By Andy Burr, landowner, with an introduction by Hannah Chamberlain, MassLIFT AmeriCorps Land Stewardship Coordinator
When I first visited the Burr farm, I was immediately impressed by the immaculately mowed fields and the iconic buildings, but from a conservationist’s perspective, I knew there would be a lot to see on the property. From the most minute fringed gentian in the wet meadow to the peaceful hemlock stand along Watts Stream, from water quality protection to the preservation of an iconic hilltown landscape for all to enjoy, there are many reasons why Hilltown Land Trust celebrates the Burr farm. Andy Burr, the owner of the property, donated the conservation restriction to HLT not only to preserve the land in perpetuity, but also to protect the history of his family in Worthington, a history that spans backwards over 200 years. When asked to describe why the Burr farm is so special, Andy was quick to respond with these words….
“The Burr farm was acquired by my great-great-great grandfather Calvin Burr in the year 1800. He and his son Franklin cleared a lot of the land as mowings and pastures and at one point in the mid 19th century their holdings were more than two hundred acres. Originally they raised sheep, but by the 1840’s they transitioned to dairy and built a large barn, [no longer existent]. The farm probably reached its height of prosperity in the late 19th century under my great-grandfather Clement Burr who also served a term as a representative in the Mass General Court [House of Representatives] in Boston, and on the Worthington Cemetery Commission, the Water Commission, and as Town Clerk. [A busy guy!]
I treasure my memories of the working dairy farm especially because it meant in the summer I could spend most of the day with my dad, milking, mending fences, working in the garden, and best of all, haying. My dad put me on a tractor at age six, and I spent many glorious hours raking hay or harrowing the garden. It was of course, a very docile tractor, a 1940 Ford 9-N which I still own, but I imagine if I’d put one of my daughters on it at age six, Child Services would have had some harsh words for me.
As a youngster I loved spending time in the woods and I got to know every fold in the land and every brook and wet place and rocky outcrop. Often in the summer it was my job to fetch the cows and with the help of a Collie, drive them up to the barn for milking, and I still recall how my dad and grandfather called the cows,…a sound I’ve not heard for more than fifty years.
Like most New England dairies, by the 1940’s the farm was gradually becoming a marginal operation with little hope of competing with the large farms of New York State and the Mid-West. In 1955 when I was thirteen, my grandfather died, and Dad immediately sold the herd, and the chickens, and took a job as a chemist with Strathmore Paper. The big old barn sat empty and uncared for when I was in college and my parents moved to Central Mass where my dad worked for Fitchburg Paper. Sadly, with no one looking after it, the foundations of the barn, built on a side hill, shifted, and the barn collapsed in 1968. But happily, my parents returned to the farm in 1972 when my dad retired and I, as a recent graduate of architecture school, got to design the renovation of the farmhouse.
Now that my wife Ann and I are stewards of the place we spend as much time there as we can manage away from our architecture practice, especially in the summer when we have a vegetable garden and a few fruit trees and lots of mowing to tend to. We built a new barn particularly to house the collection of old tractors I’ve acquired and restored, and we’ve reclaimed some of the mowing which had been neglected and was turning to brush. In the late 1970’s my mother discovered some fringed gentian plants growing in a wet area of the field, and knowing their status as a threatened species she ardently protected them from the ravages of the mowing machine. Since then, they have greatly increased, and this past September I counted more than three hundred bunches of gorgeous indigo blue flowers growing there. We also host a good sized population of bobolinks [no haying in their area until after July 4th], some woodcocks, bluebirds and hordes of tree swallows.
Knowing that I would never want to see our land developed, and hoping that my daughters will inherit and love it as we do, we placed most of it in a conservation restriction with the Hilltown Land Trust, and I sleep well at night imagining Burr Farm existing long into the future.”
HIlltown Land Trust looks forward to stewarding this property alongside its owners long into the future and is proud to protect not only the natural resources on the property, but the rich piece of Worthington history that stems from the Burr farm.