Clockwise from top left: Mary; Doug Pelham, president of FLT, presenting the 2014 Citizen of the Year award to Mary; Mary with volunteers from AXA; Ruth and Mary with their parents Flora Wilcox and Willian Bushley; Wilcox-Bushley homestead; Ruth and Mary, sisters and best friends; Tina Delaney, FLT ED, with Mary; Ruth and Mary.
Photo credit: family album and Tina Delaney.
Remembering the Wilcox-Bushley Homestead
In 1804 the Committee of Farmington – the Town Council of the time -- granted a deed to Mr. Isaiah Rowe for 100 acres of land on Old Litchfield Road, which we now call Copper Mine Road. Soon after, he cleared and worked the property, and eventually he built the house that sits on the land today. The Rowe farm was one of the most successful farms in the area, well known for its apples, cherries, pears and plums.
Jerry Wilcox of North Canton bought the farm in 1869, and so began four generations of the Wilcox-Bushley family raising cows, pigs, and chickens, plowing the fields to plant corn and vegetables, harvesting their wood lot for their kitchen fires and doing what good farmers have always done and continue to do – take care of the land to preserve their livelihood. The farm remained in the family (Pyatts and Bushleys) until the final two descendants, Ruth Bushley Childs and Mary Bushley, gave it to the Farmington Land Trust through a series of gifts beginning in 1995.
Under the Wilcox family, the farm was prosperous, growing from the original 100 acres to as much as 250 acres. In the 1930s, , the farm included a 2-level cattle barn, two silos, a milk room, an equipment shed, a chicken house, and an indoor - outdoor bull pen. There was a mixed dairy herd of about 15 Holsteins, Jerseys and Guernseys.
Today all that remains is the equipment barn and the early 19th century Isaiah Rowe house.
The house is surrounded on three sides by 24 acres of land, including a farm pond. Most of the land is now forested, but fieldstone walls remind us of the pastures that were once part of this landscape.
Preservation was what Mary Bushley and her sister, Ruth Bushley Childs, wanted when they donated their land, and eventually, their house to the Farmington Land Trust. “If you offered me one hundred million dollars, I wouldn’t take it,” Mary Bushley once declared. “The land is destined to be saved.”
Born in the 1920s, Ruth and Mary spent their childhoods on this land. Farming meant planting in the spring, haying and strawberries in June, currants by July 4th, blackberry pie and canning in the fall. And it meant milking twice a day, every day. Their father made weekly trips to the A&P in the village to buy staples, with, as Ruth recalled, the girls usually staying in the car with the dog. Otherwise the family was self-sufficient, living on the dairy, chickens, fruits and vegetables produced on the farm.
At the same time, the family led a relatively sophisticated life. The house was filled with books and sheet music, and travel and fashion magazines. Ruth wrote anecdotes of her childhood on the farm while Mary wrote poetry. Their mother planted a flower garden each year, sending the girls off with fresh flowers for their teachers on their first day at Union School. Later, when Mary commuted to her job in Hartford at The Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company, she wore fashionable dresses she’d made herself.
In 1995, Mary and Ruth donated the 24 acres that make up what we now call the West District Nature Preserve. Having seen much of the farmland around their home developed, they became committed to saving what was left of their family heritage. In 2013, they gave their childhood home, the barns and the immediately adjacent land to the Land Trust. Mary continued to call this place home until she died in the spring of 2019.
The Farmington Land Trust is now starting the planning process of renovating the house to create a modern office space for its headquarters and provide a historical context for the West District Nature Preserve.
- Brie Quinby and Evan Cowles