historical picture of farm house

Our staff are lucky to spend their professional lives trying to deepen our understanding of Great Bay. Our interest in the estuary includes investigating how people relate to Great Bay now, and how they have throughout history. Our cultural history and natural history are interdependent, and whether we are reflecting on Native American summer camps on our shores, colonial trading aboard the Gundalow, the industrial mills our rivers powered, or the current debates about the impacts of development. It is always a thrill to link specific historic activities and trends to the lands that we now steward and to be given an opportunity to interpret both the natural resource and the history of Great Bay. Last week, GBNERR hosted a Lunch and Learn that illuminated the history of a specific Wildlife Management Area within GBNERR, Glenn Cove (you can watch the recorded lecture here).

Glenn Gove WMA is located on the eastern shore of Great Bay and encompasses several fields that are managed by NHFG. One of these fields had a life estate when it was purchased in 2000, a deal that a landowner can make where they sell the land, but are allowed to live on it until they pass away. The life estate expired in 2018, and NHFG took over management of a farm and the associated outbuildings. The site includes a farmhouse, garage, barn, apartment building and three cottages. GBNERR secured a large federal grant, and the NHFG secured state funding to improve public access and create visiting researcher housing on this spectacular property.

However, before any federal funds can be spent on a project like this one, the state needs to assess the historic values of a site’s landscape, buildings and archeology. To do this, New Hampshire Fish and Game worked with the Division of Historical Resources and the Preservation Company to research the history of the farm.

The site in Greenland has been farmed since the 1700s, with a house and barn in about the same place that they stand today. Those original structures burned down in 1915, and the Pray family rebuilt the farmhouse in the Colonial Revival style. But the Pray family did not stay long in farming, and this was a common trend.  In the early 1900s, the growth of industry, western competition, costs, and poor soil caused some New Hampshire farmers to quit farming. In 1900, there were nearly 1500 vacant farms statewide. New Hampshire’s post-Civil-War decline in farming and population led the state to initiate a program aimed at selling its abandoned farms. The state legislature passed an act to encourage immigration into the deserted farms and the state board of agriculture, advertised the farms as summer homes for wealthy urbanites through a series of publications from 1900-1932.

The wealthy Kennard family purchased the farm from the Pray family, and planted orchards and started a poultry business in addition to dairy farming. There were three Kennard sons, and they all studied agriculture in college, brining modern farming techniques back with them. In 1934 the Kennard family sold the farm to the Emery family. The Emerys were from Boston, and purchased the farm to live off the land. Over time, they found several ways to expand their income on the farm – raising chickens and dairy cows; operating an ice fishing access, bait and storage area; and ultimately as landlords as the area became popular first as a vacation area, and then as a bedroom community. In the 1920s-1940s cottages along Great Bay were popular summer vacation destinations. Families would come to fish, swim and hunt. The Emery family built three seasonal and weekly rental cottages on the property in the 1930s and 40s for summer use. By the mid-1940s the construction of Pease Air force Base and the GI bill had created a housing boom in the area, and the cottages were converted to year round rentals, and in the 1950s, the family converted a turkey coop into five small apartments. Farming on the property was done by the 1960s, and the family lived on the farm and rented housing units there until New Hampshire Fish and Game took over management in 2018.

New Hampshire Fish and Game will be restoring the farmhouse for use by visiting scientists and will create a garage, picnic pavilion, bathrooms, and create a boat access ramp at this site over the next few years. We will be working closely with the Division of Historical Resources to make sure we conserve and recreate historic features in the farmhouse and that the placement and design of other buildings is aligned with the agricultural history of the site. A big part of our mission is education; and we will use what we have learned about this farm and farming in southeastern New Hampshire in interpretive programs, kiosks or exhibits at Glenn Cove.  It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to connect New Hampshire citizens to the estuary and to our local history; and we cannot wait to get started.

-Cory Riley, Reserve Manager