Bement-Billings Farmstead: A Living History Lesson
Bement-Billings Farmstead in Newark Valley is a regular stop for school field trips and hosts the popular annual Apple Festival. Today, it's registered as a National Historic Landmark and operates as a living history museum, but it wasn't always a treasured part of the community. In fact, before the Historical Society got a hold of it, even the current director says he overlooked the unassuming Route 38 house.
“I grew up here. My parents bought a home three miles north of here in 1951," says Ed Nizolowski, Director of the Newark Valley Historical Society, "So I remember seeing this as a child. But didn’t really know what the significance was."
Once you find out, it's a pretty interesting story.
Asa Bement was one of the first settlers in Northern Tioga County. After fighting in the Revolutionary War, he brought his family to Newark Valley to settle down in 1792. At that time, there was a bit of a dispute about what state actually owned this part of the Southern Tier. Massachusetts claimed it was theirs. Nizoloswki says it was settled in court that Massachusetts could sell off the land to incoming settlers and New York would take over governing it. So, when Bement bought the land, he was buying it from the state of Massachusetts.
Once here, Bement started to build his empire piece by piece. He started with a small farmhouse. That original house is on the far right side of the current building.
“He was not only a farmer, but he was an entrepreneur," says Nizolowski.
Or, as we like to call him, the 18th century version of an ultimate DIY guy.
Bement basically built himself his own sustainable village. He had a sawmill, gristmill, and blacksmith shop on his 200 acres. He supplied his own household and sold to the other settlers who were starting to come into Newark Valley.
This photo shows the first sections of the house built by Asa Bement.
Asa Bement's son, William, completed the home after Bement retired. Just looking at the outside of the house today, it's hard to tell it was built in pieces. The addition looks seamless, but Nizolowski points out one way to tell where one portion starts and another one ends.
“We kind of have two front doors of the home. This door has federal trim which is the early 1800s. The door going into what became the parlor is Greek revival," says Nizolowski.
The two front doors both belong to a different addition from a different time period. You can tell the two sections apart by the architectural style of the trim around the doors.
After three generations in the family, Asa Bement's grandson, Edgert, sold the property in 1890 to a man named Ichabod Ford. Ford's daughter married a Billings. Three more generations lived in the house.
"Myrtie Louise Billings-Hills… she’s the one who deeded the house and an acre and a half of land to the historical society," explains Nizolowski.
That's how the Billings name ended up in the name of the museum.
Nizolowski says by that point the house had been abandoned for so long, it was in pretty bad shape. It took three years to restore, but in 1980, the farmstead opened up to the public as a living history museum and has been operating ever since.
"It just gives you a dimension on history that you’re just not going to get anywhere else," says Nizolowski.
The museum is open on weekends during the summer and hosts several events throughout the year.