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Beaver Brook Association

History - Maple Hill Farm

The text for this page, on the "History of Maple Hill Farm", is taken from the Beaver Brook Historical Archives; my thanks to Janet MacFarland for making this information available for website use.

Old photographs, that complement the history of Maple Hill Farm, were lent to Beaver Brook by Bill Colburn, a direct descendant of Franklin Colburn, who was the owner of Maple Hill Farm from1865 to1917. (In the photograph, that's Bill, as a youngster, visiting Maple Hill Farm during the 1960's.) We thank Mr. Colburn for lending Beaver Brook these photographs; they make the story of Maple Hill Farm come alive for all of us.

The Beginning

In 1738, Hollis was then called West Parish of Dunstable. Nathanial Blood was in charge of what we now call Maple Hill Farm. It was a self-sustaining, multi-crop family farm. Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court gave land grants to reliable heads of familites, with the understanding that they must live in town and support it and the parish minister. There could not be any absentee landlords. No squatting was allowed on these New England settlements, and the territory belonged to the King.

By 1739, the settlers of West Dunstable had held their 1st parish meeting at the inn of Benjamin Farley, to elect town officers and levy taxes. Nathanial Blood's farm was first on the tax list. More lands in the area did not settle rapidly until peace reigned in the area, around 1725. Native American wars were ending and many people were decimated by smallpox.

The Dunstable Township broke up in 1740 when a dispute over the boundary line between Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Province of New Hampshire was settled. In 1746, Hollis obtained its charter as a New Hampshire town. Initially, the first spelling of Hollis was Holles, who was the Duke of Newcastle from whom Governor Wentworth purchased his position. After the revolution, the spelling of the town changed to Hollis.

Town sites were most often located near natural marshy meadows, held in common to provide forage for livestock. Hollis common meadows were south of Worcester Road, kept marshy by Beaver Brook. This section was named Fog End.

The Buildings

The first building at Maple Hill was gone, but the site was still standing in 1782, and then gone by 1814. The remains of a filled cellar hole were still quite evident near the eastern corner of the farm (by the road), when Franklin Colburn took over in 1865.

The second building is the house we know today. There isn't any record of when it was constructed. It consisted of a two-room house, with the kitchen and bedroom facing east. Sometime before 1826, two more rooms were added on the south end, with an attic and the roof facing east. There were enclosed front stairs and semi-enclosed back stairs rising over a large center chimney. Upstairs, there were two bedrooms; only the east one was finished and furnished.

Early Land Owners

Nathaniel Blood died in 1782. One of his three sons, Francis Blood farmed the 95 acres. It exchanged hands in 1807 to Benjamin Farley, who added 10 acres of woodland beyond Beaver Brook. He lived there briefly and then turned it over to Captain Sam Smith, who did the farming for Benjamin Farley. Farley's daughter, Rebecca, married Moses Hardy in 1820; in 1826 she purchased the farm, which was now 140 acres. She and Moses farmed in halves with Captain Sam Smith.

Moses Hardy engaged in coopering. The Smiths moved to an adjoining farm in 1838. Moses and Rebecca Hardy developed the farm into what we know today. They added more land, the total was nearly 175.8 acres. They began building projects. They added the well (the kitchen), sheds between the house and the barn, and added a full second story. They also turned the roof to the south. In 1854, they built a new barn on the site of the old one. The Coopering shop was old and stood on a knoll to the east; they never made any improvements to the coopering shop.

The Franklin Colburns

Moses Edward Hardy died in 1865. One of his daughters, Mary Ann, married Franklin Colburn, who was born in Brookline and worked in the Coopering Business in Brookline. They moved to the farm to care for the widowed Mrs. Hardy. Franklin continued his Coopering Business by building a new coopering shop (now the library). He also became an enthusiastic farmer.

He planted the sugar maple trees in 1876 that now tower on the east side of the house and several which still line the roadway, and he named the place “Maple Hill Farm”. He was one of the pioneers in Hollis in setting out peach orchards, and he raised strawberries for the market. He kept cows and poultry and lumbered his woodland.

The farm was exceptionally neat, with fences and walks scythed clean, and he was known to keep his tools rust-free. A stalwart churchman “He read every morning from the Bible, and asked God’s blessing before every meal but never at such length as to become tiresome to his children.”

He too made changes in the buildings. He took out chimneys in 1871 and 1874 on the east and west side of the property. He also removed the big center chimney These were replaced with chimneys from the last bricks made at Brick Kiln in Brookline. In 1878 he tore down the old shed that connected the well to the barn, and built the present linking shed, thus completing the existing line of buildings as we see them now.

Mary Ann, his wife, was very fond of flowers, birds, and animals. Present Hollis people remember the house as filled with flowers in the summer. She was known for her flower and vegetable gardens. It became a custom for her to take children down to the Great Pasture at the end of the lane on Sunday afternoons for nature study.

The Summer House and The Children

The Summer House was called the Gazebo; it was built around 1880. According to one recollection, it was painted white with green trim and had roses growing on it. There, Mrs. Colburn received guests and served tea.

The Colburns had five children. The three boys all went to the New York City area and did not farm. Many people were leaving farms at that time. One brother retired, married, and bought the Marshall place across the road. The two daughters did not marry. The older, Bertha, became a school teacher in New York.

Minnie Colburn

The younger daughter, Minnie, was a rare woman for her day, in that she went on to school in the sciences after graduating from Framingham State Normal School. She taught in Hollis for a year and a half in District 1. The town report of 1894 records her salary for that year at $100.00.

Then she became both a teacher in the Massachusetts Public Schools and a graduate student herself. At Harvard she was a special student in physics. At Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, she studied Invertebrate Embryology. At Woods Hole she studied Comparative Anatomy and Marine Invertebrates. She followed this with a year’s study at Radcliffe in several sciences during the school year 1903-1904. Then it all stopped. Her notes say, ‘Lack of funds prevented return to Radcliffe”. She worked in Srpingfield as a teacher for six years, became ill, and came home to recuperate, staying on to care for her aging parents.

When her parents died, she remained at Maple Hill and ran the farm on a reduced scale, with periodic hired help. She rented out hayfields, did not keep cows, only horses. She continued lumbering; pictures from the 1920's show large pine logs being taken out along the lane. She sold fruits and vegetables, set out orchards of apples and peaches. She kept bees, built a pigeon loft, had a collection of "fancy fowl", guinea hens, doves and pigeons.

Minnie was quiet but friendly. She owned a horse-covered buggy and later, a car. She treated the car like a horse, expecting it to keep its head and stay on the road. She was an avid gardener and gave away lilacs and flowers in the spring near the cooper shop. She taught botany to children. In 1930, Minnie inherited the Marshall Place from her brother. Minnie died in 1944 a the age of 75. Maple Hill ceased to be an active farm.

The Initials of Minnie's father, Franklin Colburn, were still visible on a Beech Tree in 1988.

Adelaid Crawford, Minnie's niece, inherited Maple Hill with restrictions. The intent was to keep the farm as open space.

Note: Beaver Brook Association was founded by Hollis P. Nichols and Jeffrey P. Smith, both of Hollis, New Hampshire. Beginning with just 12 acres of land in 1964, the two cousins dedicated their time and energies to creating a special land-based resource for young and old alike, a place that both fostered land stewardship awareness and encouraged a sense of appreciation for the natural world. During this time, the State of New Hampshire chartered Beaver Brook Association as an educational non-profit organization.

Beaver Brook acquired Maple Hill Farm in 1974.