Many people lament today that Hopkinton is becoming too built up, with housing developments and retail and industrial buildings springing up on previously quiet stretches of land.
Hundreds of years ago, from Hopkinton’s founding, through its years as a bustling shoemaking town, and even to the late 20th century, the landscape was different. Dozens of farms once could be found here -- growing produce and fruits, raising cattle and chickens -- for customers as far away as Boston. New England’s rocky soil has always been tough to cultivate, and one can only imagine the resilience of these first farmers.
Many early “planters” relocated from Framingham to the eastern edge of Hopkinton in the early 1700s. They took out 99-year leases for the land, paying rent to the trustees of Harvard College, which had purchased the area from native Americans (who no doubt had their own farms) when Hopkinton was founded. In 1742, the cost of the lease was just one penny per acre each year. Eventually, many of these early farms in East Hopkinton became buried beneath Ashland Reservoir.
The writings of the late Hopkinton historian Gordon Hopper reference many farms and the people who worked them. Saddle Hill was a popular growing and grazing area because its higher altitude gave it a longer growing season. Old timers told Hopper that the farms furthest up the hill gained an additional month without frost. Entire families came for the day to pick blueberries from Saddle Hill’s abundant fields. One enterprising man, Silvester Gay, would purchase blueberries from the growers then re-sell them in Boston.
Five generations of the Morse family owned Morse Farms, located on Fruit Street, for 125 years. The earliest Morses, Seth and Abigail, established the farm well before the Revolutionary War. Old Hopkinton plans and maps dating back to 1831 depict land owned by the Morses. Eventually, the Morses sold and the area became the Carver Hill Farm, raising 500 grazing sheep. Later, in 1959, Edward Turcotte bought the property and raised turkeys, as many as 50,000 at a time.
Starting around 1840 an Irish widower named Keany settled in Hopkinton with his 10 children. Keany bought land around what is today Proctor Street and eventually expanded into Saddle Hill and to the corner of Elm and Wood streets. The family made their living by raising cattle and growing fruit. Their part of town became known as “Keanyville.”
J. Howard Leman, a Boston textile magnate, bought five farms along Pond and Winter streets in the early 20th century. Leman eventually expanded his farm to about 600 acres by buying up other farmland from the Kimball, Temple, Wheeler, Baker, Hill and Aldrich families. Leman ran a bustling dairy operation that supplied milk and cream to railroads for their dining cars. He also donated many dairy items to the former Bear Hill School.
“The farm is well stocked with valuable stock, and his turkeys and fowl are of the purest strain,” one Westboro newspaper reported in 1908.
In an interview with Hopper, Upton resident Vera Burns, who was part of the Cheney family of Bear Hill, recalls Leman’s fields of corn, acres of apple trees and grazing areas where as many as 600 cattle once fed. She also recalled that the farm was a training ground for racehorses and their jockeys.
Despite his early success, Leman eventually lost his fortune and had to sell his property. His former ice house still stands on the property now owned by Ron and Kathy Yankee, near the intersections of School and Pond streets.
Around the same time as Leman Farms, Cold Spring Farm operated near the intersections of Ash and Chestnut streets. In the early 20th century, the farm raised registered cows and employed more than a dozen milkers. It also included a creamery, a butter churn, gasoline-powered generator and a sterilizing plant. The farm’s dairy products traveled by train to hotels and other customers in Boston.
Many longtime Hopkinton residents today can still remember Terry Farm, which was located on the present-day site of the high school, its surrounding athletic fields, and the Hopkinton Center for the Arts. The Terrys grazed cattle and sold dairy products, and allowed their friends and neighbors to skate on their pond and ride horses through their property. The Terry family sold the property to the town in 1995, but their farmhouse and barn – now part of the HCA – are a reminder of bygone days.
The Colella family also ran a thriving farm, which supplied their supermarket for many years. The earliest Colellas emigrated from Italy and bought 100 acres in an area of town now known as Charlesview. The Colella’s grew apples, peaches, plums and nectarines and sold them to customers at their farm stand, which eventually became the market.
Smaller, specialized farms also could be found. Old deeds dating back to 1812 reference an area near Cedar Swamp that was known as the Rice cranberry bog. In the mid-20th century, Honey Hill Farm on Hayden Rowe raised chickens and sold eggs.
Today Hopkinton has just a handful of working farms. Among them are Pratt Farm on Fruit Street, which last year sold some of its acreage to the town but will continue to sell fresh produce, corn and pumpkins. On Hayden Rowe, near the former Terry Farm, Water Fresh Farm sells fresh hydroponically grown vegetables.
And near the former Leman farm, at the bottom of School Street, Hopkinton couple Laura Davis and Donald Sutherland are growing crops for the Hopkinton Farmers Market, which is bringing the joys of homegrown produce to today’s locavores. The market will be open on the town common from 1 to 5 p.m. every Sunday, starting June 12.