The Billings Farm and Museum

Frederick Billings' model farm and dairy celebrates Vermont's rural heritage.


| November 2006



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Frederick Billings built this Victorian farmhouse for George Aitken, his first professional farm manager. The structure has been meticulously restored.

When conservationist and entrepreneur Frederick Billings established his Woodstock, Vt., farm in 1871, the goal was to create a model dairy using the best scientific principals of the day. Billings imported herd-foundation stock directly from the Isle of Jersey in the British Channel and applied selective breeding techniques to enhance production numbers. The Billings farm flourished, and today provides a gateway to celebrating Vermont's rural heritage.

"The farm is still one of the best Jersey farms in America," says Susan Plump, Billings Farm and Museum public relations assistant. "Most of our milk goes into making cheese." Champion-lined ancestors to Frederick's first cows supply the Cabot Creamery Cooperative, which produces some of the finest aged cheddars in the country, but it wasn't always about cheese at this farm. "In the early years, they used most of the milk to produce butter," says museum curator Robert Benz, "but it was a diversified operation and also included sheep and hogs."

As a conservationist, Frederick Billings was concerned with the rampant deforestation of the Woodstock area and was keenly aware that in northern New England, especially, sustainable agricultural practices and careful forest management were necessary to preserve fragile soils and surface water quality. Implementing ideas proposed by George Perkins Marsh, a noted conservationist and the land's previous owner, Billings planted more than 10,000 trees in the Woodstock area and created a gravity-fed water system providing clean pressurized water for the operation.

The Billings Farm and Museum was first opened to the public in 1983. It now features hands-on farm experiences, barns full of agricultural artifacts and a restored 1890 farm manager's home with attached creamery, in addition to the award-winning cattle.

A year on the farm

Ever wonder what life was like on a New England farm in 1890? Step through the doors of one of the Billings barns and view a compelling series of exhibits depicting every significant farm task from that time and place. Stroll through the old barn and discover beautifully preserved artifacts, vintage photographs and multi-media presentations as engaging as they are educational.

"The Vermont Farm Year in 1890" walks the visitor through the fundamentals of preparing the soil, planting the seed, cultivation and harvest. In one exhibit, a farmer is seen placing a large stone onto a rock wall. Tools of his trade, and those he might use to build wire or board fence, are nearby. In other areas, tools and activities associated with timbering, making butter, cheese, cider and ice are realistically presented. In several fascinating exhibits, maple sugaring is shown in such a way as to provide regional history in addition to displaying an awesome array of tools. Aged wooden sap buckets are on display next to a panel loaded with wooden and metal tree taps of every size and shape.