Monday, April 27, 2009

Land Trusts

There was a comment posted on one of my blog entries a few days ago asking about land trusts. The author, Cynthia, has roots in Hadley, as I do, and wanted to know a trust to which she could contribute.

This is a great question. On a more general level, there are lots of land trusts in Massachusetts, large and small. See the list compiled by the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition. It's pretty long and fairly comprehensive, I believe.

For the Hadley area, the Kestrel Trust is a good organization that I would recommend to receive your donation(s). They work in Amherst, Belchertown, Granby, Hadley, Leverett, Pelham, South Hadley, Shutesbury, and Sunderland--all towns that need more land preserved against development pressures. Kestrel Trust was very involved in generating awareness of the significance of Hadley's Great Meadow, which is a fascinating landscape on the Connecticut River. Its network of long, thin plots dates back to the 17th century, when the English colonists laid them out, and is "pre-enclosure" in layout, which means that its design is based on medieval farming practices of Europe. Most of the United Kingdom's fields were "enclosed" in the 18th- and 19th-centuries, while this common layout has survived here, directly linked to an older farming style that has practically died out in the "Old Country".

I know that the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum is actively involved in land conservation as well, so it would be worth donating to them. They have done a very good job preserving land around the museum and are still working hard at this.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I'll try to answer!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Introducing the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum

One of my favorite sites in Hadley opens to the public, as it does every year, on May 15: the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum. This museum has been around for decades and stores the objects and stories of one extended family that occupied the house and surrounding lands for six generations, beginning in the 1750s.

It's worth going to visit and seeing the interiors, which look as though they could still be occupied. It's worth wandering around the grounds, which, while not extensive, are peaceful and pleasant. In the "North Garden" is a bed of roses supposedly planted by a Scottish servant some 200 years ago.

You can visit the musuem's website here. I'll say right away that it's not very good and could use a redesign or at least some updating. Updates have been sparse, and it hasn't really changed since I worked there three summers ago.

The museum is a quintessential example of the small historic house museums you can find scattered throughout the United States. In telling the stories of one extended family, it tells the story of America.

The family left behind a huge trove of papers (and is still leaving them behind--even when I was there bequests were still coming in. I sorted through some documents going back to the 1820s.) that are now stored at the Amherst College Archives and are accessible to the public. Diaries, letters, books, poetry, etc., have all survived from this highly literate family. The collection ranges from the 1690s through the 20th century. Many scholars have used the collection as a resource, most recently, perhaps, by UMass historian Bruce Laurie in a book called Beyond Garrison about the abolitionist movement.

In addition to house tours, you can visit the museum grounds during the summer for concerts and for a "traditional" tea ceremony on the long back porch, which was once the route for the servants to access the various parts of the house. The tea services have musical accompaniment as well. You get Earl Grey tea along with a dessert provided by a local shop.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum in future posts. If you have a question, e-mail me about it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hadley Farming in the Local Paper...

The Springfield Republican ran a story this past weeking about the tradition of farming in Hadley, and while it didn't specifically touch on issues of preservation, it makes clear the importance of farming as a tradition to this town. Let's hope it stays that way.

Read it here.