farm Trust Inc., a nonprofit formed in association with the Smithsonian Institution.

In March 2004, the entire Hunt Hill Farm property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Keeping the traditions of this cultural icon alive is paramount in the trust's mission, said Liba Furhman, the trust's executive director.

"When I first came to New Milford in 1983, this was one of the first places I visited," Mrs. Furhman said. "It was welcoming. You felt at home."

"The warmth, the hospitality that Ruth extended to everyone continues here," she added. "Ruth's input and advice is a vital part of our day to day. She's still very active."

However, Mrs. Henderson has handed over the reins to Mrs. Furhman and the trust's Board of Directors.

"The Board of Directors and I discuss the programs that are continuing on at The Silo," Mrs. Henderson said. "But there's so many different areas to oversee now that you really need a team to manage it."

Mrs. Henderson lauded the trust's board and chairman Harvey Weinshank for their "hands-on" involvement at The Silo.

"It's hard to get directors who really want to participate in an organization," she said. "We've been fortunate that ours have been on the practical side. The board has a good mix of talent."

The Silo's programs feature the New Talent Gallery exhibits of artwork by area students, performance programs of poetry, music and dance, and a lecture series.

And, of course, the giant Christmas tree.

Harvested at the farm, a tree goes up in the gallery every year. This year it will be placed Nov. 6.

"A New Talent Music program is being started. It will center around Skitch's grand piano," said Mrs. Furhman, paying tribute to the late musician and band leader, who died in 2005 at the age of 87. "Skitch was committed to providing musical opportunities for children and we're carrying on that tradition."

The Silo opens its doors to a wealth of activities and events. It is available for baby showers, wedding showers and other gatherings.

Corporate "team building" cooking classes are now offered, with businesses such as Boehringer-Ingelheim among those on board.

For more information about The Silo and the Hunt Hill Farm Trust, call 860-355-0300, email info@hunthillfarmtrust.org or visit www.hunthillfarmtrust.org.

For more photos, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322