Saving Family Farms and the Historic Agricultural Landscape

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By Lorraine Merrill
Commissioner, N.H. Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food

Imagine New Hampshire without open fields and cows in pastures, without big white farmhouses, weathered barns, sugar houses, farm stands and stone walls. Though the scope and types of agriculture have varied throughout New Hampshire's history, the importance of family farms to our landscape and to our communities has not changed.  Today, the continued existence of many of these defining and much-loved living-history features of our state is at risk. Over the next 20 to 30 years we will experience an unprecedented generational shift in land ownership, which will put many family farm properties in jeopardy of being lost to agriculture.

In announcing its 2014 Seven to Save list of threatened historic landmarks in October, the Preservation Alliance named an eighth preservation priority:  the state’s historic family-owned farms and agricultural landscapes. Coincidentally,  the United Nations has declared 2014 the Year of the Family Farm, with the theme Family Farming: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth.

In New Hampshire, with our high real estate costs, graying population, escalating property taxes, and changing economy, farms and farmland continue to be developed or sold at a rapid pace.  New agricultural practices and standards often make older barns obsolete.  Historic homes may be torn down or neglected in favor of newer, smaller structures, often because repairs and continued occupancy simply aren’t cost effective.  Farm owners often lack adequate capital to manage the cost burdens of large properties—especially young farmers starting out and older owners retired from farming but trying to hang on to property that has been in their family for generations.

From 1982 to 2007, New Hampshire lost one out of four acres of prime farmland to development—and it was much worse in the Seacoast region.  In Rockingham County, in just the five years from 1997 to 2002, one-third of prime farmland was lost to development.

While the most recent Agricultural Census showed New Hampshire farms increasing 5% from 2007 to 2012 (bucking the national trend of a 5% decline in the number of farms),  the same five-year period saw a 24% reduction in cropland acres and a 7% reduction in pasture land.

Working together, we can make progress to save and steward our farmland and family farms with land use policies, markets and stewardship.

First, mechanisms such as current use value taxation, tax credits for conservation, right-to-farm policies, and farm-friendly regulatory structures all help to support the legacy of farming in New Hampshire and should be continued and enhanced.  Planning regulations also affect the rate at which open lands, including farms and farmland, are consumed for development.

Second, farms must continue to evolve and respond to changing markets,  economics and new technologies. Strategies include renewable energy development and diversification of enterprises including value-added processing, agri-tourism, and direct-to-consumer marketing. New Hampshire ranks first in the nation for percentage of farm sales that are direct-to-consumer.

Third, agricultural conservation easements,preservation restrictions, and blended conservation and preservation easements are of critical importance to sustaining farms and farming in the Granite State. Increasingly, when farms and farmland are being sold,  inherited or leased to farmers,  a conservation easement is involved.

I know from my own family’s experience that farm-friendly land use regulations, evolving business practices, and the sale of development rights made the difference in keeping our large, coastal farm in family ownership and in agricultural use.

Our farm has survived and succeeded by changing with the times and with owners. It has been a diversified crop and livestock farm, a racehorse-breeding farm, a nationally-known dairy farm, a prominent poultry genetics farm, and now again a dairy farm. My family used an agricultural easement to protect the land and reduce its value more than thirtyyears ago, and more recently the farm—and its evolution over time—was determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Preserving farms and agricultural land secures multiple and significant benefits to local communities and the state beyond preserving the capacity to produce food for future generations. New Hampshire farms often include more woodland than open cropland or pasture, along with wetlands and riparian lands. Protecting the farm or farmland protects these other valuable natural resources—including groundwater, surface water, and wildlife habitats. Farms generate local economic activity and jobs while maintaining the character and heritage of our state and communities.

Many organizations are involved in this issue, including the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food; USDA agencies; UNH Cooperative Extension; the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources; the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program; and the Preservation Alliance. A recent study of conservation in New Hampshire (available at report) held up agricultural lands conservation as a critical issue. Local agricultural commissions, conservation commissions, and historic district commissions, as well as granges and other local organizations, are supporting agriculture and farming in many ways and can do more.

We can all work together in so many ways to help our remaining farms develop and thrive, and to connect the next generation of farmers with opportunities to farm.  We hope and expect that this year’s Seven to Save designation will help foster creative efforts to support farms, farmers, and farm buildings in a powerful coalition.

You can help family farms and the farm landscape of New Hampshire:

  • Support local farms
  • Ask legislators about their ideas to enhance agriculture in New Hampshire
  • Help promote farm-friendly practices as a member of a planning board, agricultural commission or heritage group
  • Have a farm? Consider preservation/conservation strategies and promote to neighborsSupport agriculture, conservation and preservation organizations that are helping save historic farms and promote farming
  • Share your ideas. Contact Beverly Thomas at the Preservation Alliance, 224-2281 or


Young Preservationists on the Move

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This Thanksgiving season we are thankful for the many young people who are researching and documentating local history, taking on complex improvement projects, and investing in public education and celebration of history through film, painting and other arts.“Historic preservation activity is often seen as the purview of established practioners or older volunteers,” said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the Preservation Alliance. “But in fact, many young people in New Hampshire are committed to history and celebrating and protecting special places.”

For the Alliance's 25th anniversary we profiled folks 25 and under who were making a difference in their communities.

Check out a recent profile of 21st Century Preservationist Mae Williams which profiles her interest in sustainability and 2013 project exploring the future of the fofmer Laconia State School in the Plymouth State University magazine.

Check out Josh Arnold's Habitat for Humanity-like venture to build commuity and sustainable practice at G.A.L.A. 

The Alliance has noticed many Eagle Scout projects that have promoted preservation goals, and, in national news, the Girl Scouts organization of Georgia unveiled a first-ever Historic Preservation patch at the National Trust conference in Savannah in November 2014.

Please send us your favorite stories of Young Preservationists!  Forward to Virginia Davidson at and we'll look for ways to share the good news.




Preservation Alliance Offers New “Road Map” for Creating Neighborhood Heritage Districts or Areas

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Interested in learning more about a new zoning tool that helps protect the distinctive and valued historic character of an area? The Preservation Alliance is pleased to announce the availability of new materials about  Neighborhood Heritage Districts through the NH Department of of Environmental Services website and its Innovative Land Use Planning Techniques Handbook.

New Hampshire’s innovative zoning statute, RSA 674-21, makes possible this concept. 


Designed to help community leaders and planners understand the purpose and use of this new mechanism to protect local heritage and historic character, the chapter draws on the Alliance’s  work with Hooksett and Greenfield, the two towns that received support in 2012-14 from the N.H. Housing Finance Authority, to explore  creation of a Neighborhood Heritage District.  

The Alliance has also posted on its own website additional material about Neightborhood Heritage Districts and other regulatory and voluntary ways to recognize, preserve, and protect historic resources.  Interested in knowing what towns have adopted some of these strategies and what their ordinance contains?   Want more information on Neighborhood Heritage Districts?  Go to or contact the N.H. Preservation Alliance’s Field Service Rep, Maggie Stier, at 603-224-2281 or

From the DES publication:

Neighborhood Heritage Districts offer a more flexible alternative to local Historic Districts (as distinct from National Register Historic Districts).  Neighborhood Heritage Districts (NHD) differ in two primary ways:  1) they are administered by the Planning Board with assistance from an Advisory Committee (in contrast to a separate Historic District Commission), and 2) their primary purpose is to protect an area’s overall character rather than specific architectural features and details.  They are most often initiated at the grass roots level by a neighborhood association or group that can generate widespread support for such a measure and help assure its adoption.   Through a customized set of guidelines and standards, and a team approach of advisory committee and the municipal planning board, NHDs review and regulate proposed change in a limited range of circumstances—usually new construction, demolition, major additions, and removal or installation of major landscape features.   

This land-use tool has been in use in other states since the early 1980s.  Elsewhere it is frequently called a Conservation District or Neighborhood Conservation District because the emphasis is less on preserving specific features and details of buildings and more on conserving the overarching characteristics of a neighborhood or area.  Resources in such a district do not have to be 50 years old or older, as is typical with traditional historic districts, but the designated area must convey some aspect of the community’s historical, architectural, or cultural heritage.  

Goals in creating a Neighborhood Heritage District may include protection of rural character, encouraging compatible new investment, controlling demolition, stabilizing property values, limiting unsympathetic commercial encroachment, or maintaining traditional scale, form or uses.  NHDs are most often adopted as an overlay to existing traditional zoning. 

In 2008, the N.H. Division of Historical Resources published Neighborhood Heritage Districts, A Handbook for New Hampshire Municipalities by Elizabeth Durfee Hengen and Carolyn Baldwin, Esq., describing an extensive collaborative planning process and setting forth the process to introduce and encourage use of this tool.  Subsequent efforts to create NHDs have relied heavily on that effort.



2014 Seven to Save Listees

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Each year, nominations for the statewide Seven to Save list highlight critical preservation needs and opportunities around the state. Selections for 2014 include some unusual places, highly significant structures, and a statewide listing of our historical agricultural landscape and family farms.

Help out by contacting one of the property or project representatives below, or contact Maggie Stier at the Preservation Alliance at 224-2281 or Support the Preservation Alliance and stay connected!



Brown Company House, Berlin

Believed to be the oldest wood frame building in the city and a key part of the history of mills and logging in Berlin; needed repairs are a big challenge for non-profit owner Tri-County CAP. 

Contact: Sandra Patrick 752 7001





Kimball Lake Cabins, Hopkinton

 A Depression-era lakeside resort with four remaining log cabins,  closed since the 1980s; now owned by the town of Hopkinton which seeks support for rehabilitation and new community uses.  

Contact: Jim O’Brien,, 856-5378


Hill-Lassonde House, Manchester

This vacant bank-owned Italianate style home, opposite a city park, is highly vulnerable; without a new owner and investment it may fall victim to arson or demolition.  

Contact: Michael Duffy II,, 603-493-4055.


Poore Family Farm, Stewartstown 

Needs more support to preserve its early house and barn and fulfill its potential as a place to learn about life on a farm without electricity, plumbing, or other modern conveniences.   

Contact: Rick Johnsen, 237-5500





Neighboring Town Treasures

Bradford Town Hall: Iconic landmark now vacant pending voter-approved funding for upgrades that would meet current codes and allow reopening of the second floor hall for community use. 

Contact: Sonny Harris, selectman,,  568-8059.

Washington Meetinghouse/Town Hall: An 18An 18An 18An th century building that doesn’t meet the town’s 21st century office and meeting space needs.  A workable plan and 2/3rds voter approval for funding are needed. 

Contact: Ron Jaeger, 495-3618,

WatsonAcademy Epping



Watson Academy, Epping

This rare Queen Anne style school building needs town support for a simple plan to address damage caused by a minor earthquake.    


Contact: Sandy Goodspeed, 734-2799


Historic Family Farms and Agricultural Landscapes, statewide

The trend of dramatic loss in cultivated acreage and challenges facing family farms will require strong creative efforts to help maintain historic buildings and traditional landscapes throughout the state.     

Contact: Beverly Thomas, 224-2281,    


For a printable version of this list, please click here.


On October 22, 2014, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance announced  its 2014 Seven to Save list of threatened historic landmarks from throughout the state that are significant and worthy of preservation. A bonus 8th listing this year focuses on historic family-owned farms and agricultural landscapes statewide.  Seven to Save is a means to recognize the value of saving and reviving historic places that are important to both local communities and our statewide heritage. 


This year, listees include town halls in the neighboring towns of Bradford and Washington, the historic Watson Academy in Epping, the Hill-Lassonde house opposite Manchester’s Bronstein Park, and Hopkinton’s Kimball Lake Cabins.  In Coos County, the Poore Family Farm in Stewartstown and the Brown Company House in Berlin made the list. 

According to Seven to Save chair Hunter Ulf, “Seven to Save recognizes the value of saving and reviving historic places that are important to local communities as well as the state’s identity and economic vitality.  And it is a call to action so that these important places might get what they need and help keep New Hampshire New Hampshire.”

Since 2006, when the Seven to Save program began, over 30 properties have moved from “threatened” to “saved” or out of danger.  Major successes include Pandora Mill in Manchester, the restored Acworth Meetinghouse, and the Mill Pond Dam in Durham.  Some past listees like the Balsams in Dixville Notch and the Gas Holder in Concord still have uncertain futures.

Lorraine Merrill, Commissioner of the N.H. Department of Agriculture, Markets and Foods, spoke on behalf of historic family farms.  The owner of a historic farm herself, she noted that New Hampshire has, over the last 25 years, lost one out of four acres of prime farmland to development—and about 1 out of 3 acres in the seacoast.  Solutions include more farm-friendly land use policies, direct marketing and conservation efforts. “Farms and farming activity contribute to the rural character so prized in New Hampshire communities. We hope that this designation will foster creative efforts to support farms, farmers and farm buildings in a powerful coalition,” she said.

Loss of population, not growth, has affected the two North Country properties on the Seven to Save list.  The Brown Company House in Berlin, believed to be the oldest wood frame building in the city, was a central part of the history of mills and logging in Berlin, but suffers from a long list of needed repairs.  Likewise, the Poore Family Farm Museum in Stewartstown needs more visitors and more financial support to preserve its early house and barn and fulfill its potential as a place to learn about life without electricity, indoor plumbing, or other modern conveniences.

Historic Town Halls in Bradford and Washington garnered Seven to Save nods because of the challenges in obtaining voter-approved funding for upgrades that would bring the buildings into code compliance and allow re-opening of now-shuttered second floor halls for plays, meetings, and community gatherings.  Epping’s Watson Academy, a rare Queen Anne style school building, needs town support for a simple plan to address damage caused by a minor earthquake.  Kimball Lake Cabins, a lakeside resort building during the Depression and now owned by the town of Hopkinton, needs support for building rehabilitation and a new plan for sustainable uses.  A bank-owned Italianate style home in Manchester, opposite a city park, made the list because of its vulnerability to vandalism and squatters.

Before the announcement, the Preservation Alliance held its annual meeting and offered a walking and driving tour of selected historic buildings in Kensington in conjunction wit the Kensington Historical Society.  “We chose to hold this year’s announcement in Kensington because it’s a great example of preservation in action,” said Maggie Moody Stier of the Preservation Alliance. In 2012, the Kensington Town Hall was named to Seven to Save, and since then, improvements have been made to return it to town use.  Granges, statewide, made the Seven to Save list in 2013.  Kensington’s former Grange hall hosted the Seven to Save announcement event, and was recently repainted thanks to a generous private donor. 

Criteria for Seven to Save include the property’s historical or architectural significance, severity of the current threat, and the extent to which the Seven to Save listing could help in preserving or protecting the property. 

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance is the statewide membership organization dedicated to preserving historic buildings, communities and landscapes through education, resources and advocacy.  For more information, visit


2014 Seven to Save sponsors include:

The Lewis Family Foundation


Ian Milestone

 Christopher P. Williams Architects PLLC

 HEB Engineers

Lavallee | Brensinger Architects

TMS Architects

Preservation Company

Ned Tate, Tate & Foss/Sotheby’s



New Fund Honors Rick & Duffy Monahon

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October 22, 2014

Today the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance announced the availability of new seed grants to help community preservation projects. Friends and colleagues of preservationists Rick and Duffy Monahon came together over the past year to create a new fund that honors and advances the Monahons’ work and provides this resource.

Rick and Duffy, who died in a car accident in 2013, had a lasting influence on projects and people across the state, said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. They helped shape the preservation movement in New Hampshire with signature projects like Historic Harrisville, highly engaged service on statewide and local boards, and award-winning projects like the rehabilitations of the Gregg Free Library in Wilton, the Newbury Meetinghouse and Temple’s Town Hall. 

The Fund has nearly reached its initial goal of $100,000. “There are local projects all across the state that need this sort of funding to move forward effectively,” said Jennifer Goodman.

The small planning grants may be used for hiring a consultant to conduct a building assessment, to develop a feasibility study or to help with a group’s fundraising plans. An advisory committee will assist the Preservation Alliance in selecting projects and include representatives from the American Institute of Architects New Hampshire Chapter and the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources.   Rick and Duffy both served on the Preservation Alliance’s Board of Directors at various times since its inception and supported its activities in many ways.

The Rick and Duffy Monahon Fund also launched a new Historic Preservation for the Future Fund at the N.H. Charitable Foundation. This Fund is designed to accept future gifts to honor others and meet changing preservation needs and opportunities over time.

For more on applying for grant funds, or to make a donation, click here.

More information:

 The Fund’s purpose:

• to provide lasting recognition of Rick and Duffy Monahon;

• to celebrate their impact on New Hampshire’s people and communities through their architecture, preservation, and planning efforts;

• and to inspire the kind of work necessary to save, revive and steward the special places about which they were so passionate.


Leaders of the Fund efforts are long-time friends and colleagues of the Monahons. They also served with Rick and Duffy on the Preservation Alliance board of directors. Here are some of their thoughts:

Donations to the fund often have come with a Rick-and-Duffy story that captures their positive energy and colorful lives--and brought laughter and tears. Great stories testify to great character. Francie Von Mertens, Peterborough

 I am really happy that the Rick and Duffy Monahon Fund has been established to carry their passion for preservation and planning forward into the future through  efforts of the NH Preservation Alliance, the NH Charitable Foundation which will manage its assets,  and the many friends of the Monahons.  Rick and Duffy Monahon’s commitment to helping community based efforts throughout this state was profound.   This Fund will help provide support for future preservation projects and will also initiate the Historic  Preservation for the Future Fund, an umbrella under which other preservation funds can be established in the future,  Developing such a fund is really important since there are so few preservation funding opportunities in NH. The legacy being left in the Monahon's name is actually a seed for a much bigger opportunity. Chris Williams, AIA, Meridith.

 Rick and Duffy were always there when a good planning, architecture, preservation or land conservation issue raised its head, be it in Peterborough, around the Monadnock Region, elsewhere in New Hampshire, or, indeed, anywhere. The fund being created in their names will help other communities and organizations do things that the Monahons would have supported, encouraged, rallied for, and, if necessary, fought for. And if they were still with us, they would be out there now in the vanguard. Rob Stephenson, Jaffrey.


Visitors to Be Welcomed With NH History

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Jennifer Goodman and Beverly Thomas of the N.H. Preservation Alliance toured the new I93 northbound visitor center in Hooksett yesterday, along with other members of the N.H. Historic Agricultural Structures Advisory Committee. The Preservation Alliance and the Committee promote and support barn preservation throughout the state with technical and financial services. “The commitment by Alex Ray (in hard hat in photos) and the whole development team to New Hampshire businesses and traditions, and celebration of the state’s historic character, in this new development is tremendous,” noted Goodman.  UNH Cooperative Extension, the NH Division of Historical Resources and other agencies contribute to the Committee’s activities and positive impacts.

Links to stories about the tour below.


Declaration of Independence Signer House Is Now For Sale

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Ruth Albert has struggled for years to decide on the best long-term stewardship strategy for a house that has been in her family for seven generations.  In July, the house was listed for sale, and when a new buyer for the colonial home is found, the property of Josiah Bartlett, second signer of the Declaration of Independence, will be leaving the family for the first time since 1774.  Check out the WMUR-TV Chronicle piece on the place here.

The Josiah Bartlett House was built on The Plains in Kingston in 1774, and has remained in the family since then. It is one of only 23 National Historic Landmarks in New Hampshire, and stands in a local historic district along the town common on approximately 20 acres of fields and woodlands. No family members are available to purchase the property, and Albert, now retired, and her husband, have decided on a smaller property.  

Realtor Donna Carter notes that the property is well-suited for a bed and breakfast or history enthusiasts.  Albert is working with the N.H. Preservation Alliance on a preservation easement for the house that mirrors elements of the local historic district’s protection. Other New Hampshire National Historic Landmarks include homes of Daniel Webster, Franklin Pierce and Robert Frost.

About Josiah Bartlett:

The young Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795) moved to Kingston from Amesbury, Massachusetts in 1750 to establish a medical practice. When Kingston suffered a second outbreak of “throat distemper” in 1754, Dr. Bartlett discovered a successful treatment with quinine. In that same year, he married his cousin Mary Bartlett (1730-1789). They had twelve children, eight of whom lived to adulthood. Three of Bartlett’s sons became physicians; Dr. Levi Bartlett (1763-1828) lived in the homestead.

An active patriot, Josiah Bartlett became involved in Colonial era politics and was a vocal critic of the British policies. In 1774, he was chosen as one of the two delegates from New Hampshire to the First Continental Congress. He was unable to serve that year however, because his home was destroyed by fire, thought to have been set by British loyalists, and re-building his home required his attention. However, in 1775 and 1776, he travelled to Philadelphia as a member of the Congress and was the first to vote for the Declaration of Independence and the next to sign after John Hancock. He brought a linden tree back with him from Philadelphia, and it grows large and strong today in front of the house where he planted it, nearly 240 years ago. It blooms each year around the Fourth of July.

Despite not being a lawyer, Bartlett became involved in the judicial system. He was appointed to the N.H. Supreme Court and became Chief Justice in 1788. He remained active in the medical field and received an honorary MD from Dartmouth College in 1790. During the final years of his life, Josiah Bartlett served as the fourth Governor of New Hampshire from 1790 to 1794.

About the property:

The large home was built in 1774 and “updated” in the 19th century with Greek Revival detailing. A historic barn also stands on the property. 

Realtor Donna Carter is handling the sale. Her number is 603-770-0516.


Help Improve the State Site Evaluation Committee Process

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Want to help improve the site evaluation committee process as it relates to historic properties in New Hampshire?

 N.H.'s Office of Energy and Planning has been convening stakeholders to provide input into a process launched by Senate Bill 99 (2013) that requires the Site Evaluation Committee to adopt rules "relative to criteria for the siting of energy facilities." 

More information here.

 You can offer your own comments or help us improve our current draft.The Preservation Alliance seeks to clarify definitions, application process and selection criteria for applicants and reviewers.


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