When my father, Gordon Abbott Jr., was director of The Trustees of Reservations from 1966 to 1984, I appreciated what he did, but not in the way I do now. Each weekday morning, he would leave our home in Manchester-by-the-Sea to essentially fulfill the mission of Charles Eliot, who in 1891 founded TTOR “for the purposes of acquiring, holding, maintaining, and opening to the public . . . beautiful and historic places . . . within the Commonwealth.”
To a young girl, many of the places my father drove to meant nothing beyond their funny-sounding names, like Bartholomew’s Cobble in Sheffield (lovely mountain vistas and rocky knolls), Naumkeag in Stockbridge (a magnificent Gilded-Age mansion with gardens), and Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge on Nantucket (a haven for wildlife). In the course of a day, he thought nothing of driving out to the Berkshires and back or flying over to Martha’s Vineyard, where he eventually acquired Wasque, nearly 1,000 acres of beach, marshland, a wildlife refuge, and a Japanese-style garden on Chappaquiddick Island. Occasionally, my father strapped a canoe to his car and drove to Mashpee “to work!” my siblings and I exclaimed to our classmates, screaming with laughter. Little did we know my father was working to secure even more land for the Mashpee River Reservation, which he did in 1979. (The Trustees received more land in 1998).
My father loved to engage with nature and did so in a very active way. On weekends we’d visit TTOR properties for pleasure, often hiking around Agassiz Rock in Manchester-by-the-Sea, strolling down Crane Beach on the Crane Estate in Ipswich, or sailing around Misery Islands in Salem Sound. Come winter, we’d head over to Medfield to skate on the glossy, black-ice ponds of Rocky Woods or cross-country ski around Notchview in Windsor. One fall afternoon when I was 11, my younger sister and I accompanied my father to tea with Mr. and Mrs. Appleton, former owners of Appleton Farms in Hamilton, the country’s oldest continuously operating farm. After walking around the leaf-strewn property and visiting the dairy cows, we retired to their parlor for tea and fruitcake, where my father and the Appletons talked business and my sister and I pet the family dogs. I left with fond memories of time spent with my father and a gracious older couple; he left having forged a deeper friendship with the Appletons, who bequeathed the farm to the Trustees upon Mr. Appleton’s death in 1974. More land was deeded in 1998, and now Appleton Farms grows vegetables for a Community Supported Agriculture program, sells the farm’s beef, eggs, milk, and fresh and aged cheeses in the Dairy Store, and offers cooking classes, workshops, and even summer camp for kids.
Although my father was the first person to create membership for TTOR, I did not join the organization until last year. What sparked the change was getting a dog a month before my father died. My husband and I were searching for places to take our tiny Coton de Tulear puppy, BiBi, for a walk, where she could run off-leash in a beautiful, uncrowded environment. One morning driving around Dover, I stumbled upon Chase Woodlands, nearly two miles of trails lined with ferns, white pine, hemlock, and yellow birch. Soon after, we discovered Dover’s Noanet Woodlands, home to nearly 20 miles of forest paths, along with a stunning view over Boston from the top of Noanet Peak. Suddenly, those funny-sounding places and far-flung towns my father had visited in my youth started coming alive in a whole new way. Thus, last summer, prior taking BiBi on a walk around Hingham’s World’s End — the first property my father acquired for TTOR — my husband and I gave the ranger our credit card and became members.
“Getting outdoors with family and kids, that was the vision of Eliot,” says Barbara Erickson, TTOR’s current (and first female) director. “TTOR is a passport to appreciate the diversity and scenic beauty of Massachusetts — the waterfalls and gorges, parks, historic estates, gardens, forests and coasts.”
With TTOR celebrating its 125th anniversary this May, Erickson plans to continue staying “loud about who we are, what we do, and the quality programming that connects people to the land.” Beyond getting more involved with coastal land protection, Erickson wants to save more places where people are living, such as urban areas. TTOR currently owns and stewards 62 urban gardens to further the link between agriculture and land. The organization also serves as lead programming director for the demonstration kitchen at Boston Public Market, the only locally sourced market of its kind in the United States and which also houses a stall run by Appleton Farms, where you can buy their dairy products as well as cheeses from across New England.
“I’d also like to see a real TTOR place in Boston, especially along the waterfront,” says Erickson. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t have a world-class, large-scale park.”
Growing up, I always felt that TTOR was my father’s thing. In fact, he was so committed to the organization that even after he’d retired, he wrote, “Saving Special Places, A Centennial History of The Trustees of Reservations: Pioneer of the Land Trust Movement.” But now that I’ve found a way to connect with TTOR on my own, it’s my thing, too. My husband and I recently stayed at The Guest House at Field Farm in Williamstown, a 1948 Bauhaus-inspired house set on four miles of trails that meander past gardens, sculptures, and fields. We have walked around the Coolidge Reservation in Manchester-by-the-Sea, 66 acres of trails with sweeping vistas of the North Shore coastline over the Ocean Lawn. I want to take a cooking class at The Kitchen at Boston Public Market, stay in one of the newly refurbished guest rooms at The Inn at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, and, above all, return to Appleton Farms.Victoria Abbott Riccardi can be reached at email@example.com.