20190831-LOC-rumrill wilder

COURTESY PHOTO

A partial view of Jones Wilder’s Cheshire Place.

Jones Wilder came to Rindge in the 1880s. He purchased 7,200 acres there and quickly built up one of the largest farmstead developments ever witnessed in New England.

Wilder had made a fortune in New York as a partner in the Butterick Dress Pattern Co. Many years earlier, as a young man in his 20s, Wilder had failed miserably as a sawmill operator in Rindge, but he returned to the town to build his utopian farm community.

Some people felt that he returned to the site of his earlier failure to prove to the townspeople that he was now a success.

Wilder’s 7,200 acres included 20 small farms that were all renovated and restocked. He kept a workforce of 300 to 500 men busy for the next 13 years. In addition to the farms, the community included saw, grist and cider mills, bobbin and vinegar factories, blacksmith and wheelwright shops, a greenhouse, animal hospital, brickyard, tenements, Wilder’s mansion and several windmills that powered an underground water system. The cost of construction ran well over $800,000.

The farm estate grew, and Wilder opened it to the public in 1893. The Cheshire Improvement Co., also known as the Cheshire Place, was visited by many people who came to study Wilder’s farming methods. One year later, however, Wilder died, and the estate was closed down. The Butterick Co. soon reopened the Cheshire Place on a smaller scale. Much of the estate was sold off during the early years of the 1900s.

During 1926, Wilder’s son, George, purchased the remainder of the property and dismantled most of the original buildings, leaving the mansion intact. George’s widow sold the estate upon his death in 1931. Several years later, the remains of Jones Wilder‘s dream, a few buildings surrounded by cellar holes and endless stone walls, became the home of the Hampshire Country School, which still occupies the site today.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.