The Wilcox-Bushley Homestead
A history of The Homestead by Brie Quinby and Evan Cowles
In 1995, Mary and Ruth Bushley donated 24 acres of their family’s farm to the Farmington Land Trust. Having seen much of the land around their home developed, they were committed to saving what remained of a much larger farm, and we now call this parcel West District Nature Preserve. In 2013, they added their family house, the barns, and the land immediately adjacent to the house to their gift. Mary continued living in the house until her death in the spring of 2019.
You will know this property on Coppermine Road across from West District School by the large glacial boulder you see as you turn onto Coppermine from West District Road. The white clapboard farmhouse with 150-plus years of archival material and the farmland tell a unique and important story of the Wilcox-Bushley family in Farmington. The Farmington Land Trust is honored to steward not just the land, but the significant story about the family and its connection to the land.
In 1804 the Committee of Farmington – the Town Council of the time -- granted a deed to one Mr. Isaiah Rowe for 100 acres of land on "Old Litchfield Road", which we now call Coppermine Road. Soon after, he cleared and worked the property, and eventually 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 orchards of 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. His dairy was also known for its high-quality cream production.
Under the Wilcox family, the farm was prosperous, growing from the original 100 acres to as much as 275 acres. According to Ruth Bushley Childs, when she lived there 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 bullpen. 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, a diverse forest preserve, and mowed fields. Although most of the land is now woods, fieldstone walls running through the woods remind us that the land had once been cleared and that pastures once made up a majority of the land in Farmington.
Preservation was what Wilcox descendants 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 her sister Mary spent their childhood 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 the girls usually staying in the car with the dog. Otherwise, the family was self-sufficient, living on what came out of the dairy and the chicken coop, and the fruits and vegetables they raised on the farm.
At the same time, the family led a relatively sophisticated life. The house was filled with books, sheet music, 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 the teacher on their first day at Union School. They visited their aunt in Boston where they went to the theater and saw city life. Later on, while Mary commuted to her job in Hartford at The Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company, she wore fashionable dresses that she’d made herself. Mary continued to live in the house until the end of her life.