Sholan Farms’ rich history reaches back to 1642, when Sholan, chief of the Nashaway tribe, deeded 80 square miles of land to Thomas King and Henry Symonds. That tract of land was called Lancaster, which was formally incorporated in 1653. In 1701, Leominster was purchased from Chief Sholan of the Nashua Indian tribe. At that time it was known as ‘Lancaster New’, but was renamed in 1740 to Leominster after Leominster, England. The Sholan Farms land was either part of the original grant bought from Chief Sholan in 1642 or the new land grant purchased in 1701.
The original farmhouse, stood near the water tank across from the barn cellar hole, was estimated to be built in the 1730’s. The oldest property record on file is a deed dated December 31,1753 transferring the property from Joseph Wheeler to Richard Stuart. Richard Stuart then deeded the land to his son Ebenezer who died young and the property was subsequently deeded to his infant daughter. Ebenezer Stuart’s widow, Mary, married John Simonds in 1782. John Simonds was brother to Elizabeth Simonds, who married Nathaniel Chapman and gave birth to John Chapman, AKA Johnny Appleseed. We would like to theorize that Johnny roamed the meadows and woodlands of Sholan Farms as a child. However since Johnny was born in 1774 and left Leominster at a very young age, he may have been gone by the time his Uncle married and lived on the farm.
On April 22, 1912, Paul Washburn bought from Dennis E. Wheeler, “90 acres plus Rogers Farm, also 2 other parcels of 58 acres and 48 acres”, including the original farm house. Paul Washburn purchased more land over the years increasing the size of the farm. The property, today known as Sholan Farms, has changed hands many times through the years and has been known as Chestnut Hill, Washburn Farm, and Leominster Orchards. The farm was renamed by the Washburns, to Sholan Farms in honor of Chief Sholan of the Nashaway tribe.
The Washburns used the property as a dairy farm until the 1920’s but with the advent of milk control and resulting economic reasons, changed it to an apple orchard. Since apple trees take years to mature and bear fruit, they planted interim crops of vegetables between the rows of apple trees.
The land changed hands many times and many families lived in the farmhouse. Although there was a fire in the house in 1982, it was not destroyed. The owners sold the building and it was dismantled piece by piece and relocated. Its whereabouts are unknown.
The large post and beam barn burned down on May 3, 2003. The barn was built in the mid 1800’s and was used first as a cow-barn and later for storing produce. Today the long-term plan is to rebuild the barn.
Through the latter part of the 1990’s, the Possick family owned the 167-acre tract of land that is now referred to as Sholan Farms. The Possick family first announced the Purchase and Sale intent on 10/01/00 with a press release in the local newspaper. From that date, a grass roots neighborhood Work Team, called the Sholan Farms Preservation Committee (SFPC), was formed with the purpose of preserving the farm in its current agricultural state. The mayor appointed the Post Use Committee (PUC), which included representatives from across the community, to develop a comprehensive plan for the use of the property once the City was able to acquire the property.
The final Purchase and Sale Agreement was executed on June 21, 2001. Due to the fundamental disagreements between the leaders of the SFPC, the PUC and the Mayor of Leominster; these two groups were disbanded and a new organization was established. This new organization was called the Friends of Sholan Farms (FOSF). Their first meeting was held on June 27, 2001.
The FOSF adopted the recommendations made by the PUC. Their purposes were to assist the City of Leominster in managing the property, raising funds to restore the barn and other assets on the farm, and fulfilling the stewardship obligations regarding the Agricultural Preservation Restriction and Conservation Restriction (APR/CR) requirements as stipulated by Department of Agriculture of the State of Massachusetts.
The Orchard & Farming Operation
Upon purchase, there were 60 acres of agricultural land being farmed entirely as an apple orchard. It was apparent that the size of the apple orchard operation was well in excess of the capability or intent of the Friends’ apple production, maintenance, and sales capability. Consequently, through the recommendation of the Orchard Manager, the FOSF voted to adopt a plan to maintain an apple orchard operation consisting of 20 acres. The remaining 40 acres are being re-harvested to a new variety of crops as defined in this Business Plan. In 2006/2007 the Friends reclaimed 4 additional acres of apple orchard and planted 1.5 acres of blueberries. In addition the farmland under production in various states has now reached the 60 acres.
The FOSF have been successful in improving apple production and in adding numerous revenue generating crops. The estimated actual apple production yield is 4,000 bushels of apples from a total of 2,402 maintained apple trees. Average production statistics are: $8.95 cost per bushel of apples produced, $15.91 per tree per year for production.
We have added 500 new apple trees, 200 raspberry plants, and 1150 blueberry bushes. In addition we plant annual crops of pumpkins, squash, and gourds. In 2005 we hosted community gardens which were managed by a student from UMASS.