Hildene Farm in the dene
The Lincolns’ Farming Legacy
Hildene is formed from two old English words: “Hil” meaning “hill” and “dene” meaning “valley with stream.” Robert and wife Mary named their Manchester home for its location on a promontory between the Taconic Mountains to the west, Green Mountains to the east and the Batten Kill flowing through the valley below — hill and valley with stream.
The Lincolns purchased this property in 1902 when it was an active dairy farm. There were barns and two farmhouses that are all still located in the dene. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln did not continue long in the dairy business, but their granddaughter, Peggy Lincoln Beckwith, brought agriculture back to Hildene. She milked Jersey cows and raised beef cattle and sheep. She also tapped the maple trees on the property for syrup. Farming in the dene continues today with the management of an assortment of livestock (including alpaca, sheep, cattle, pigs, rabbits and chickens) as well as vegetable gardens, an orchard, hay fields and an apiary.
In keeping with Hildene’s focus on sustainability, much of what is produced is used onsite for events and is for sale in The Museum Store.
There is also a property-wide composting system—a combination of windrow composting (located in the pasture) and large bin, hot composting (on the lower level of the dene across from the animal barn). All yard waste, farm waste and food scraps from events is recycled. It produces a rich compost that is then used all across the property.
Farmscaping and Sustainability
One of the most important criteria we use in decision making at Hildene is that of sustainability – not just financial sustainability, but social sustainability and in the dene in particular, sustainability of the environment.
Farmscaping decisions are those choices we make when deciding what we plant and when and where we plant it. Ecological impacts are at the forefront of every decision, keeping in mind inclusion of habitat and food sources for pollinators – the bees, butterflies and songbirds that face considerable environmental threats. For instance, not all of the acreage here will be used for food crops. There are perimeter buffers of forage (called pollinator pathways), hedgerows and brush piles to provide habitat and life cycle support for these endangered species.
Another area in the dene is not mowed until August in order to provide a sanctuary for ground-nesting songbirds – Bobolinks, in particular, whose numbers have been decreasing by 2% across North America since 1966. Medium-sized birds, Bobolinks fly 12,500 miles round-trip each year – one of the longest songbird migrations. Males are black with a bright yellow patch on the back of their heads and white patches on their backs and shoulders (as though they are wearing a tuxedo backwards). Females are buff and brown with patterned wings. The Bobolinks’ flight song is a joyous riot of notes and they are fascinating to watch as they fly low to the ground and do their mating dance. They often return to the same breeding grounds each year and Hildene has already seen a marked increase in numbers since establishing the sanctuary less than a decade ago.
BBA-Hildene Farm Farm & Food Studies Program
Our teaching greenhouse includes a headhouse with an office and potting area that also has enough room to incorporate students from local high schools. It has a warmhouse that is a heated, traditional greenhouse with a concrete floor and potting benches and a coldhouse, similar to a high tunnel, that has a dirt floor with plants growing directly in the ground.
As we use the compost we produce to our benefit, we use our produce and livestock to supply food for our own events and weddings.
We have an ongoing partnership with our local high school, Burr and Burton Academy. Our statement of purpose for the BBA-Hildene Farm Program is: “Actively engaging students and guests on a sustainable working landscape for the purpose of creating widespread positive societal change.”
The wetlands that run along the east side of the dene are part of the Batten Kill watershed. They provide habitat for a variety of wildlife including birds, beaver, muskrat, and turtles.
They also absorb excess water from the river during floods. The plant life in the wetlands also slows floodwaters and limits the damage to the surrounding area. They are a very unique and valuable part of the river system. We use them as an outdoor classroom as well, teaching school children the role and value of wetlands.
Our 600 foot floating boardwalk provides access for guests across the wetlands providing a unique opportunity to experience the middle of a wetland complex at water level. It also provides a unique lookout for some of the wildlife that make the wetland home: red wing blackbirds, box turtles, blue heron and frogs, among others. The path and the boardwalk are ADA accessible.
The result of a booming sheep and lumber industry, during the 1800’s, left the Vermont landscape nearly completely deforested. These activities provided materials for woolen mills and lumber mills in the town.
In 2007, Hildene put into place a 25-year forest management plan to assure improved resource quality and with specific activities called for in the next ten to twenty years. These activities are designed to ensure prudent and balanced management practices which will benefit the land and the landowners into perpetuity.
An example of this kind of activity is the recent “shelterwood cut” at the north end of the dene. The purpose of this is to encourage new forest growth. When the next generation of trees take root, the remaining older trees will be harvested. The debris and rotting trunks that have been left, support the regeneration process and provide habit for forest life.
We also use the lumber that is harvested and milled on property to construct some of our new buildings and to produce much of the cordwood we use to heat our buildings.
Our schoolhouse, built in 1832, was one of 14 in Manchester. It is the only one that is still on its original foundation and still used as a schoolhouse. It was on the property when Robert Lincoln purchased this land. It was restored in the 1980s.
Area schoolchildren attend programs here throughout the year. They role play, taking the names of actual students who attended the Hollow School in 1862. They learn to recite, write with quill pens and with chalk on slates and then to play period games like hoops and sticks and walking on stilts.
We have over 3,500 children participate in our camps and school programs each year.