timber Hill Farm'S STORY
~ A BRIEF HISTORY; CONSTANT TRANSFORMATION ~
As one of the Lakes Region's first farms, Timber Hill Farm's history has been defined by agricultural ingenuity and adaptability. Coinciding with the choice of an initial top-of-the-hill town center for Gilford, Timber Hill Farm began work in the 1780's. Upon the apex of Meetinghouse Hill - now Gunstock Hill and home of Timber Hill Farm - sat Gilford's meetinghouse, church and other original settlement buildings (a few stone foundations are still visible from the road). Gunstock Hill Rd was planned in 1789, the same year Revolutionary War Lieutenant Philbrick Rand's house was built at the bottom of the current road. The original house and son Simon Rand's house, directly across the road, are still both on their original foundations. The original Rand barn also still sits at the base of the hill, albeit in a new location after moving in the late 1800's.
Timber Hill Farm has undergone many changes in its history. Originally started as a small self-sufficient 1700's farm with the traditional New England / English arrangement of a few animals, hay field, produce field and timber lot, its history is marked by a near-constant metamorphosis. The mid to late 1800's found the farm engaged in livestock, with sheep and the late 1800's dairy herd dominating the landscape. The 1900's brought more transition when in the 40s the farm was sold to Howe family patriarch Parkman 'Parky' Howe Jr, when he returned from war in the Atlantic. The then-tree farm was grown to 1,000 trees before transitioning back to livestock (chicken and beef) and once again to the subsequent dairy operation. Parky's son Andy assumed control in the early 80's.
~ THE HOWE FAMILY; RECLAIMING, RESHAPING AND DIVERSIFYING ~
Andy and wife Martina addressed the need to move on from the rapidly dying New England dairy business with an ambitious new plan: to 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. By the early 2000's Beans & Greens had added a bakery, spring flowers and a deli, among other farmstand offerings. The Howes purchased a large portion of the former Smith/Rand farm, as well as the house and barn, on Gilford's Intervale, commonly know as Sawyer's Flats. The barn was later renovated, designated a historical landmark and converted to the home of the farmstand. The Howes also purchased the Tilton/Thurston Farm just below Timber Hill Farm on Gunstock Hill (owned by the Tilton family since 1884).
Today's Timber Hill Farm has returned to its original roots as a diverse, self-sufficient operation - the only one of its kind in the Lakes Region. Cattle, pigs, turkeys and chicken are pastured and raised for meat, 60 acres of cleared meadows are dedicated to produce and hay production, with 20 more in pasture and near 200 acres of forest remain for timber harvest to meet the farm's demand for heating and numerous timber framing and carpentry projects. 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 a hugely burdensome, unending maintenance project and a large scale renovation project to revive the farm's land and buildings is also well underway. Howe family improvements include adding a dairy barn (since removed), pole barn and sugar houses to the Gunstock Hill farm, restoring both of the Rand farm houses on Gunstock Hill [the Philbrick Rand house is no longer in the family], building a new three story timber frame barn behind the Simon Rand house, the restorations of the Smith house and barn on the Intervale (the home of Beans & Greens farmstand), adding the timber frame pavilion to Beans & Greens Farm, as well as the ongoing restoration of the Tilton Farm house, buildings and property. This is not to mention the ambitious and unprecedented Howe Barn project.
~ THE HOWE FARMS; FIGHTING FOR AGRICULTURE'S FUTURE ~
Rail travel had 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. Today, only a few farms remain in town, with most farm fields now populated by the 'final crop' - wooden houses filled with modern day settlers. The vast majority of these remaining farms are able to endure through a combination of resourcefulness and conservation. All Howe family farm land has been protected by conservation easements, forever staving off the insatiable desire of southern urbanites to populate and develop our town's last remaining open spaces, particularly farmland.
The newly monikered concept of 'agritourism' is an important element to the future, and past, of any small New England farm. A concept dating to Lakes Region farms offering room & board to the Big Lake's first vacationers as a means to subsidize their income, as a practical matter agritourism's 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 misunderstanding upon neighbors' insistence the farm should engage only in agritourism activities and farm-to-table events if they allowed it. Agritourism was eventually strengthened, and the farm's farm-to-table program permanently protected, by changing town zoning as well as the passing of multiple state agritourism laws, specifically SB-345 and SB-412 (and the subsequent HB-663). SB-412 was crucial in eliminating local prohibition of agritourism on all NH farms. The Howe family was intimately involved in the conceptualization, creation and passing of these laws.
The Howe family is committed to a farming future, and have gone to great lengths to secure and protect some of the Lakes Region's most historically important, and agriculturally productive, farm lands. They will most likely be some of the only to survive 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, the goal is to galvanize the farms' historic importance, and future relevance, as some of the area's last remaining original farms.
In the literal and metaphorical center of the farm, designed and built to highlight amazing views to the north, Timber Hill's event space provides clear, tangible views of the farm's past and future.
* For more Gilford and Lakes Region history read 'The Gunstock Parish,' by Aldair Mulligan *