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History of the Farm

The first deed for a piece of property that was eventually incorporated into The Old Farm was executed on 17 January 1787, and was for 6 1/2 acres in what was then the District of Massachusetts. The price of the land was “nineteen pounds, ten shillings, lawful money of said commonwealth, well and truly paid”. William Dyer built a house sometime before 1790; this is the 1 1/2 story, five-bent cape that still stands on the property. Over the next 25 years, Mr. Dyer continued to purchase land, eventually ending up with a total of 49.7 acres; this farm was owned and operated by the same family (the Dyers and Hutchinson) until 1991 when Margaret Hutchinson passed away.

In 1993, the farm was purchased by Mr. Tom Hinkle who had the vision and generosity to place an agricultural easement on the farmland (held by Cape Elizabeth Land Tust), and an architectural easement on the house and outbuildings (held by Maine Preservation). Mr. Hinkle, in conjunction with Maine Preservation, nominated the house and buildings for listing on the Secretary of the Interior’s National Registry of Historic Places. Due to the remarkable fact that nearly all of the house’s original features are still intact, the buildings were accepted for registry in 1997; the listing number is 97000313. This property is one of only seven properties in the town of Cape Elizabeth so listed.

In 2001, the Jay Cox family purchased the property from Mr. Hinkle to expand the cut-your-own Christmas tree farm operated for many years by Mr. Cox’s parents. Mr. Cox had considered the land in 1990 because it is only 1/2 mile from his parents property, and because Mrs. Hutchinson had been a friend of the family. Though the Coxes did not complete the purchase in the early ‘90s, they did in fact purchase it on the later date, and began a complete rehabilitation of the structures, as well as a very nice addition which allowed modern conveniences to be installed without impacting the “old part” of the house. With the help and advice of Maine Preservation, the work was completed in 2002 and the Coxes began planting their Christmas trees.

Cape Elizabeth Farming History

Cape Elizabeth has a proud farming heritage as you drive or walk around Cape Elizabeth, you will notice remnants of this rich agricultural history dating back to the 1600’s. Named in 1604 by John Smith to honor King Charles I, Cape Elizabeth has maintained much of its rural character to the present day. Many of the remaining farms are still owned by descendents of Cape Elizabeth’s original families.

Consider these facts about Cape Elizabeth Farms:

  • In 1875 the Scarborough/Cape Elizabeth Farmers Association was formed. They held a fair every fall for about 30 years at Nutter’s Field, Pleasant Hill, Scarborough.
  • In 1880, cabbage from Cape Elizabeth sold for $10/ton and was considered the best in the state.
  • Cabbage was grown on the mainland and on Richmond's Island.
  • In the early 1900’s peas became a major crop to supplement the already famous cabbage and more produce was being sent by ship (and later by train) to Boston.
  • The first tractor in Cape Elizabeth was purchased by Stewart Jordan in 1934. Horses were still the standard hauler of plows into the 1940’s.
  • Around 1940 there were between forty and fifty farms in operation in Cape Elizabeth.
  • In the 1950’s iceberg lettuce became a major product. 300 to 400 acres were planted in lettuce, on the town’s approximately 20 farms. It was not unusual to ship 2,000 crates of lettuce per day to the Boston Market.
  • By the 1960’s about ten farms remained in operation.
    Today, there are currently 10 farms in Cape Elizabeth. Seven of these farms grow a variety of berries, vegetables, and flowers. Three raise Christmas trees. One provides programming to engage youth and the community in agriculture. Five of the farms have onsite markets/stands. Two of which provide a variety of vegetables. One supplies lobsters, crabs, and clams in addition to vegetables and two offer annuals, seedlings, or cut flowers. The majority of the farms wholesale produce/products to stores, restaurants, and other farm markets.

Also, sixteen landowners own and/or board horses in Cape Elizabeth, this equates to over 115 horses in our town. These horse farms provide 100 acres of open space via pastureland alone. The majority of landowners own horses for personal use, while others offer services such as riding lessons, boarding, indoor facilities and programs. (Courtesy: Cape Farm Alliance, Maxwell’s)

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