Hunt Hill Farm is the combination of two historic New Milford farms, Hine and Buckingham. They encompass a significant collection of well-preserved farm architecture historically associated with the nineteenth-century development of the dairy industry in the western hills of Connecticut and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As each generation has succeeded to take stewardship of the land, we see why family farms survived in Connecticut for more than 200 years. Since 1968, Hunt Hill Farm has come under the stewardship of the Hendersons. Skitch, founder of the New York Pops orchestra and beloved radio & television personality, and Ruth, a writer, chef and entrepreneur, have collaborated to protect Hunt Hill Farm and all the collections therein - their most lasting achievement.
‘Preservation’ is the guiding principle behind the activities here on the farm. Take a moment and read our ‘featured article’ and you, too, will understand why individuals and organizations around the country have recognized Hunt Hill Farm as an ‘American Treasure.’
We did not go looking for Hunt Hill Farm – it looked for us. In 1967 we were both immersed in a busy urban life. Skitch, as Musical Director of NBC, appeared nightly on the Tonight Show, which was live in New York in those days. Ruth was chairwoman of Friends of City Center and an active fund-raiser and drum-beater for the arts. We had just opened a restaurant, Daly’s Dandelion, which was a transformation of a neighborhood tavern that had been run by the Daly family for three generations. Mayor John Lindsay tended bar on opening night. It was the talk of the restaurant scene because of its publike atmosphere, its homey food served in generous portions, and its sidewalk café. Daly’s was fast becoming the early and late stop for notables as well as for our blue-collar neighbors.
Our lives were rooted in the city. Our older child, Hans, attended the Browning School and Heidi, our daughter, was at Miss Hewitt’s. On winter weekends we skied in Vermont. Summers were spent in Long Pond, Massachusetts.
But, unbeknownst to us, things were about to change. Early in 1968, our partner in Daly’s, George Cothran, was looking for “an acre” of land and a barn where he could exercise his green thumb. We came along for the ride one day and saw a vacant pre-Civil War dairy farm. The strong European character of the barnyard immediately drew us in. Although two silos were still sturdy, this farm looked almost ramshackle, so we left. But we couldn’t forget that barnyard. Two days later, we bought it with George to fix it up and rent it out. As an investment.
After that, on Fridays we took off for New Milford, Connecticut, with paintbrushes and scrapers in hand, and began fixing up the old main house. We found helpful, good neighbors: a carpenter, an electrician, and a plumber. In a short time, the place became livable and we found our very first summer tenant, Ali MacGraw.
Meanwhile, George dug, planted, and transplanted, bringing in trees from all over the state (most of them only four to five inches tall). He discovered endless amounts of hosta, which he separated and used to fill space after space here and there. He planted beans, peas, tomatoes, corn, cabbage, kohlrabi, greens, and okra. And for Daly’s Dandelion, he planted hundreds of yellow flowers. By the time our summer tenant showed up, none of us wanted to leave. But a deal’s a deal: we left the gardens, the house, the barnyard, and the trees and counted the days until we would be back.
Throughout the summer we came back often and stayed in the tenant farmer’s house, now Hunt Hill Cottage. We harvested the beans and vegetables and brought back flowers to Daly’s. By then, Ruth had endless ideas about what to do with the houses and barns – too many ideas for George, so he sold us his share.
In the fall, we both loved strolling down the road to the neighbor’s huge red barn, where more than forty cows resided. We loved the sounds, the smells, the fresh milk, the newborn calves and barn cats. Those neighbors, the Bostwick family, would eventually give up farming and sell us part of their farm and the huge red barn we loved so much. We call it the 1836 Barn and it’s now where we live. By 1971, the old heifer barn had become Skitch’s studio. By 1972, we had renovated the main section of the barn and, with an old friend, Louise King, we opened a cookware store in it and called it The Silo. The stables of the barn then became the cooking school and the hayloft an art gallery.
Meanwhile, we were also busy restaurateurs elsewhere. During these same three years, we restored an old rum warehouse in St. Thomas, which became The Wooden Horse. We also bought The Bird & Bottle restaurant, an eighteenth century carriage stop in Garrison, New York, and were deep into plans to open another Daly’s – Daly’s Daffodil.
We made the rounds of all our concerns during the week and couldn’t wait to land back at the farm on weekends. Gradually, we became more and more involved in the town of New Milford and soon grew into being at the farm more often that not. So, I 1972, we gave up our city address and made Hunt Hill Farm, New Milford, Connecticut, our home.
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