Generations of Land Conservation
“To me, Windy Row is one of the last rural roads in Peterborough. Almost all of it north of Spring Road now has conservation easements on it.”
This happy fact is in no small part thanks to Sandy Greene and his extended family. Sandy comes from a long line of land conservationists. It all started in 1912 when his grandparents, Mary and Sydney Williams, bought an old farm on Windy Row to use as a summer home. The 1820 brick house, which lacked plumbing, and the surrounding 80 acres of worn-out land were part of a working farm that had gone bankrupt. But this didn’t faze his grandparents, who modernized the buildings and were soon raising sheep in the pastures. Sydney commuted to his office in Boston by train while Mary raised five children.
“A few years later my grandparents went on an afternoon drive. They came upon a country auction and stopped to watch. Presently the auctioneer said, ‘Who wants to buy the land, who will give me a dollar an acre?’ There were no takers, so my grandfather, standing in the back, said, ‘I’ll give you 50 cents an acre.’ There were no other bids, so the auctioneer said, ‘Sold to the man in the back!’ To which Grandpa said, ‘Great, now where is it?!’”
The land turned out to be on Cobb Hill, where there had been a substantial flax and linen weaving colony. Over the years, Sydney would acquire adjacent lots as they became available, until he owned a block of more than 1,000 acres including the old Jaquith house, which still exists. (There are at least seven old cellar holes in the Sydney Williams Woods.) Mary and Sydney each continued to purchase land over the years, eventually owning over 2,000 acres in the Monadnock Region.
A Family Commitment to Conservation
After Sandy’s grandfather died in the 1963, much of the land he had acquired was sold, but his mother Jane Greene, in combination with her sister Mary Fyffe and her niece Charlotte Williams, bought the land on Cobb Hill.
“Mother bought it so it wouldn’t fall into the hands of a developer. We all felt close to the Jaquith house; we picked blueberries at the top of Cobb Hill when we were children.”
Sandy grew up in Guilford, Connecticut, down the road from a working farm. The farmer had a woodlot which he timbered with his brother using horses, as they had no tractor. When the brother finally died in the early 1960s, the woodlot was put up for sale. Sandy’s parents joined other like-minded Guilford residents to form the Guilford Land Conservation Trust, one of the first land trusts in Connecticut, and used the Trust to acquire the woodlot to protect it from development. Subsequently his parents bought two Colonial-era houses in Guilford which were earmarked for demolition, fixed them up, and then sold them with preservation restrictions. Jane also bought her mother’s house in Wellesley and put conservation restrictions on that as well. As for the land she held on Cobb Hill in Hancock and Harrisville (745 acres), she gave it to the Harris Center. She conserved all the land she owned!
A commitment to land conservation and environmental stewardship was shared by many members of Sandy’s extended family.
“My mother’s sister Mary Fyffe was an early conservationist. In the mid-1950s, she took it upon herself to clean up the Charles River in Wellesley and Newton, Massachusetts, which was then highly polluted. She took photos of the banks, documenting the pollution companies were dumping, and then marched in the front door to confront management. She gave lectures, lobbied politicians, and wrote letters to editors. Eventually, she was successful. The Mary Hunnewell Fyffe footbridge across the Charles River was named for her in recognition of her efforts.”
A Sense of Place
If land conservation is in the blood, Sandy got his share! In 1971, when the Windy Row house was eventually put up for sale, no other family members expressed an interest in buying it. So Sandy purchased it, together with the 45 acres on the west side of the road, as a weekend retreat. He, his two sisters, and Mary Fyffe also bought the land on the east side of Windy Row – 238 acres with the caretaker house. In the late 1990s, Sandy donated an easement on his land to the Monadnock Conservancy. Then, about 10 years ago, Sandy, his cousin (Mary’s daughter), and two sisters put a conservation easement on the 238 acres across the road.
“Everyone was totally in favor it. Everybody in the family’s been preserving what they can.”
When Sandy retired in 2007, he and his wife Frances moved to the Windy Row house year-round. After spending his professional career in the world of finance and working in New York, Boston, and San Francisco, Windy Row is clearly where Sandy feels a sense of place. His home offers an expansive view of pastures and Mount Monadnock, where he can watch the annual movement of the sun north to the summer solstice and then south to the winter solstice. Sandy loves the land and the feeling of connection he has to it.
“It’s by far the most constant aspect of my life. This was always home base – I feel very grounded here. I first came here when I was six or seven months old. There’s an old guestbook that belongs to the house that documents our visits; we came here every summer for a week or two to visit our grandparents.”
The family tradition of working the land continues through Sandy, as he maintains a small flock of sheep, which are dutifully guarded by two Maremma sheep-guarding dogs. The sheep and a goat preserve the pastures and, as Sandy says, “use the land.” Two small house dogs and the retired barn cat complete the family. Sandy and his wife also maintain an extensive vegetable garden and have brought the flower gardens around the home back to life. In the winter, the sugar bush started by his grandfather Sydney many years ago is now being used.
“It’s an easy way to feel as though I’m a farmer!”
Upon retirement, Sandy also became more intimately involved with the Harris Center as a trustee on the Harris Center Board. He had been asked to be on the Board years earlier, but hadn’t had the time to devote to it while still working in Boston. After serving on the Board as a highly valued member from 2004 through 2010, Sandy was invited back in 2016. He is currently serving his second term and serves as the Board Treasurer as well as Finance Committee Chair.
Sandy and his extended family have been extremely generous to the Harris Center, Monadnock Conservancy, and the whole Monadnock Region. In stewarding and conserving so much land, they have given New Hampshire a gift that truly does live on throughout the generations.
For more information on the Harris Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations, please contact Lisa Murray at (603) 525-3394 or by email.