Celebrating Intervale History: Our Historic Farmstead 

 
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Celebrating Intervale History: Our Historic Farmstead

In celebration of the Intervale Center’s 30th anniversary, this is part of a blog series highlighting the unique historical significance of our land and buildings. Many thanks to Britta Tonn, Architectural Historian, for the preparation of these historic reports. 

The story of the existing Intervale farmstead begins in about 1860 when George Reynolds, a resident of Elmwood Avenue in Burlington, purchased 50 acres of land at the Intervale on the east side of the road. Reynolds purchased another 50 acres in 1863, although he continued to live on Elmwood Avenue in Burlington until the farmhouse was constructed in 1868. This area of the Intervale had already been the location of at least one former farm prior to Reynold’s purchase of the property; since at least the late-18th century, the Intervale generated lumber, potash, corn, flax and various grains. And, of course, it is important to recognize that this history focuses only on the past 200 years of farming by white settlers at the Intervale. Prior to this time, the Intervale had been occupied for thousands of years by the Abenaki people who benefitted from the Intervale’s rich farmland and opportunities for hunting and foraging.

 

The Reynolds family operated a dairy farm on the property which had grown in size to 126 acres by 1870. According to the 1870 Agricultural Census, the total value of the Reynolds farm was $10,000 (which today would have been valued over $180,000). The farm inventory included the following livestock and crops: 3 horses, 21 milk cows, 2 working oxen, 3 cattle, 3 swine, 20 bushels of spring wheat, 10 bushels of rye, 30 bushels of indian corn and 100 bushels of oats. Reynolds’ farm appeared to be average size for a farm in Burlington at the time (note that there were many farms in Burlington at the time as 1870 predates Burlington’s 1880s/ 1890s building boom in the north end and late-19th century/ early-20th century building boom in the south end). Reynolds probably benefitted from his farm’s close proximity to the railroad, which was built through the Intervale in 1861 and quickly became the primary means for Vermont dairy farmers to export their milk and milk products to larger cities in southern New England.

The Reynolds farm was likely developed at the location of an earlier Intervale farm, suggested by the fact that the English hay barn was constructed circa 1830. It is interesting to note that on Sunday, September 24, 1994, a barn which was located on the Intervale Foundation property burned down. This barn was one of two barns that were previously associated with this farmstead.

 

Whether or not these barns were constructed by Reynolds is unknown. However, it is probably that he did add a new barn to the property. Considering to the large size of his dairy herd (21 cows), he would have needed additional space to house them as the English barn would not have had enough room to house his dairy cows plus his 11 other animals.

George Reynolds operated the farm until his death in 1891. His wife, Maria H. Reynolds, continued to live on the property with her three children. Her eldest son Edward Otis Reynolds managed the farm after his father’s death until 1907, when he moved his family (including his mother) to 46 Crombie Street and employed numerous different tenant farmers who lived on the property and operated the dairy. Upon Maria’s death in 1916, the property officially transferred to Edward. When Edward died in 1928, the property transferred to Edward’s second wife and children. In about 1930, Fayette and Ella Calkins purchased the farm.

When they purchased the house, the Calkins family was living in St. Johnsbury, where they had moved in about 1928. Prior to living in St. Johnsbury, the Calkins family operated a farm in Danville beginning in
1918. And, prior to living in Danville, the Calkins rented and operated Riverview farm across Intervale Road for 10 years. Thus, their purchase of the Reynolds farmstead in 1930 was a return to their Burlington farming roots. However, it appears that the Calkins family did not actually live on the farm after they purchased it. At the time, Fayette was employed by the state highway department and later as a carpenter in St. Johnsbury, while his daughter Rena worked as a chief operator at the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company office in St. Johnsbury. The Calkins employed several tenant farmers, including Ernest Sterling, Michael Bolas and Clifton Longley, to operate the farm in their absence.

In about 1937, Ella Calkins moved to the Burlington farm alone, while Fayette remained in the St. Johnsbury area until his death in 1957. Ella’s solo move to Burlington was probably due to the fact that she and Fayette had separated; the 1940 United States Census states that Ella was divorced (although the Burlington City Directories erroneously list her as a widow during the 1940s). In 1941, Rena moved to Burlington to help her mother with the farm. When her mother died in 1947, Rena took over the farm and operated a successful dairy with the help of several hired hands. She continued to live in the farmhouse and operate the farm until 1991 when she was 91 years old. Historically speaking, it is unusual that the farm was operated by women for over 50 years. What is also unusual is that Rena was the last remaining dairy farmer in Burlington by the time she retired. Rena died in St. Johnsbury in 1996. Upon her death, the property transferred to her nephew Paul Calkins.

The Intervale Foundation was established in 1988 with large support from Will Raap, the founder of Gardener’s Supply Company, with the goal of restoring the Intervale land and farmsteads to a community agricultural, business development and recreational resource. After renting the farmstead to the Intervale Foundation for several years once the dairy farm was closed, Paul and his wife Rita donated seven acres of land and buildings comprising of the farmstead to the Intervale Foundation in 2002 and, later, donated an additional 53 acres to the Intervale Center in 2005. When the Intervale Foundation first occupied the farmstead and was formulating its plan for the development of the property, there was uncertainty as to whether or not the barns or the ell of the house could be restored as they were in such a deteriorated state. However, utilizing grants and an easement from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, as well as money from a number of generous donors throughout the years, the Intervale Center has engaged in an incredibly successful restoration of the historic farmstead.

 
 
 
Abby Portman