Twenty Years of FOFAH

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Hilltop Farm is a busy place, and busier now than ever, thanks to twenty years of restoration by the non-profit Friends of the Farm at Hilltop (FOFAH). At this writing, the property is swarming with workmen putting the finishing touches on the beautiful barn that is the farm’s major attraction, and the site of future weddings and parties. What an important resource the former estate is for Suffield–and how did it come to this juncture in its history? It is another example of the way volunteer efforts make this town so special.

Tony Peterson has done extensive research on the history of the farm, which was part of a vast estate built by the Indian Motorcycle magnate George Hendee and later purchased by distinguished lawyer and public servant Charlie Stroh. After Stroh’s death it was unattended for some time while a developer and the town negotiated; because of the protected species status of the bald eagles on the property, the sale did not go through. What a fortunate failure for the town of Suffield!

In 1999 four Suffield women–Eileen Montcrief, Janet Banks, Laura Dillman, and Christine Davidson, along with others– gathered with the hope of figuring out a way to save and restore the property for the use of the townspeople. Over the following two decades multitudes of residents responded to the original call for help, donating money and time and expertise to the hard work that needed to be done. Skills such as landscaping, plumbing, general construction, roofing, and fence building–to name only a few–were put to use. Through all the years, the primary mission of the effort has been education in one form or another.

FOFAH was incorporated as a non-profit organization in September 2002. Fundraising and grants and many hours of labor followed. At first the property was leased to the new Friends of Hilltop Farm, but in 2013 7.9 acres were purchased by the group, including the barn and various farmhouses and outbuilding; in 2022 the Stroh home and 3.1 acres were added. Sixty additional acres are leased from the town and farmed. Recently an ice cream shop called The Creamery was established adjacent to the barn, a pleasant place in warm weather to enjoy a treat in a lovely setting.

At the present time Eileen Moncrief estimates that at least 100 volunteers have participated in the work at the farm. There’s not space here to name all the important people who have served the cause, but many of the names would be recognizable to Observer readers, including Howie Orr, Ray Wilcox, and Bobbie Rodgers. Fourteen directors oversee the activities of FOFAH, with major attention to the use of the barn, which has been described as an “agricultural cathedral.” However, there are many other areas that could someday be major attractions: the walking trails, the eagles’ nesting sites, and some of the outbuildings. As Tony Peterson proclaimed, when asked how so many workers had been drawn to the effort, “There’s magic about that place!” And thanks to the early work of Eileen Moncrief and her team, accompanied by the labor of numbers of helpers over the years, it is magic that all of us will be able to share.

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