Farm History

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“Utility Is the Main Design” for the Farm at Gore Place

 

“To Boston after manure and corn with 2 teams, hoeing in the forty acre lot, weeding the garden, covering up manure and grinding and fixing scythes for haying”

from the Journal of Jacob Farwell, Gore Farm Manager, July 3, 1824

Looking out over the 40 acre lot of Christopher Gore’s 200 acre farm, the early 19th century visitor would see rows of potatoes, corn, cabbage, and cucumbers. More than a “gentleman farmer”, Christopher Gore had a deep interest in agriculture and hoped to offset the enormous cost of running his estate with the income from the crops he raised and sent to market.

 

Gore didn’t purchased all 200 acres at once. He and his wife Rebecca started with a 33 acre plot of land with buildings plus another 18 acres of undeveloped land both of which they purchased in 1786, the year after they were married. They immediately set about making improvements to the land.

 

In 1796, Gore went to England on a diplomatic mission. There, he hired a landscape “improver” named William Hay and sent him to America to layout the grounds of Gore’s Waltham farm. Over the following decades, Gore acquired surrounding farmland–40 acres to the north, 35 acres to the south, etc.– extending his estate all the way to the Charles River.

 

“The grounds… are devoted to raising of every variety of agriculture, grass, corn, wheat, barley, etc… utility is the main design of the exertions there displayed.” Samuel Ripley

Following the deaths of Christopher (1827) and Rebecca (1834), Theodore Lyman, Jr. (of the Lyman Estate) purchased the land at auction. Four years later, he sold the property to John Singleton Copley Greene, nephew of the famous artist. In 1921, the property was converted into a 9-hole golf course known as the Waltham Country Club designed by famed golf architect Donald Ross. The Club went bankrupt in the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

 

By 1935, the estate, which had been reduced from 200 to 50 acres, fell into receivership with the bank ready to sell to a developer. Before the sale was finalized, a group of historic preservationists stepped in with a counter offer and acquired the deed. They established the Gore Place Society with the mission “…to preserve and promote…” the Gores’ estate.

 

In the latter part of the 1800s and for much of the 20th century, farming on the estate was either greatly reduced or non-existent. In the 1970s and 80s, DeVincent Farm grew corn on a portion of land. Still, the Gore Place Society knew full well the importance of farming to the interpretation of the estate. To that end, they acquired sheep from Sturbridge Village in 1985. The year 1987 saw the first Sheepshearing Festival (now in its 31st year); its purpose: to raise money for the museum and to enhance public awareness of the farm. In 2007, the Society adopted a new strategic plan to help guide the development of the farm as a source of revenue and as an important element in the interpretation of the estate.

 

For many years,  a lack of topsoil, much of which had been sold off in the 1920s, was the major obstacle to cultivating the land. To remedy the situation, the farm instituted a program of soil renewal by means of composting and the growing of cover crops in 2009. Several acres at the eastern edge of the property were selected for this purpose. For the past few years, these acres have been under cultivation.

 

“It’s been a challenge to find crops that the farm could support” says farmer Scott Clarke. “In addition to the problem of poor soil, until recently the farm was dependent on rainfall and hand watering for irrigation. Despite these challenges, each year we’ve been able to increase crop yield.”

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