Friends of Alewife Reservation (FAR)        Join Email List     DONATE!
Get email when website is updated

it's private

Sherwin: Farming on Belmont Uplands
By Jane Sherwin/ Guest Columnist
November 22, 2006, Belmont Citizen-Herald

Belmont is full of hidden treasures. They are not necessarily hard to find, but hidden because they are unknown to so many of us.

The Rock Meadow conservation land, for example, was once the McLean Hospital farm. At the mill ponds with their streams and craggy waterfalls, you might reasonably expect to see some Romantic poet in a loose white shirt, seated on a stone and dreaming with a book and pencil.

And across town there is the Little Pond, Little River and Uplands region. I remember how astounded I was when first introduced to these lovely areas. Without intruding on private property, you can glimpse Little Pond, with its occasional swans, just off Brighton Street, and you can canoe on the Little River, which flows through the Uplands. Who would think, rushing to work across the railroad tracks and past the White Hen Pantry, that such features still exist?

Development of the Uplands is now a serious concern for Belmont, with a focus on the consequences for the town's environmental future. It's worth asking, though, about the Uplands' history. What, if anything, was happening before the Uplands became woody landscape with a unique cluster of silver maples?

One answer is that the Uplands were the home of the Heustis & Son farm for 100 years. The Heustis farm was a fine example of the innovation and energy that typified Belmont's agricultural economy.

In his Belmont Historical Society newsletter of March 1993, Richard Betts tells us that, in 1845, 14 years before Belmont's incorporation, Warren Heustis came from Vermont and married Lucy Ann Hill, daughter of Amos Hill, who gave them 13 acres of land on the Uplands, between Little River and the Arlington town line.

The Heustis family farmed the land for more than a hundred years. Dick Betts quotes an 1894 issue of "The New England Farmer": Heustis & Son had "the largest fancy pig farm" in the region, with "not less than 1200 pigs, all registered stock. Their favorite pig is the short-nosed Yorkshire."

The Heustis family raised the fruits and vegetables that drew annual visits from the Horticulture Society's Fruits Committee, and won numerous beautifully engraved medals for strawberries and other produce, still in the possession of Mrs. Carol Heustis. After the first Warren Heustis' death in 1890, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society published a eulogy in his memory, calling him "a lover of the rose and an esteemed member of the Vegetable Committee."

The Heustis family, like all the other Belmont farmers, were the mainstay of Belmont's economy until mid-century, when conditions changed. Mrs. Heustis tells me that the family sons went off to work for the auto industry in Detroit, where money could be earned. And in 1948 the family sold the land, and the buildings were razed, and as far as I know the Uplands have been quiet for half a century, until now.

Regardless of the outcome of the current struggle, it would be good to see a plaque somewhere on the land, commemorating the Heustis farm and its place in Belmont's history. Whitcomb Street resident Jane Sherwin is a writer, designer and historian who has been examining the town's agricultural past. Her project is titled "The Farm Where You Live."