HISTORY OF THE FARM
The present day Tilly Foster Farm has a long history. The land and one of the buildings, The Homestead, was originally the property of Rundle Bloomer a local dairy farmer. The Bloomers owned the land from 1901 until 1943 when Edward Benedict purchased it. Together with his wife, Elena and six daughters, the Benedicts became a mainstay of Brewster, although they often divided their time between Westchester and Putnam County.
Upon the advice of Dr. Kohl, a close family friend and confidante, Edward Benedict not only purchased what first became known as The Benedict Farm on Rte 312, but more than 1,000 acres of surrounding countryside( (including the Tilly Foster Post Office and adjoining Schoolhouse). The original Tilly Foster Farm was located on John Simpson Road which is presently occupied by Centennial Golf Course. The Benedicts also owned the property which is now The Town of Southeast Regional Retail Center, Brewster Highlands.
For a period of time until the late 1960's, Edward Benedict was engaged in a lucrative dairy business. In 1943, soon after purchasing what became known as Benedict Dairy Farms, Mr. Benedict hired S. Arvid Swenson, a local builder and former horse breeder in his native Sweden, as his Farm Manager. Barns and sheds on either side of Rte 312 were constructed to house the herds and the lower level of what is now The Lodge housed the cow stalls. Mr. Swenson supervised the building of two 100-capacity dairy barns and creamery, the now-present white barns, as well as acquiring the prize purebred dairy herd. Restoring and modernizing the existing buildings was on-going, as well as building The Cottage in 1947 which then became Arvid Swenson's family home until his retirement in 1962.
Milk from the Benedict's prize dairy herds cows was shipped by tanker truck to the Mitchell Dairy in Bridgeport, Ct. Later a local milk bottling plant was constructed nearby by Dellwood Milk Company located in Yonkers which purchased its milk from the Benedict Dairy Farms. This plant can still be seen today at the juncture of Rte 6 and Rte 312 in Brewster.
However, as milk production in New York State diminished and the financial returns no longer sufficient, Mr. Benedict then embarked on breeding thoroughbred horses. Soon Tilly Foster Farm and the horses became the talk of the town and of thoroughbred enthusiasts in Kentucky. Mr. Benedict hired Tony DeNoia, who still lives on The Farm, to manage the birthing of these pedigree foals. One of the Benedict horses even placed third in The Kentucky Derby. (Diane, one of the Benedict daughters, continues her father's legacy of managing horses through an organization that provides sanctuary for abused and ill horses out West.)
On 1962, when Arvid Swensen retired, John Gaudelli, a master Italian craftsman, became the new manager of The Farm. He and Mr. Benedict went about constructing and renovating the structures that presently can be seen at Tilly Foster. Mr. Benedict became President of the New York State Thoroughbred Horses Association. As befitting his position, The Lodge was designed and constructed by John Gaudelli, as an event space for hosting Association members, public officials, workshops, conferences, dinners and glittering receptions. In a moment of playfulness between owner and manager, The Lodge bore the title of "No Rhyme or Reason."
Housing was also provided. The Cottage was enlarged and renovated at the end of the main farm road and across from The Lodge building, The Cantina, originally the horse stable and farm office, was constructed with the dual purpose of housing friends of the Benedict children and providing convenient lodging for guests. Large living rooms with fireplaces, bedrooms, commodious bathrooms, a jacuzzi and a sauna are some of the "modern" amenities that comprise The Cantina.
But times changed. And with the death of Edward Benedict, the fortunes of the family and its endeavors declined. In the late 1990's and early 2000s, the entire Benedict land holdings were sold; including the last parcel, which with a change of a shingle became known as Tilly Foster Farm.
This large tract off land, and the potential for claims on its future by developers, became a catalyst for galvanizing residents toward preservation of The Farm. Led by the Putnam County Coalition to Preserve Open Space and hundreds of supporters, The Save the Farm campaign fired the imagination of residents and the political will of public officials. Signs sprouted along county roads, on lawns and residents besieged officials with telephone calls and letters.
Riding the wave of open space enthusiasm, then County Executive Robert J. Bondi negotiated an agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection which permitted purchase of the open space through the use of East of Hudson Water Quality Funds. Tilly Foster Farm borders one of New York City's reservoirs, the Middle Branch, so that in addition to preserving open space, the purchase of the farm would also serve to protect NYC's water quality. In 2002, the Farm, a parcel of 199 acres, was purchased for $3.9 million and became the County's first open space acquisition.
After numerous fits and starts, today Tilly Foster Farm continues to be owned by the County. In 2009, the County entered into a lease arrangement with the Society for the Preservation of Putnam County Antiquities and Greenways, and George Whipple, to manage the property and provide a collection of rare and endangered early American farm animals and antique farm equipment, public programs and educational activities at Tilly Foster Farm. For the past three years, The Farm has proven to be a work in progress; but throughout that time, the vision has remained: bequeathing to future generations, respect for our historical and cultural legacy in the context of the County's and The Farm's agricultural past while at the same time acknowledging that the 21st century brings with it its own challenges.
Special acknowledgements to: Dagmar Swenson, daughter of Farm Manager, Arvid Swenson; Sherry Gaudelli, wife of Farm Manager, John Gaudelli and Ann Fanizzi, Chair - Putnam County Coalition to Preserve Open Space for their contributions to this history.
(updated July 2011)
SOLAR POWER at THE FARM
A modern process for sustainable power helps keep electric costs low at Tilly Foster Farm. Through funds from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Putnam County engaged Hudson Valley Clean Energy to design and install a solar power system at Tilly Foster Farm. The array of solar panels produces approximately 15,000 KWH per year, the equivalent to that used by two (2) homes and replaces:
8.3 tons of greenhouse gases
1,144 gallons of crude oil
8.3 tons of coal
Additional energy projects at the farm include, a small wind turbine, refurbished by the Friends of Tilly Foster in 2009.