Letter from Kenneth C.A. Isaacs

Kenneth C. A. Isaacs
March 16, 2000

The history of the Adams Farm area before 1950 could be envisioned by reading the deeds to the various land parcels. The ownership traces the old Walpole families throughout time. Names such as Ellis in the 1850’s, Fisher and Tisdale in the late 19th century, and Plimpton, Waterman and Allen in the early 1900’s can be seen on many of the deeds. Maps of that time would show their holdings as being fractured with rights of way leading out to North Street.

Looking back today, it is difficult to understand why someone would own a 10-acre land-locked plot, half a mile from North Street. The deeds again tell the story. Included in the Adams Farm land is the “Chenery Pasture”, the “Turner Pasture” and the “Ellis Woodlot” all of which had a definite purpose for grazing or forestry with a simple cart-road access to North Street.

The Isaacs Farm

My father settled in Walpole in 1941. Coming from a farm area near Scranton, Pennsylvania, he was attracted by the farm land so close to Boston where he worked at Massachusetts Investor’s Trust (now MFS). He started by purchasing 138 acres including the farm at 1150 North Street from the Leeson family. He then bought several wooded parcels from Frank Allen, Wyman Shaw and Robert Williamson. In 1948 he purchased the Sexton Farm (next to the Hilltop Farm) from the Sexton family and in 1953 he bought the Hillcrest Farm from Abraham Shagoury which included all of the fields in Adams Farm. Altogether, the farm included 460 acres.

During the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s he gradually built a beef cattle operation encompassing the three farms. The operation was a “cow-calf” business in that the herd consisted primarily of female cows which would be bred every summer and then produce a crop of calves the following spring. When the calves reached about a year, they were sent off to a feedlot for eventual slaughter, while the best females were kept to replace the older cows. Each cow and calf were registered with the American Hereford Association and the bulls came from some of the best bloodlines around the country. We had a farm manager and assistant manager who lived in the house at Hillcrest Farm and cared for the animals and the fields. Each summer we would add a couple of students from the Aggie School to help with the hay baling. At the time, there were two other similar operations in the area, Powisset Farm in Dover and Millborn Farm in Sherborn.

Growing up on the farm, there was constant activity—especially in the summer. We hayed about 75 acres of fields between the three farms, as well as the fields owned by Jess Warren (next to Hillcrest) and by the Diman family (the yellow house on Old North Street now owned by the Somers). The bales would be stacked on wagons in the field and then carefully brought down North Street to the various barns. Occasionally we would lose a load in the middle of the street, but the traffic was light in those days and no one seemed to care. Some of the tractors used in the late 1940’s are still used today.

The 25 acres of fields on North Street at the entrance to Adams Farm were both hayed and grazed. The front fields extending from the road to the (now defunct) “pig barn” are very flat and perfect for haying; however, a high water table prevented us from driving over certain portions until the beginning of the summer. We always fertilized these fields every spring and limed them in the fall when needed. The fields in back of the “pig barn” were very wet and, as a result, were mostly grazed. The water hole along the dirt road provided water for the cattle for most of the season.

The isolated field at the end of the long gravel road was called the “back field” for lack of a better name. My theory was that this field was part of a farmstead whose house had been located at the collapsed cellar hole on the path towards the power line. At some point, the path which leads from the northeast corner of this field to North Street must have been a road and a compelling reason to build a farm at that location. We always hayed this field and in 1994 replanted it with alfalfa.

The key to running cattle in that area was good fences. Beef cows are fairly docile most of the time, but when they decide they want to get out, they can build up the momentum of a small import car. We always built board fences along the street and heavy steel wire fences along the other boundaries, but they still managed to get out. I have chased cows as far away as the Bubbling Brook Restaurant and through what were the woods of the Northwood area. Jess Warren’s beautiful flower garden was always the first stop on the cows’ journey.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s the herd size dropped as we concentrated more effort on our farm in South Dartmouth. It also was becoming more difficult to operate a farm outside of Boston for several reasons. As agriculture in the area was gradually replaced by development, many of the support businesses for farms disappeared. For example, it became difficult to find large animal vets who would work on cattle, as well as machinery repairmen who could work on farm equipment. Conversely, the farm managers had to have more specific knowledge in these areas and they were leaving the area as well.

After spending several years at college and graduate school in Cambridge, I moved back to the farm in the early 80’s with my wife Robin. We started rebuilding the fences and gradually bringing the herd back. Robin was from Louisville, Kentucky, and had a strong interest in the pastures and animals.

In the mid-80’s and early 90’s we started a large logging operation, primarily on the Adams Farm land. The land was under a Chapter 61 classification which required selective cutting. We started with a forester who tagged several thousand trees for thinning. After that, Mike Major and Joe Denneen, Jr. became experts with a chain saw as they gradually made their way from the North Street fields to the Edison line. We then skidded the logs out of the woods with a large four-wheel-drive John Deere and a 1941 Farmall M which turned out to be much more maneuverable in the woods. The logs were then cut into four-foot lengths at various landing sites. This operation entailed cutting “logging trails” through the woods which are evident today.

Joe Deneen, Jr. then built one of the largest log splitters I had ever seen after we had bent the I beam on our first splitter. Over the years, we split over a thousand cords of wood.

When my father died in 1991, it was evident that the farm could not continue. We gradually phased it down and then finally had to realize its value as real estate. I renewed the Chapter 61 status in 1992, providing the Town with the opportunity to purchase the property if we were to develop it. I also have restricted the fields of the Sexton farm to remain in agriculture.

I have been very fortunate to have been able to experience this land for much of my life. Robin and I, with our daughters, Katie and Jenny, have walked the path from North Street to the back fields innumerable times. Robin has also ridden through the land on her horse, 5 Alarm, and on many of the endless trails with our friend Rhonda LaVerghetta. I have learned tremendous respect for the land over the years as I have tried to manage it. Through the planting, the fertilizing, the harvesting and the fencing I have gotten to know it intimately—all the wet areas, the rocks, the woodchuck holes, the healthiest soils and the sometimes impenetrable glacial till below the surface. You find that it manages you and all you can do is get it to cooperate.