Excerpt from Saving the Farm; A Journey through Time, Place, and Redemption
You know the feeling - that gentle tug of a place that draws you to it. You may not at first even be aware of it or the pull might be instantaneous. What draws you there? Why? Is it a sight, smell, or a memory from your past that is jarred? The connection
you feel is undeniable as you look around and drink it all in. You feel comfortable there, like the familiarity of home. For each of us what attracts us is a matter of personal experience, preference and choice. But, the message is clear - this place is somehow part of us; it’s a whisper of who we were, are, or would like to be that draws us in and gives us pause.
For each of us the experience is a bit different. It might be the solitude and solace of a place that attracts us or the sense of community and the warmth of friendship. For others it might be a sense of familiarity. It may be the special beauty of a place or the humbling feeling that we are in the midst of something somehow greater than ourselves that gives us a sense of belonging.
Maybe it’s the simple recognition that where you are represents a different time and place, a window into another world gone
What follows is a series of personal reflections, observations, history, and essays about just such a place. Along with a group of others, I began a journey of sorts in 1991 to help preserve and create a place that has drawn hundreds to it and in the process has given us each that sense of connection. It’s a place of solitude, community, and beauty as well as an island of the past in a rushing tide of change - a place to pause, reflect, and experience. It is of all things- a farm.
Located on ten acres of woods and meadows at the intersection of two busy state roads, the Dudley Farm at first glance looks like many other surviving farms from the 19th century throughout New England. But, with a second look, it becomes obvious there’s a difference. Sitting on a slight hill above the road, with its picket fence and stone walls, the farm calls the passer-by.
The regal house and weathered barn have a bearing of permanence and strength as they cling to the land like the Yankee farmers who built them. The meadows and woods climb gently beyond and with the buildings evoke a different time. They draw you in—you look and you’re hooked.
But that’s only part of the story of the farm. It’s also about the Dudley family who for six generations, worked the soil and did their best to survive for over 200 years. Nothing historic happened on the farm nor did any person of importance live there. But, day in and day out they worked, loved, laughed and cried; their farm is a reflection of who they were. Through it we can gain a glimpse into their world; to touch, see and feel the past.
This is also the tale of how the Dudley Farm was saved to become a museum dedicated to the preservation and representation of our rural past. By itself, that story may not be of any great importance, but to the small group that took on the task and the hundreds who have supported their effort to preserve the farm it was. At a time when farms are all but gone in Connecticut, the struggle to save the farm for future generations took on a crusade like quality. For those who struggled to bring the farm to life and the hundreds who visit each year, the Dudley Farm is a special place that tugs at the essence of who we are and were.
Although what happened at the Dudley Farm is unique to Guilford and the surrounding towns in Connecticut, it strongly speaks to issues of development and growth on a regional and national level. During the late 20th century, Guilford, like so many other communities nationwide experienced unprecedented levels of development and sprawl that forever transformed the very
fabric of the community and threatened to destroy much of the unique cultural and historical heritage that had evolved there over 300 years. That transformation and the toll it was taking on the small and once insular community of North Guilford, the home of the Dudley’s and their neighbors since the first decades of the 18th century, was the prime motivating factor in the determined effort to save the farm. When faced with the seemingly unending grind of residential and commercial development that characterized the era, a lament repeated in neighborhoods across Connecticut, New England, and the nation could be heard—is this what we want? As each farm disappeared and each woodland succumbed to the sprawling drive of relentless growth, the Dudley’s farm became a symbolic connection to an agricultural and cultural heritage that was vanishing forever. It was there that a stand was made and thus a lesson for any community that might face the same crisis wrought by the sprawl of modernity. Can the heritage and history that has made us who we are be preserved for future generations or will it be lost forever in the name of progress?
Sure, there are many other historical properties and museums, Connecticut and New England are full of them. The small town of Guilford has five others. Laudably, each preserves an important slice of history from the 17th Century to the early 19th that allows us to peak into the past. Yet, the Dudley Farm is somehow different because it is a story unique in the context of time and place. What has happened there in the years since 1991 is quite remarkable—a story of a community of different people working together to save a place they all became connected to for the present and future generations. They made a stand, they saved the farm and with that a connection to the past.