“If we...dedicate ourselves to the long-term stewardship of this marvelous countryside, we will not only do a service to ourselves and each other, but to future generations.” -Chauncey D. Stillman
Mr. Stillman was a passionate horseman and he first experienced the rural beauty of Dutchess County while riding with the Millbrook Hunt. During his many rides, he was struck by the beautiful rolling hills and dramatic views. In 1937, realizing the potential of the land, he purchased two abandoned farms comprising 620 acres. Mr. Stillman named the property Wethersfield in a tribute to Wethersfield, Connecticut, where his family first settled in America. As land became available, Wethersfield expanded to its current size of 1,200 acres.
Mr. Stillman always showed deference to the past, but as his words and actions attest, he was not without regard for the future. Seeing the enormous potential of the land, from the beginning, he actively implemented conservation practices and he became a leader in soil and water conservation; over time,Wethersfield became the prototype for conservation farming on the East Coast.
Land Conservation When the original farms were purchased, soil erosion by water (sheet erosion and small ditch washouts) and by wind were major challenges along with poor soil fertility and over cut woodlands. To rectify these issues, Wethersfield became one of the first biodynamic farms in the Hudson Valley. Some of the early biodynamic practices implemented were crop rotation, contour strips, green manure and cover crops, pasture improvement, improved drainage of lowlands, diversion ditches, water run off collection ponds, tree and shrub windbreaks, woodlot improvement, reforestation, and wildlife management. Mr. Stillman sought to use every acre to its fullest potential, using the more fertile acreage for crops or pasture while the less fertile rocky areas were reforested by the Civilian Conservation Corps. or C.C.C.
Habitat Conservation Mr. Stillman overlooked no aspect of conservation. He well understood that the land did not exist in isolation. Rather, a vibrant environment requires a holistic strategy that encompasses all aspects of the natural world. Over the years, he was involved in restoring native wildlife; he helped to bring back wood ducks, blue birds, hawks, cottontail rabbits, geese, and even skunks. Still today, visitors can experience Mr. Stillman’s success in restoring native wildlife; the Waterman Bird Club has identified an average of 45 different bird species over the past 20 years throughout the estate.
Water Conservation One of the more significant conservation practices that Mr. Stillman focused upon was water conservation. Water conservation is of primary importance at Wethersfield because this unique property lies in three different watersheds: The Ten Mile, The Wappinger, and the Roe Jan. To help maintain the integrity of these watersheds, 12 ponds were constructed. In an interview in 1959, Mr. Owen Boyd (then farm manager) described the positive effects of Wethersfield’s water conservation:
“Our water conservation program has been designed, not only to hold as much water as possible on the soil, but to control the surplus that runs off after the rains. We use diversion ditches to carry some of the surplus slowly off the hills into ponds for storage. These farm ponds serve several purposes, such as fire protection, irrigation and recreation, as well as to reduce the flood hazard below the farm.”
Mr. Boyd continued in his interview to describe how the information gained from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Water Run Off Survey from 1950-1957 “is valuable to engineers in the designing of dams and spillways for ponds and lakes on farms and flood control projects, by recording the amounts and intensities of rainfalls and the amount of water runoff on a certain area.” Thus the practices employed at Wethersfield have played a significant role in supporting clean water conservation on a large scale.
A Leader in Biodynamic Farming So many biodynamic practices were incorporated into farming at Wethersfield that it quickly became a demonstration farm, and over the course of 50 years, Mr. Stillman was recognized for his dedication to conservation. Mr. Stillman and Mr. Boyd were asked to conduct a tour of delegates attending the United Nations Scientific Conference on conservation. These delegates observed a farm with a variety of well-planned and properly applied practices outlined in a farm conservation plan.
Founding Local Conservation Initiatives In 1945, Mr. Stillman and Mr. Boyd helped found the Dutchess County Soil Conservation District (one of the first in the Nation). From 1950 to 1957, a Water Run-off survey was conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The farm was toured by the Empire State Chapter of the Soil Conservation Society of America in both 1951 and 1952. A workshop run by the Sportsmen Conservation Organization was held at the farm in 1954.
Wethersfield was awarded the titles of a Reforestation Demonstration Farm, New York State Tree Farm, and Conservation Farm of the Year by the New York State Conservation Department. Mr. Stillman was also instrumental in forming the Dutchess Land Conservancy. For these achievements, Mr. Stillman was honored in 1982 by the Dutchess County Soil and Water Conservation District as an outstanding leader in agriculture and conservation. Thanks to Mr. Stillman’s conservation efforts and focus on conservation easements, Wethersfield now forms an integral part of almost 8,000 acres of conserved land held by the Dutchess Land Conservancy
Today, Wethersfield Estate and Farm continues to employ and promote the land conservation practices established by Chauncey Stillman. Thanks to his clarity of vision and determination, the land remains intact for visitors and future generations to experience the lands beauty in all its fullness.
Our current Estate Manager, Kevin P. Malloy, was hired by Mr. Stillman in 1987 and brings the continuity of Mr. Stillman’s vision into the present day management of Wethersfield Estate and Farm.
Read, in his own words, Mr. Stillman's hopes to retain and respect the open spaces of rural Dutchess County:
copyright 2010 Website design by Cerice Berndsen for Homeland Foundation INC. Photography by Sterling Steffensen, Mathias Oppersdorff, Kevin Malloy, & Cerice Berndsen. Text by Jeanne Stalker, Donovan Malloy, & Karl Thompson