When I recently became interested in local tourism, I started following the Historical Society of Haford County Facebook page. Since Facebook picks and chooses what they want you to see (one of my least favorite changes over the years), I had never seen an actual event through the society until a few weeks ago when they reposted an event from the Hays House Museum page. I love desserts, tourism, and history, so “A Collation of Desserts” from the 18th century sounded like the perfect first event for me to attend.
(I feel like I’m obligated to mention that initially I went to the Hays-Heighe house, which is related to but not the Hays House. You live and you learn.)
Thanks to the beauty that is modern technology, we pulled up the Facebook event, and Google directed is to the correct location.
We were greeted by women in 18th century attire and guided into the kitchen, the main stage for the event. The collation obviously had started before my sister and I made it, so the bread pudding was cooling, an orange cake was on the stove. There was also one more cake of which I never caught the name, a raspberry sauce, and lemonade all ready. But we came just in time for the fresh ice cream demonstration, which consisted of cream, sugar, and overripe peaches poured into a copper canister which was to be turned in a bowl of salt and ice. Since the process was labor intensive, my sister volunteered to help, and eventually we all took turns while we chatted casually about history and cooking.
We already knew that you had to be pretty wealthy to make ice cream regularly back in the day, but we actually learned that the reason for that was the expenses of making and keeping an ice house and buying the actual ice.
Since the ice cream was going to take a while, the few of us who had not been to Hays House before opted to be given a tour of the house.
Thomas Archer Hays bought this house in the early 1800s and was its longest owner. He is not a man of huge significance to the overall shaping of American history, but he definitely is for Bel Air. No one owned more land than he did, and he had his hand in nearly every line of business in the town. In fact, the reason Route 1 is so windy is because his company supplied the brick for the road but with the stipulation that it passed through certain businesses of his. Mr. Hays lived into his 80s and left the house to his kin with very specific instructions to ensure the house would stay within the family for a long time. The Hays House was located on Main Street, but in the 1950s, Safeway became interested in the land and purchased it from the owner. Thankfully, the historical society was able to move the house on to Bel Air High School property so that we are all able to enjoy the oldest house in Bel Air to this day.
We finished our tour just in time to enjoy the fruits of our labor (aka peach ice cream)
Hays House may not be as grandiose as Colonial Williamsburg or Fort Washington, but the Hays House Museum and the Historical Society of Harford County have done an excellent job at creating informative, intimate, and friendly event about our local history. If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend you pay them a visit, even for just a tour. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for events in the future!