Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Visit to French Farm, the Gentlemen's Farm in the Heart of Greenwich Ct

The original caretaker's cottage of French Farm

September 15, 2013:  It could not have been a more glorious fall day for the open “house” of French Farm.  If you live in Greenwich, then you are most likely familiar with French farm, which is located on Lake Avenue, quite near the intersection of Lake and Round Hill Rd.  Like many, I have craned my head many times as I have driven up or down Lake Ave, usually in admiration of the seasonal displays that often grace the entrance.  It’s most often the gigantic pumpkins that keep me transfixed and I’m suspecting they will be making their annual appearance any day now.

French Farm is a gentleman’s farm that was developed as such in 1906 and consisted of a manor house (since spun off from the Farm and a private residence) with a caretaker’s cottage, carriage keeper’s cottage, greenhouse, barn and silo, chicken coop
Eggs laid by exotic chickens
and garaging added in the early 20th century.  The farm was the first property to be accepted into the National Registry of Historic Places and was done so in 1975.  The application for the Registry, http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/75001918.pdf,  provides the history of the farm.  Be sure to read the section “Statement of Signifcance” to see why the farm is so important to the town’s history.

The architect for the original manor house,  Henry van Buren Magonigle, has an impressive resume, having trained with Clavert Vaux and Frederick Olmstead, creators of Central Park (Olmstead and his sons were the architects for the Khakum Wood community, developed in the early 1900s as well), as well as the firm McKinn, Mead & White.   The manor house was built in 1906 for the son of well known poet Sidney Lanier, and was sold just one year later to Nathan Allen, a financier who founded the Gypsy Tea House in Boston and who was the secretary of the prestigious Garden Club of America in NYC.  Allen purchased the land next to his home, and had architect Magonigle design the buildings which would allow him to operate his gentleman’s farm of close to 40 acres.
The greenhouse (left side of building) and carriagemen's quarters

In 1972, Allen left the farm, which had since sold off much of its acreage, to his stepchildren, including David Wierdsma.  David was in the advertising and public relations field, and founded the First Report of New York, which was a weekly newsletter that reviewed every gallery opening in NYC.  He was a longtime admirer of sculpture Mary Sister Marcel Duchamp, and when her collection of works came on the market he purchased several pieces.  The later sale of these pieces provided the funds to develop the gardens and purchase art pieces which would punctuate the grounds.

Mr. Wierdsma had a wide network of friends and enjoyed entertaining them with walks around the farm to see his exotic animals and specialty gardens, many of which are still in tact (the gardens that is).  Concerned that the farm be preserved and that it’s cultural and historic aspects are a living link to the past, Mr. Wiredsma provided for the farm to be in a trust, Friends of French Farm.  His wish was that the farm be used for educational programs on farmyards, preservation, culture, and organic landscapes.  Judging by the many of the families and garden lovers that were enjoying plein aire painting, crafts, games, a treasure hunt, garden and architectural tours yesterday, Mr. Wierdsma’s vision has been carried forward.  Many thanks to the Greenwich Historic Society and the Friends of French Farm for a wonderful afternoon.
A painter enjoys a day of whimsy and fun on the one day of the year that French Farm is open to the public

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