Historic Daniel Webster Farm Protected (NH)

Franklin, NH, 2/22/07: The Trust for Public Land (TPL), along with the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance (NHPA), and the Webster Farm Preservation Association (WFPA), announced today the successful completion of the effort to permanently preserve Daniel Webster’s historic 141-acre farm in Franklin. As a result of the conservation project, the scenic riverfront farmland will never be developed, and the historic buildings, including Daniel Webster’s family home, will be permanently protected.

For many years the fate of Webster Farm, the home of one of America’s greatest statesmen, was uncertain. The farm was included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places when a developer acquired the property and proposed to build multiple housing units there. Today’s successful conservation project began in September 2005 when LCHIP made a $750,000 grant to anchor the project, and TPL secured a purchase agreement from the owner. TPL bought the farm in November 2005 and has held it off the market while working with partners to raise $2.5 million to secure the permanent conservation of the historic, natural and agricultural resources.

In the fall of 2006, TPL conveyed 122 acres of farmland along the Merrimack River to a neighboring farmer, Clarence Fife, and facilitated the transfer of a permanent conservation easement to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Guaranteeing the preservation of the 11 historic buildings required identifying the right investor who had a plan for the economic reuse of the structures. Today, TPL completed the sale of the 11 buildings to DW Ray Commons LLC. A preservation easement held by the Preservation Alliance will ensure their distinguishing historic characteristics, as well as their setting, will be protected in perpetuity.

“I am pleased the State of New Hampshire, through LCHIP, could play an important role in preserving one of our historic treasures,” said Governor John Lynch. “It is important that this property, with its agricultural and cultural significance, be preserved for this generation, and future generations, to enjoy. I would like to thank everyone involved who worked with LCHIP to preserve this important property.

A farm in the 18th century, in 1871 the property became the New Hampshire Orphan’s Home, when the founders were drawn there to provide a place for orphans, particularly those whose parents died during the Civil War, to be not only housed and educated, but to become self reliant and contributing member of society. In 1958 the property was acquired for use as a convent. Sold for development in 2004, the buildings have been vacant, fallen into disrepair and now need significant rehabilitation. A Preservation Alliance-sponsored feasibility study offered preliminary re-use possibilities for the property. Alex Ray, the owner of DW Ray Commons LLC, responded to an extensive nationwide search for a productive reuse of the buildings consistent with their historic character. Ray plans to establish a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in conjunction with a culinary arts program on the site, with the possibility of a residential school in the future.

Valerie Talmage, Projects Director for TPL, said, “Daniel Webster’s farm is a special place in New Hampshire. Webster returned to this place throughout his adult life, writing to his son that it was ‘the very sweetest spot on earth.’ TPL is proud to have spearheaded the effort to ensure that future generations of Granite Staters will forever be able to experience this treasure firsthand.”

Rachel Rouillard, LCHIP’s Executive Director, said, “The Webster Farm was our state’s most significant at-risk resource. This site has real significance to the entire state, and no other preservation opportunity in New Hampshire had greater historical, cultural or natural resource value. We’re thrilled that it’s no longer on the endangered list.”

Jennifer Goodman, Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance, said, “We are so pleased with how well Alex Ray’s plans for the property mesh with how this property has been used over the last two centuries. He will not only revive the historic structures, but will continue the agricultural, educational, charitable, and renewal activities that have defined this special place for over 200 years. The preservation easement is designed to protect the buildings and the adjacent historic landscape, while encouraging their rehabilitation and vibrant use in the years ahead.”

The total cost of the project, including purchase of the two easements, stabilization of the buildings, and related costs, was $2.5 million. In addition to LCHIP’s grant of $750,000, the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) awarded a $500,000 to the effort, with the support of the New Hampshire congressional delegation. The New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game contributed $100,000. The remainder of the funds came from private donations and the sale of the restricted land and buildings. The partners raised nearly $850,000 in contributions from individuals, foundations, and businesses.

“This property is an important historic and cultural treasure in our state and protecting this property will help preserve Webster’s legacy,” said U.S. Senator Judd Gregg. “Because of the actions of many individuals and organizations, the Webster Farm will continue to provide a rich educational resource for generations to come.”

U.S. Senator John Sununu said, “The Webster farm is an important part of New Hampshire’s history, as reflected by the strong commitment of conservationists, public officials and concerned individuals to permanently protect the property. Daniel Webster, a great American statesman and a New Hampshire native, found a refuge at his beloved farm. With the land and buildings now under permanent protection, future generations will be able to see why Daniel Webster so enjoyed this special part of New Hampshire.”

State Representative Leigh A. Webb (D-Franklin) is a member of the Webster Farm Preservation Association. He said, “The National Trust’s listing of the Farm on its ’11 Most Endangered Sites’ helped focus attention on this irreplaceable treasure, and put it on The Trust for Public Land’s radar screen. Without the help of TPL’s dedicated staff and LCHIP’s critically needed financial contributions, we would not be celebrating a preservation victory today. As a legislator, I look forward to the opportunity to be a part of helping other communities in New Hampshire by being an outspoken supporter of LCHIP in the House of Representatives.”

“We’re pleased to have played a role in helping protect not only a historically significant landscape, but in making it possible to keep prime farmland in active production while conserving more than a mile of scenic Merrimack River frontage,” said Jane Difley, president/forester of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. “In today’s world, it takes multiple organizations working together with individuals to effect significant land conservation. We congratulate each of the partners, including the Fife family who has farmed the land for decades. It’s an ideal example of how important a program like LCHIP is as we seek to keep New Hampshire New Hampshire.”

Daniel Webster (1782 – 1852), a U.S. Congressman, Senator, presidential candidate and Secretary of State, is considered one of America’s greatest statesmen and orators. After studying at Dartmouth College and opening a law practice in Boscawen and later in Portsmouth, he maintained his family farm in Franklin as a place for political meetings, farming, and a retreat until his death in 1852. In 1871, the Webster family home on the property would become the country’s first orphan’s home and school outside of an urban area, housing children who had lost parents during the American Civil War.

In addition to its historic and scenic value, the Webster Farm is the site of some of the most productive soils in the state, and includes nearly a mile of frontage on the Merrimack River. Its conservation will help maintain water quality and protect native fish and wildlife habitats. Its large and scenic open fields offer public recreational opportunities for hiking, cross country skiing, birding, while a car top boat launch will provide access for canoeing and kayaking.

The Trust for Public Land, established in 1972, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations. In New Hampshire, TPL has protected more than 200,000 acres. For more information, visit TPL on the web at www.tpl.org.

The Land and Community Heritage Investment Program is an independent state authority that provides matching grants to New Hampshire communities and nonprofits in an effort to protect the state’s most important natural, cultural and historic resources for the purposes of ensuring the perpetual contribution of these resources to the state’s economy, the environment and the quality of life in New Hampshire. Since its inception, LCHIP has funded 129 projects in 103 communities, conserving over 200,000 acres and 87 historic structures. (www.lchip.org)

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance is the state’s not-for-profit membership-based historic preservation organization dedicated to preserving historic buildings, landscapes and communities through leadership, advocacy and education. (www.nhpreservation.org)

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (www.forestsociety.org) is the state’s oldest and largest non-profit land conservation organization. In order to preserve the quality of life New Hampshire residents know today, the goal of the Forest Society, in partnership with other conservation organizations, private landowners, and government, is to conserve an additional one million acres of the state’s most significant natural lands for trails, parks, farms and forests by 2026.