French Farm Elegy



We’ve lived some 30 years in our house off Drinkwater Rd in Hinesburg. The land had been part of Howard and Inez French’s farm just down the road.

For the first few years, Howard and Inez grazed their cows in a pasture just below our kitchen. Once, when I was struggling to get my aging John Deere tractor up our steep driveway in winter to plow, Howard took me out to his tractor shed and said, “try these,” pointing to a 200 lb. set of rusty Canadian ring chains. We got them in the bucket of my tractor and I brought them home. They made all the difference.

After Howard died in 2006, Inez sold off much of the farm and used the proceeds to restore Howard’s beloved barn, a classic Vermont barn with a spacious hayloft and rail hayfork over the ground-floor stanchion area with a milking shed at one end. She also built herself a small garage so she would not have to shovel out her car after every snowstorm.

On walks, Inez would occasionally knock on our door unannounced and ask if we had any coffee up. We’d have a wide-ranging chat about town events, family and community changes. Occasionally, we’d repeat the gift and drop by her spacious white farmhouse just down from our driveway, Magic Hill Rd, which Kate had suggested be named French Farm Rd when the GPS road-naming frenzy broke. But our good neighbor’s dog, Magic, won out.

After Inez died, the farm was sold this year and site preparation for a new home up the hill overlooking the farm began.

To our surprise, driving by a few weeks later we saw an excavator clawing at the farmhouse, tearing it room-from-room, and sorting plumbing salvage and wood into a huge dumpster. Days later, the site where Howard and Inez’s house had been, was graded over with just a few landscape bushes left.

Grateful to see Howard’s barn still standing, we hoped for the best. But a few weeks later we saw the same excavator clawing apart Harold’s much loved barn, and days later a smoldering fire sent the timbers and wood into the neighborhood sky.

Now the site’s been graded and only the new white garage remains standing, every trace of the French Farm gone.

When our neighbors died, we missed them. Now that their classic Vermont farm has become someone’s lawn, we mourn the loss.

̶  Bill and Kate Schubart

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