TIMBER HILL FARM'S STORY
A BRIEF HISTORY ~ CONSTANT TRANSFORMATION
The first people to inhabit NH's Lakes Region were the Pemijoasek tribe. Their village (the current Weirs and Paugus area) was the largest in the Northeast and Lake Winnipesauke, 'The smile of the Great Spirit,' was the central hub of trade for the southern tier of the Abnaki Confederacy of Tribes. Native Americans inhabited this region for thousands of years before European conquerers arrived.
As one of the Lakes Region's first homestead farms, Timber Hill Farm's relatively short history has been defined by agricultural ingenuity and adaptability. The Farm was founded in 1784 on the rolling northern side of Meetinghouse Hill - the scenic apex location of Gilford's first meetinghouse, church and other settlement buildings (a few stone foundations are still visible from the road).
In 1789 Revolutionary War Lieutenant Philbrick Rand's house was built at the intersection of the hillside road and the road to the lake. This house, and son Simon Rand's house directly across the road, still rest on their original foundations. The original barn also still sits at the base of the hill - albeit in a new location, across the road, after moving in the late 1800's.
Originally started as a small self-sufficient homestead with the traditional New England / English arrangement of assorted livestock supported by a small hay field, produce field and timber lot, the farm's history is marked by a near-constant metamorphosis. A larger 1800's commercial farm operation was primarily engaged in livestock, with sheep and dairy herds dominating the landscape. Similar livestock adaptations continued through agricultural decline in the 1900's, including rotating dairy, cattle and chicken.
Parkman 'Parky' Howe, Jr., a returning Naval officer from war in the Atlantic, and Howe family patriarch, purchased Timber Hill Farm in the 1940's. The then-tree farm was grown to 1,000 trees before transitioning back to livestock (chicken & beef) and then once again to a dairy operation. Parky's son Andy took over farm operations in the 1980's, while still in his 20's, with the idea of reviving a once thriving New England dairy farm. Andy still guides the farm's agricultural operations today.
THE HOWE FAMILY FARM ~ RESHAPING & DIVERSIFYING
In the late 1980's Andy and wife Martina addressed the realities of a struggling New England dairy climate with an ambitious new plan; bring sustainability to the farm by marketing and selling products directly to the consumer, a first in the farm's history. In 1989 the produce-oriented concept of Beans & Greens Farmstand became a reality, as the Howe's attempted to be the first to grow produce commercially on the rocky hillside.
The Howes purchased a large portion of the former Smith/Rand farm, including the house and barn, on Gilford's Intervale - commonly know as Sawyer's Flats - a mile from Timber Hill Farm. By the early 2000's a bakery, deli and an expanded spring flower program were added, among other new offerings. By 2010, the barn had been renovated, designated a historical landmark and converted to the new farmstand. The Howe's sold the Beans & Greens Farm retail operation, and the historic house, barn and farmstand property to a new ownership group in 2021, prior to their 32nd summer season.
Led by Andy's son Isaac, and his wife Jennifer, the farm-to-table events program was conceived and launched in the mid 2010's, capitalizing and expanding on several years of farmstand hosted farm-to-table dinners in the open fields of Timber Hill Farm. Isaac also purchased the smaller 50 acre Tilton Farm from Andy - a farm contiguous to Timber Hill Farm, albeit lower on the hillside. Prior to the Howe's, the Tilton Family had run this farm since 1884. Tilton Farm renovations began in 2020, to coincide with the farm's bicentennial.
Under stewardship of the Howe Family, today's Timber Hill Farm has returned to its roots as a diverse, self-sufficient operation - the only one of its kind in the Lakes Region. The farm has trended away from retail and now offers more bulk and wholesale product options. Cattle, pigs, turkeys and chicken are seasonally pastured and raised for meat, 60 acres of cleared meadows are dedicated to produce and hay production, 20 acres are pastured and near 200 acres of forest remain for timber harvest and future pasture/field expansion (the farm's wood demand - for heating, timber framing and carpentry - is insatiable). The farm's current sawmill operation is of the modern, mobile variety allowing for a milling yard anywhere on the farm.
New England farms are hugely burdensome, unending maintenance projects and a large scale renovation project to revive the farm's land and buildings is also underway. Howe family improvements include; adding a dairy barn (since removed), pole barn and sugar houses to Timber Hill Farm, restoring both of the Rand farm houses on Gunstock Hill Road (the Philbrick Rand house is no longer in the family), building a timber frame barn behind the Simon Rand house, the restorations of the Smith house and barn expansion on the Intervale (the home of Beans & Greens farmstand), as well as building the timber frame pavilion at Beans & Greens Farm. This is not to mention the ambitious and unprecedented timber framed Howe Barn project.
FARMING IN A NEW CENTURY ~ FINDING SUSTAINABILITY
Rail travel arrived in the Gilford farming community in the 1800's and changed the area forever. Tourism and residential growth quickly boomed as the rest of the world realized how spectacular the Lakes Region is. Over the next century the downturn in the local farming community became a slow death march. Gilford started a Grange in 1875 to protect agriculture in town. It was closed by 1900. Today few farms remain in town, with former fields and pastures now populated by the 'final crop' - houses of modern day settlers.
The majority of these remaining farms are able to endure through a combination of resourcefulness and conservation. Timber Hill Farm, and all Howe family farm land, has been protected by conservation easements. This helps stave off the insatiable desire of southern urbanites to populate and develop our town's last remaining open spaces, particularly farmland, and protects our unique and gorgeous property from the development that's squeezing our farm from every direction.
The newly monikered concept of 'agritourism' is an important element to the future, and past, of any small New England farm. Starting in the 1800's farms offered room & board to the Big Lake's first vacationers as a means to subsidize their income. Ever since farms have been trying to tap into revenue potential of the public in any way possible. Agritourism has already been around a few hundred years - only recently labeled 'agritourism' to stabilize and legitimize the practice as applied to modern zoning and planning concepts. Timber Hill Farm, unfortunately, endured years of disagreement and conflict with neighbors' due to the public's misunderstanding of agritourism's critical role in helping small family farms survive.
Agritourism was eventually strengthened, and our farm-to-table events program protected, by amending Gilford town zoning as well as passing multiple bills into New Hampshire state statute - specifically senate bills SB-345 and SB-412 (followed, and complimented, by house bill HB-663). SB-412 was crucial in eliminating local prohibition of agritourism on all NH farmland. The Howe family was intimately involved in conceptualizing, writing and passing these laws.
Here at Timber Hill Farm we're committed to a farming future, and we've gone to great lengths to secure and protect some of the Lakes Region's most historically important, and agriculturally productive, farm lands. These lands will most likely be the last open farmland that survives the next century, as population growth and suburban sprawl continue to dominate the Lakes Region's landscape. By providing opportunities for the public to visit and interact with the farm, our mission is to galvanize the farms' historic importance, and future relevance, as one of the area's last remaining original farmlands.
** For more Gilford and Lakes Region history read 'The Gunstock Parish,' by Aldair Mulligan