The story of the Benson Place
Pre 1700's: ...
Late 1700’s: First White Settlers
1810-1857: The Benson Family
1857-1937: Decline of residency, farm pastures
1937-1957: Robert Strong Woodward
1957-1988: Tripps’ Blueberry Farm (Jake, Alicia, and Family)
1988-1999: Sunny Day Blueberry Farm (June Guild and Leonard Day)
1999-2011: The Benson Place (Dave Gott & Ted Watt)
2012- : Meredith Wecker, Andrew Kurowski, Satya, and Juniper
We are honored to share what we know of the history of this land. We are always interested in knowing more and so would be happy to hear any information one might add to this story.
Big thanks to Dave for writing so much of the following story...
Way back in the day
The ridge top where the Benson Place is located was named Burnt Hill by the time of the American Revolution, according to at least one historian. Yet there were no known white settlers living in this Heath neighborhood at that time. Had Native peoples burned fields to encourage berry growth for their own eating and to encourage wildlife? How long may this have been taking place? Is this farmland inherently suited to blueberry culture, or were there cultural reasons why it was selected by early peoples for this purpose? Knowing that there are nearby standing stones with astrologic significance, was this hill a special place to these ancient peoples as well?
These and many other questions inform the experiences of those of us who spend time
on this piece of land.
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The Benson Family
The first known settlers who lived at this location in the late 1700’s were Moses Heyward and his family. The Squire and Hannah (Greene) Benson family arrived in 1815, welcomed by Squire’s brother Jonathan and his wife Sarah, who had arrived five years earlier. The latter couple soon moved away, but Squire and Hannah hunkered down, giving birth to fifteen more of their seventeen children. Hannah’s sister Sarah came for a visit, met and married David Gould, lived next door, and raised twelve children. Squire was a rope maker and took produce to Boston for sale.
The aging parents sold their homestead in 1857, but son Squire Jr, who was careful to tell people that this was his given name and not a title, settled in North Heath. A number of his descendants still live locally, as do various cousins. Nelson was one of the Benson offspring to leave the area for needed opportunities. His great granddaughter Marion Gott, living in Pennsylvania, impressed her son Dave with tales of “The Old Benson Place” in faraway Massachusetts. In 1994 Dave and his partner Ted Watt bought back a piece of the land that had been out of Benson family possession for 137 years. In 2011 an extended Benson Family Reunion was held at the farm, honoring a tradition that had started in 1870 and run continuously until 1936.
Benson and Gould family reconnections continue, and inquiries are always welcome!
For more info and to visit the old family cellar hole, feel free to contact Dave Gott at 773-3568.
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Robert Strong Woodward
Locally renowned landscape artist Robert Strong Woodward bought this piece of land in 1937 for two paintings and proceeded to create of dozens of beautiful works of art here over the next thirteen years. RSW had a mobility impairment, which warranted the support of loyal helpers. Together they constructed “The Heath Pasture Studio”, which served as his outpost for documenting and interpreting a landscape that was far more open than it is at present. Neighboring farmers pastured cattle on the land, and families came to forage for berries. Several hundred of RSW’s works, including those done in Heath, may be viewed at robertstrongwoodward.com. The web site also directs visitors to the newly formed group Friends of Robert Strong Woodward, which can help interested parties see original works by this man, one of whose legacies is our deepened collective sense of place.
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Tripp's Blueberry Farm
Jake Tripp’s parents bought this property in the late 1950’s and helped Jake establish a commercial blueberry farm on the south and north ends of Burnt Hill. He and his wife Alicia moved into their new farm house in 1965. With the help of two daughters, they coordinated the harvest of many tons of low bush blueberries for at least two decades. Truckloads of fruit went to New England bakeries and other wholesale outlets, and scores of young people held their first jobs here. Jake and Alicia sold this place in the late 1980’s and moved down the road to the north farm, where Alicia still lives and
harvests fruit. Alicia’s nephew Henry Godek, with his wife Jo Marlene Travis, own a portion of the former Tripp property and currently lease it to the Benson Place farmers. Stories still abound of the legendary and colorful Jake Tripp, who passed away in 2006.
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Sunny Day Blueberry Farm
June Guild and her husband Leonard Day came here in 1988. With the help of Leonard’s sons and in step with growing consumer interest in eating fresh fruit, they redirected the berry crop towards fresh pack sales of pints containers to groceries around the northeast. Fruit was also used for the production of delicious blueberry wine. The Days built a state of the art sorting machine and Len fashioned antique guns during the off season. June served several years as the Heath Town Clerk and generously let Dave get his feet wet running the farm business for a summer while she still lived here. June still visits the farm to get berries and say hi!
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The Benson Place
Dave Gott and Ted Watt bought the farm parcel in 1999 and chose a name that reflected existing survey records and honored Dave’s ancestors. Encouraged by the trends towards sustainable farming and local buying, Dave and cohort Mark Benjamin developed on-farm retail sales and PYO. Soon over 80% of the farm’s sustainable grown fruit was sold to individuals and families, who also came here to appreciate the grandeur of the land. The rest of the fruit was delivered to area outlets for fresh eating and was used to produce quality fruit spread, juice, and ice cream. Collaborations with neighboring Burnt Hill Farm and the Tripps were rewarding for Dave. Farm friends initiated the Annual Wild Blueberry Jubilee, which became a first Saturday of August tradition. Ted offered community nature walks, and farm tours were frequently hosted.
In 2011, with the support of the Franklin Land Trust (FLT), the MA Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), other area organizations, and farm customers, Ted and Dave placed agricultural and conservation covenants on the property and granted a trail easement that assures long term access for respectful visitors to the land.
(Contact Andrew and Meredith [see contact page] about guidelines for access, FLT for more information on Trail Easements and Conservation Restrictions, and MDAR regarding Agriculture Preservation Restrictions.)
Dave now lives in Greenfield near Ted. They have retained the ancestral land to the south of the farm, where they plan to build something small for the codger years.
Andrew and Meredith, once PYO customers, then employee's of Dave, now are honored to have a place in the legacy of this land.
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