VERMONT AGRICULTURAL BUSINESS EDUCATION CENTER
The fertile soils of the farm in the Connecticut River Valley made it an optimal place for agriculture since the inception of the state. Originally owned by Jonathan Hunt Jr., one of the first proprietors of Brattleboro, the land has been under cultivation since the early 1800's. It is speculated that Algonquin and Squaheag Indians were planting crops for years before the first western settlement.
There were many homesteading families on the land throughout the nineteenth century. Lorenzo D. Keyes, a member of the Vermont Calvary during the civil war, farmed part of the property and served as a local milk peddler in Brattleboro. Others included Asa Boyden, Lyman Eels, and the Plummer and Bulkley families, whose properties are noted on the early McClellan maps of Brattleboro.
The current VABEC barn was built by W.F. Richardson & Son in the fall of 1883. The farm had been in the family since the mid-1800's when Isaiah Richardson purchased the land and expanded when his son W.F. was able to purchase surrounding farms, including George C. Hall Estate. The farm comprised of 250 acres. This barn was rebuilt when burnt to the ground in the summer of 1883 after being struck by lightning. The farmhouse was saved as described in the July 13, 1883 issue of The Vermont Phoenix. The barn was built to house hay, but also to store ice harvested from the ice pond on the farm. The ice business complimented their prosperous Meat Market in downtown Brattleboro. The farm was sold to Harry E. Whitney in 1913 and comprised of 250 acres.
VABEC's farmland was valuable, in particular, for its chestnuts all the way up until the blight in 1914. Hundreds of bushels of chestnuts were shipped from Brattleboro to Boston during the Christmas season throughout the later part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The farm and adjoining Fairgrounds (today the Brattleboro Union High School) were used in 1914 and 1915 by UVM extension for experiments in growing alfalfa as a means of increasing farm productivity.
During the Civil War, the land to the north of the farm was used as a Civil War Hospital. Though the supply contracts were formally given to John Frost and Francis Goodhue, it is likely that most of the surrounding farms, including this property, sold produce, meat, and dairy to the Union Army. Long after the war was over W. F. Richardson sold part of his land to the Windham County Agricultural Society in 1886 as a location for the town fairgrounds. The Brattleboro Valley Fair was held annually from 1886 to 1931 and is well documented in photographs and in articles from The Brattleboro Reformer. Mr. and Mrs. Richardson were known to have been huge supporters of the fair. The present High School was built on the old fairgrounds sited in the 1950's
The Lawrence family owned the farm from 1960 to 1980. Maria and Milford Lawrence and their children ran a dairy operation that at its peak included 80 cows. The previous two owners, the Chamberlin and Chickering families, also used the land as a dairy farm. Today VABEC's primary conference room is named after Maria Lawrence, paying homage to the wives and daughters who were essential partners in the farm's success. Joe Famolare purchased the Lawrence Farm in 1980. He converted the working farm into an educational center, with a vision to maintain its integrity and to continue its significance in Brattleboro history and development.
The renovation of the barn and farm buildings that began in the mid-1990's has transformed this property into a vibrant center for like-minded organizations. Great lengths have been taken to preserve the integrity of the barn to keep the historical heritage intact while offering a clean and comfortable environment in which to work. The energy of the farm and its history are felt by the people who spend their days at VABEC. Our community continues to evolve and we always welcome others to come "feel the barn".
Vermont Agricultural Business Education Center's intent is to link the farm's historical accomplishments to the current goal of cultivating the endeavor of individuals who work and study on campus.