Photo by Deb and Tim Smith

We’re going to give you some background on an attraction we bet every one of you has driven by hundreds of times but perhaps never stopped to visit. We’re talking about the Tinker Nature Park and the Hansen Nature Center which is located at 1525 Calkins Rd. If you’re heading north out of town on Clover Street and hang a left at the Calkins Road light, the park is a couple miles up on your left-hand side.

Here is some information regarding the hours of operation for the park. The Tinker Nature Park outside grounds are open from 7:00 am to sunset and admission is free. The Hansen Nature Center, which is the primary indoor part of the complex, is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday except for holidays, also with free admission and an established last admission time of 3:45 pm. The other major indoor attraction on the site is the Tinker Homestead and Farm Museum. The Museum depicts family life at the turn of the 20th century and to enjoy this experience, guided tours are available by appointment only.

We have to admit that prior to November 4th we would have had to count ourselves among the many people who’d driven by hundreds of times without stopping, but we did often make the comment to ourselves, “Some day we have to check this place out.” So what caused “someday” to become November 4th? In the midst of a Sentinel writers brainstorming session our publisher Chris Carosa came out with the random comment, “I think we should do something involving Henrietta.”

At that point the light bulb went on over our heads and we offered the suggestion that, “We’ve always been intrigued by the Tinker Nature Park. Would you like us to reach out to them?” Chris thought it would be a great idea and by the end of the day we are connected with Tinker’s Director of Programming and Education, Tim Pratt, and the wheels are turning.

So our goal here is to share with you some of the details of what the park is all about but allow us to lead with two short and simple shout-outs. It’s so cool and it’s so close. We’ll cover the “so close” piece first because that won’t take long. From our driveway near the 4-corners of downtown Mendon it was an 11-mile drive.

The Tinker Nature Park has an eastern boundary of Pittsford-Henrietta Town Line Road, so here’s one way of looking at that scenario. There is no spot in Henrietta that could possibly be closer to us than Tinker Nature Park, and you can get there in next to no time. So, if we’ve got you thinking about this excursion, how ‘bout we fill you in on what you’ll find when you get there.

We had quite an adventure upon our initial arrival which we will share with you in a bit. But before we tell that tale, let’s climb into the Wayback Machine and travel back in time over two centuries to put this whole complex into historical perspective. In 1812 the Tinker family moved from Connecticut to become some of the earliest settlers of Henrietta. They initially bought 40 acres of land, eventually growing to over 300 acres by the 1900’s, which would become the family farm for the next six generations and built the cobblestone house, which is the first building that you see from the road, between 1828 and 1830.

The Tinker family donated the house and 68 acres to the Town of Henrietta in 1991. The Town saw the opportunity to turn the house and land into what would be a valuable asset to the community. The 48-acres across the street from the park is owned by the town, leased for farming, and the town owns the development rights to preserve that parcel as farmland so the natural ambiance of the park will never be compromised by having some kind of housing development spring up there.

The Tinker homestead has been restored and decorated to reflect the appearance it would have had around 1900, complete with kitchen accoutrements, furniture and wall décor. The coffee table in the living room even comes complete with a September 15, 1901 copy of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle with a headline decrying the assassination of President William McKinley, a storyline with a somewhat local flavor as that event took place at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. The homestead opened for visitors in 1994 and guided tours are available by appointment. There are also open houses during the year as part of their events.

After the Tinker family, the next huge benefactor of the park would be Henry Hansen. In 1994 his donation made possible the building which would become the Hansen Nature Center which opened in 1995. In 1998 he provided additional funds which paid for an expansion which doubled the size of the Nature Center, creating a new space which is primarily used for display exhibits.

At this point we’ll tell the story of what happened to us when we were on our own after first arriving at the park and then we’ll finish with one of our favorite interviews & tours ever, the one we shared with Park Director Tim Pratt. First off, the park is a lot bigger than one might assume from just driving by when the most noticeable structure is the old cobblestone house that sits up close to the road.

So on the day of our meeting we turn left into the driveway and are immediately blown away on multiple levels. There’s so much to take in that you would never observe when just doing a drive-by. First off, from a functional perspective, we’re pulling into a parking lot packed with many more cars than we would have anticipated. That being said, we should acknowledge that temps are in the low 70’s that day, so it’s a better go-to-the-park day than your typical November 4th.

At that point we park amidst the picnickers and plot our next move. Okay, we’re going to come clean right off the bat and share that the next 15 minutes are not the finest in our Sentinel reporting careers. But that’s okay; if there’s one thing we’ve learned with this gig it’s the ability to master the art of self-deprecation.

Our appointment is set for 1:00 pm and Tim had told us to enter through either of the two main doors to the nature center. In sharing those directions, Tim has clearly overestimated our ability to grasp what, in retrospect, should have been obvious. We have locked into our mindset that those “main doors” must be on what we had always considered to be the main building, that cobblestone house by the road that we had driven by so many times before.

So when we get out of our car we take the sidewalk path around to the front of the house and observe a front door bedecked with extravagantly spooky Halloween decorations. An indirect result of this is to clearly convey the communiqué that no human beings are going to burst their way through the thick mesh of spider cobwebs guarding this door!

Okay, what next? We retrace our steps back around the main house and notice a door on the side which has a message reading “Visitors, please ring bell on the left of the door.” Relieved that we seem to have finally figured this thing out, we ring the bell and wait with a sense of anxious anticipation. No answer, we re-ring the bell, again no answer and the anticipation morphs to confusion.

Assessing our options at this point, we notice a Town of Henrietta pick-up truck parked alongside an open barn, with a wide door open. So we decide to seek out the Town employee who had clearly driven the truck there that day, thinking that perhaps that employee might have a means by which he could put us in touch with Tim.

Despite Deb’s diminutive stature, she is never shy to take the bull by the horns and proactively deal with any dilemma dealt our way. So she breeches the barn, cups her hands and starts calling, “Anybody here, anybody here?” Empty echoes acknowledge the absence of human presence.

Exit barn. Rethink strategy. Okay let’s walk around the back of the house. Keep in mind that this is early November and we are crunching our way through a lot of leaves, but we make our way around the back and check out the east side of the house where there are two doors. At this point we’re thinking these two doors must be dead ends but we go ahead and try them basically knowing that if either of these doors open, somebody on the Henrietta security team is going to be due for a serious calling-in-on-the-carpet.

But of course Henrietta security is certainly up to the challenge and we vagabond Smiths are unable to inappropriately, albeit innocently, enter the main house from the east side. So at this point we’re all the way back around to the front and once again facing off with the menacing spider. Honest to God, if one of those reality TV shows could have been tracking us, we clearly could have been featured on one of those “funniest videos” shows.
So we meander back around to the rear of the building somewhat relieved that we haven’t set off the security system at this point. Let’s face it, our best running years are behind us and we’ve driven to this interview in our bright blue 2005 PT Cruiser convertible, not the best of getaway cars!

Please join us again next week for Tinker talk time with Tim, part 2.

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