A corn husking bee

In the old days, area farmers raised huge quantities of corn. Corn was ground at the local gristmill and used to feed the family and farm animals. In order for corn to dry properly, the husks need to be removed.

A 19th century corn husker. Photo by Ron Patch.

Try to imagine husking many thousands of ears in one sitting. This is what farmers did in the old days. Those individuals husking huge amounts of corn complained about sore and bleeding fingertips. Something had to be done. The answer was a simple handheld implement called a “corn husker.”

I have a couple corn huskers in my collection. Both are a simple piece of wood about four inches long and maybe a half-inch in diameter. A piece of leather about five-eighth of an inch wide and about four inches long has a hole in each end. The wooden shaft slides through the holes so the leather forms a “U” shape on the shaft. One side of the husker is flat.

To use the corn husker, you insert your middle finger into the loop of leather. With the loop on the topside of your middle finger, the wooden pointer will be in the palm of your hand. You’ll notice the husker fits perfectly in your hand.

Next grasp the pointer by closing your hand. Now, holding the corn in your other hand, place the tip of the pointer under the husk at the top of the ear. As you slide the pointer tip under the husk, your thumb will pinch the corn husk between your thumb and the flat side of the wooden pointer. Now just pull the husk down.


An 1880s corn sheller. Photo provided by Chester Historical Society.

While this might sound like an insignificant tool, try to imagine sitting for hours, maybe a whole day husking corn. This little tool saved many sore fingers.

Corn husking bees were held in most every Vermont town. Farmer neighbors would get together when the corn was harvested to help each other. The husking bees were made fun by decreasing the monotony of corn husking. Every now and then, an ear of red corn would surface. If you found a red ear, you won a kiss from anyone you chose who was present at the husking bee.

Men and women would sit in the entry of the barn and husk corn for hours. Sometimes the older folks would play their fiddles or guitars to entertain the corn huskers. It was not uncommon for a husking bee to turn into a barn dance. This was a time to celebrate the harvest and for families to socialize.

Now the corn needed to be dried. Corn cribs were something every farm had. They would vary in size but an average might have been 10 by 10 feet. A corn crib was an interesting building. They were built similar to a shed or barn except for their siding.

The siding on a corn cribs were vertical wooden slats with a two inch space between slats. On the inside of the corn crib, a small gauge mesh screen ran from floor to ceiling against the inner sidewall studs. Now the corn cobs were loaded into the corn crib.

The space between the outer slats of the corn crib allowed air to freely circulate throughout the crib. The mesh screen kept out any rodents. Now all the corn had to do was dry.

When dry and when needed, corn was removed from the crib and taken to the barn where the corn sheller waited. A corn sheller is an upright mechanical device that removes the corn kernels from the cob. At the historical society, we have a corn sheller. It works very well.

The corn sheller has a large cast iron crank. Drop an ear of dry corn in the top of the sheller while someone turns the crank. There is a whirling sound as the sheller removes the corn kernels from the cob and deposits the kernels in a tub. The empty cob exits another chute. The corn cobs could be ground for feed or used in outhouses.

  The next meeting of the Chester Historical Society is Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. at the Academy Building. The monthly slideshow will be old area photos. All are welcome.

  This week’s old saying is from my mother. A travelling vacuum cleaner salesman stopped at our house one day. When he told my mother the vacuum was on sale this week and she would save a lot of money, she replied, “I’m saving so much on my new sofa and refrigerator that I can’t afford to save anymore right now.”

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