the great farm

Israel Thorndike

Israel Thorndike

Founded in 1806 by Israel Thorndike and his business partners, The Great Farm of Jackson was conceived as an exemplary specimen for the potential of Waldo County agriculture. Thorndike was a successful Boston privateer, and enjoyed notable status as one of the most influential and wealthy individuals in the new republic. Betting that the end of the revolution would bring a flood of settlers into the wilds of Maine, he bought the Waldo Patent and established the Great Farm. Settlers who moved from Southern New England paid for their parcels of land by working at the Great Farm, constructing its stately buildings and broad stone walls, and caring for crops and livestock. English and Continental breeding stock was imported and modern methods were employed for raising field crops and orcharding. The Great Farm was especially known for its robust teams of shorthorn and hereford oxen.

1939 aerial photo

1939 aerial photo

The Great Farm also served as a summer getaway for the wealthy elite of Boston, who would travel for weeks through the Maine wilderness to reach Thorndike’s luxurious country estate, where they enjoyed such diversions as fox hunts, chatting with the flamboyant English gardener, fishing in the Great Farm Brook, and parties in the mansion’s ballroom.

As westward expansion gained momentum, agriculture in the Northeast was gradually abandoned, and the Great Farm fell into disrepair. This general decline coincided with the Thorndike family ceasing to bankroll their extravagant experiment farm. The Great Farm changed hands a number of times, the buildings burned or collapsed, and the farmland was neglected, subdivided, and eventually grew up in trees.

When we bought the Great Farm in 2013 it was entirely forested, and thick with saplings. During two winters we tromped far and wide through the snow, flagging many dozens of stout and healthy oak, maple, elm trees and more to provide shade and wildlife habitat in our fields. Two biomass harvests later, our stone wall edged fields are uncovered, though unlike in the past, they are now dotted with robust young trees that will canopy out in the coming years. We are thrilled to be well on our way, cultivating our lovely expanse of meandering silvopasture.

These are a couple historical documents about the Great Farm we have collected:
1873 Survey of Agriculture in Waldo County
1874 Notes on Maine Cattle
The Survey decries the bleak situation in 1873, while the Notes paint a more elaborate picture of the Great Farm’s glory days. If you have any information about or interest in the Great Farm we’d love to hear from you! Maine’s rich history is a favorite conversation topic.

Graham did a short presentation about the revival of the Great Farm in Waterville in November of 2014, check it out!