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History of Brooksmont Farm

by Meg Porter
September 9, 2014

"We forget our agrarian heritage only at our peril, for no society ...

 

This is a re- publication of an article published in October 2009 in the Holliston Reporter on a visit with Eleanor Brooks of Brooksmont Farm.

It contains the history of Brooksmont farm on Concord Street that may be demolished.

This article was first published in October 2009 in Holliston Reporter as reporter Meg Porter visited Eleanor Brooks of Brooksmont Farm.

The history of the farm, currently designated to be demolished is detailed in the article

“We forget our agrarian heritage only at our peril, for no society can grow or prosper without the tireless efforts of the farmer who feeds us all”

Michael Dukakis to John P. Brooks September 20, 1990

This quote from our former governor is a perfect segway into this story about one of our most remarkable residents, Eleanor Brooks. Eleanor is the daughter of a Nebraska farmer and the wife of a Massachusetts farmer. I have known Eleanor for only a short time, but the first time I met her, I wanted to learn more. We met at church; she always sat in the back row with friends. Twice a year, Easter and Christmas she told me, she sat with her late husband John. I got to spend a bit more time with Eleanor when I ran the church fair. I learned that she is a wise, humble and gifted woman.  The red Hollyhocks at the end of her driveway and the vegetable garden she maintained with John will remain in my memory as a testimony of her enduring spirit and faith.

Eleanor Hemphill grew up on her parent’s farm in Beatrice, Nebraska. Eleanor met John Brooks through her oldest sister Neva who went to the Swift and Company hatchery to purchase some chicks.  There were none available, but they got to talking because of his New England accent. This intrigued Neva because her late husband's family had come from New England.  During the conversation she mentioned she was driving to Massachusetts to meet the family of her late husband. John had some vacation time coming to him and offered to drive East with Neva and her younger sister Eleanor. Eleanor met John when they picked him up for the drive. John stayed for a week or two and the sisters drove back to Nebraska by themselves. Eleanor was a junior at Peru State College that summer of 1938. She graduated the following year.

John contacted Eleanor after she and her sister arrived back in Nebraska. "Things just evolved from there."  John asked Eleanor for her hand with a ring that they picked out together. Eleanor wears this same ring to this day.

Eleanor’s husband, John P. Brooks of Holliston, MA, was born in 1916 in the same room his father (1862) was born in at the family farm, named Brooksmont by his great grandmother. The farm and most of the out buildings still stand on Concord Street as a testimony to the tireless farming of three generations of the Brooks family. Brooksmont was purchased in 1852 by John’s great grandparents who raised cattle, chickens, horses, apples and vegetables. The original kitchen with its grand wood cook stove and exquisite tin walls and ceiling remain intact. One of the other features of this house was a set of three light switches at the bottom of the stairs. One switch lit the upstairs hall, another lit the downstairs hall, the third lit a lamp out on the street to signal the trolley to stop and pick up passengers. “This way if it was cold or rainy, you could stay inside and keep warm until the trolley came by.”

In the fall of 1940 Eleanor Hemphill drove East from her family's farm in Beatrice, Nebraska, to marry John at Brooksmont on October 12. With her travelled her mother, two sisters, two nieces and a brother in law.  They were to be married at the house. They went to the New York World’s Fair for their honeymoon. They would be celebrating their 69th wedding anniversary this year. Unfortunately, John passed away this past May 29, 2009. 

When John moved back to Holliston from Nebraska, he took the train to Boston to work in the research department for the Charles M. Cox located at 177 Milk Street makers of Wirthmore Feeds. He was later moved to the purchasing department. In 1953 John left this company to join H.K. Webster Company, Blue Seal Feeds at the same address as V.P. of purchasing.

Eleanor and John lived in Framingham for the first five years of their marriage. John's family had given Eleanor and John an acre of land next to Brooksmont so that they could build their home. They designed and built their house which they moved into with their three young sons in June, 1947. John and Eleanor lived at Brooksmont during the nine months that it took to build their house. John's father died in 1959; his mother in the 1979. When John's parents passed away, Eleanor and John decided to rent the old farmhouse and live in their newer home. John continued to manage the farm with help from Eleanor and their sons.

John was active on the family farm with his father on weekends. They sold milk to Echo Farms in Framingham. Their apples and eggs  were sold right at the farm. Brooksmont had been in John’s family for three generations. The property still stands today as an icon of agriculture and farming. It straddles Route 126 between Holliston and downtown Framingham. At its peak the farm spread over one-hundred and fifty acres. Since none of their sons wanted to work the farm, Eleanor and John decided to sell the farm to a developer in 1996 when John was eighty. The condition of the sale was that the farm was to remain an active farm for ten years. Most of the buildings on the property still remain with the exception of the shed and the addition to the barn.

Eleanor looks back on a life full of hard work and pleasant memories. Their three grown children have families of their own and live elsewhere. Brooksmont will not be handed down to a fourth generation but it remains an icon to a way of life that serves us all to stay connected to. Support our local farms and growers, learn more about the opportunities provided by community supported agriculture and reach out to folks like Bobby Blair whose Marigold Project keeps our town continually welcoming and colorful.



 

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Comments (15)

I was the first person to rent the old farmhouse after John's mother passed away, in 1980. I have so many good memories of living there. I used to take care of the cows when John and Eleanor traveled. I remember John out burning the fields the oldtime way, so the grass would grow well the next season. You don't see farmers doing that anymore. I was only 22 when I lived there, I'm 60 now, but the memories stay with me. It's hard for me to see the place gone now, like so many of the old farms in Sudbury, where I grew up and still live now. I will always remember John and Eleanor, and be thankful for the 2 years I lived on their farm. One of the best memories I have is that I used to sit on a rock out in the back field, picking my guitar, and the cows would come and stand around me in a circle. They liked my music, even though I wasn't too good back then!

This is a wonderful story, Please keep it posted forever...I'm so glad you put this together!

- Paul Kafalas | 4/9/19 4:18 AM

I hope that the Town of Holliston can find a way to preserve Brooksmont. It is an important part of local history, and adds greatly to the character of the town.

- Paul Kafalas | 10/4/14 10:57 AM

I too have fond memories of living at Brooksmont farm my former husband Paul Kafalas and daughter Dawn Perry and I lived at the old farmhouse from 1980 to 1982. Mr. Brooks showed us how to skin a chicken and we had three blind mice that we caught within a weeks time in the old kitchen. Some believed the place was haunted; odd things would happen.

I too learned a great deal about organic gardening from John, and Eleanor was a generous hostess inviting us in on Halloween and Christmas to enjoy the festivities as well as teaching me how to make corn fritters and ketchup from our garden bounty. We loved the fresh eggs and living on the farm animals.

- Susan Perry | 10/3/14 11:46 AM

Thank you for sharing such a lovely story. I really enjoyed it. I drove by the property yesterday and was so sad to see it in such disrepair. I am sorry a developer bought it....but I know it must have been a hard decision for the family to sell it.

- Mary | 9/10/14 4:49 PM

Thank you for a wonderful article. Enjoyed more history of the town !Yes, when the kids were young we stopped for those cows too - they loved it !! Now as I look at the barn (for a little while longer?), it will have more meaning for me.

- Kathie Patterson | 9/10/14 1:43 PM

I never knew the Brooks family, just their cattle. When we first moved to Holliston, we owned a house in the Queens. My wife used to walk our two children over to the edge of the farm's lower field, and the kids used to love watching the cows. The field is now over grown, but I'm glad to have had the opportunity bring our children up next to a farm, at least for a while.

- Peter | 9/9/14 1:42 PM

I had the pleasure of renting Brooksmont back in 1980. My husband and I may have been the first tenants. What a wonderful home it was then, with so many treasures in the "old" section, especially the upstairs. As I recall there was an attached outhouse off the "old" kitchen. We lived in the "new" part of the house, which was well over 100 years old at the time. I still fondly remember all that I learned from Eleanor and John about organic farming. The "vegetable garden" between the two homes had always been organic. What a shame that it ended up being sold to developers rather than another organic farmer.

- Kim | 1/23/14 4:34 PM

Truly a remarkable family. Mrs. Brooks is a warm and truly amazing woman. I have known her all my life and remember her even sending birthday cards to me on my birthdays! I used to love going to visit because it was like a great adventure with all the things to see and do at her home. I was asked recently, by my mother, to ascertain if Mrs. Brooks was still around as she had lost contact with her. Sad to find that Mr. Brooks has left us too.

- Christine Jess Marrocco | 12/30/11 5:11 PM

I love this! I lived at Brooksmont from 1986 until 1996! I am glad every single day that I got to experience a real working farm and to this day support local farms. mr brooks and elenor were awesome awesome people I love them for sharing everything with us!

- kelly herrera | 5/9/10 11:59 AM

What a great tribute to my grandmother and the Brooks Family. She is truly an amazing person. I also consider her a treasure. She is amazing.

- Terri Drew | 10/16/09 2:15 PM

This story is a wonderful tribute to the essence of being a New Englander. Eleanor is my aunt. My younger sister (Eleanor) and I (ages approx. 3 and 1), our mother and father, and Eleanor's oldest sister attended the wedding. We didn't return until 1949, but this time with five girls and a one-year old brother. How we loved eating blueberries for our breakfast! Picked on the hill behind the house. In 1958, I married and our honeymoon was the trip to Massachusetts where my husband would be stationed at Fort Devens. Where to live? We asked Aunt Eleanor and Uncle John to scout around and locate a place, and we arrived to a lovely furnished apartment in Pepperell. As a new bride I loved walking along a typical narrow road with colorful autumn leaves lining the way and arching overhead. Over the years I have been able to visit only a few more times, but Aunt Eleanor never missed sending a card for my wedding anniversary (also October 12) or my October birthday. Growing up, the older girls in the Hemphill family were assigned to 'watch over' a younger sibling. My mother was charged with caring for Eleanor, so that made her very special to my mother. By the way, Eleanor graduated from high school at the age of 14, no doubt educated in part by her mother and sisters. Eleanor has a very special laugh and a twinkle in her eye, and during my last visit I enjoyed hearing her historical stories about Brooksmont and her determination that the properties should be preserved.

- Beverly Besack Johnson | 10/7/09 9:01 PM

Meg,

In words and pictures you eloquently tell the story of a unique 20th/21st century farmer. More to your credit, with a few choice descriptors, you capture the essence of who this person is. I consider Eleanor Brooks one of Holliston's "hidden gems," but then I'm biased; I'm her son.

Philip Brooks

- Philip Brooks | 10/5/09 2:18 AM

Eleanor Brooks is our aunt and we were delighted to read the article. We enjoyed the pictures you included. Even though Aunt Eleanor left the state almost 70 years ago, she travelled back often for visits and corresponds weekly to keep up with family and friends, weather and crops here in Nebraska.

- Lana Hemphill | 10/3/09 5:10 PM

What a wonderful tribute to two wonderful Hollistonians. I bought a side of beef from them each year when the family was at home. No hormones or other additives, just raised with tender loving care.

A great couple who have appreciated and protected mother earth their entire life.

- George Snow | 10/3/09 2:12 PM

Thanks for writing such a nice article about Eleanor Brooks. You captured her love of the land and her home very well. She is my dad's youngest sister and has always been our connection to New England. We don't get to see her frequently, but she has always been a treasure to all of us. I live on a farm in central Nebraska, where everything is flat, square miles, and filled with corn and soybeans, so the winding roads, trees, and little pieces of land in the area around Holliston are fascinating to me. Thanks again for a great story.

- Jean Bunger | 10/3/09 12:11 PM

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