A farm sitting idle without cows to be milked, or occasionally extracted from a low-sloped garage roof, was not in Philetus “Lete” Watson’s character, but he couldn’t recommend farming as an occupation to his grandchildren.
“My grandfather was a tireless worker,” Christine Kendall said one day last week, hiking a portion of her grandfather’s dairy farm on Route 164. “He never took a day off, milking cows twice a day.”
Watson died at age 72, falling from a defective seat on a running tractor in 1990. The dairy farm, which dates to the early 1700s as the Morgan Farm, continued until 2008, when the barns and stables went idle. A few of the rolling pasture fields now just grow hay.
Kendall, managing partner of farm owner White Gate LLC, said it’s time to sell the 226-acre farm that crosses Route 164 and has frontage on Parks and Krug roads. This piece is only one section of the total 670 acres of farmland her grandfather had purchased during his tenure and is the first to be put on the market.
Christine and her husband, John, live on another 130-acre portion of the farm off Parks Road. Before her mother, Lucille Thoma, died in 2017, she had worked on possible alternative uses for the property. The family obtained town approvals in 2000 for an 18-hole golf course on the portion west of Route 164 at 499 Route 164. They even “roughed out” nine holes and erected three permitted concrete bridges across scenic Broad Brook, which traverses the farm.
But that idea died when the Great Recession hit in 2008.
“It’s not being used. I hate to see it just sitting,” Christine Kendall said. “My grandfather told us ‘it’s a hard life, go to college.’ We’re not farmers.”
Christine Kendall is an audiologist and her husband, an engineer.
The owners have listed the 226-acre Route 164 farm for $1.95 million with Realtor Mantas Laureckis of Seaport Real Estate Group, a subsidiary of Sotheby’s International Realty. The firm created a 23-page brochure with dozens of color photos of the historic 1792 Daniel Morgan farmhouse; the Colonial-era, two-story barn; three garages, one with a stable; two pole barns; two sheds; and the rolling hills, woods, brook and farm pond with its fieldstone dam.
“This scenic property is well-suited for an organic farm, horse property, golf course, campground or private getaway, or development of an upscale, tranquil community 15 minutes from the (Mohegan) Sun and Foxwoods,” the brochure states.
Town Planner Kathy Warzecha said the property is in an R-60 residential zone for 1.5-acre house lots. The old golf course permit has expired. Campgrounds and farms also would be allowed.
The property and its owners have had a prominent role in Preston’s rich farming tradition and its government.
The farm started in the early 1700s as James Morgan’s share of his father, John Morgan’s property, according to the book “Preston Homes and Families,” published in 1998 by the Preston Historical Society. Later, James Morgan’s sons Daniel and Samuel farmed it, with Samuel serving as town clerk. Different Daniel Morgans also served as town clerk and one as an acting magistrate.
“Samuel’s son, Daniel succeed him,” the write-up on the farm says, “and for three generations, this farm was owned by a Daniel Morgan. The ownership remained in the Morgan family until 1910.”
Christine Kendall said her grandfather was raised in Ledyard, and her grandmother in Old Mystic. They eloped and started a small farm in Ledyard before buying a small portion of the Preston farm with the help of friends in 1947. They grew and expanded the dairy farm to a peak of 150 cows, purchasing three contiguous farm properties over the years.
In his down time, “Lete” Watson made a name for himself winning woodchopping contests at summer fairs throughout the region. Not to be outdone, his wife, Eleanor, won pie contests at those same fairs, and once presented her state championship pie to then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker. She won a King Arthur Flour cookbook, which the Kendalls now have.
Christine’s mother served as town treasurer for 28 years.
Christine, an only child, romped through the farm as a child, tobogganing down the steeper hills of the pastureland, bailing out if she got too close to the stone wall or Broad Brook at the base of the hill. “I still have the toboggan,” she said.
She loved to hear her grandfather’s stories of farming mishaps and fairs. Once, a cow was struck by lightning. Another got pinned atop a fence pole. Cows would escape and go running down Route 164. When traffic on the state road got busier, state troopers were called to help the Watsons get the cows across to a new pasture. And there were those that couldn’t resist climbing the low-sloped garage roof.
“My grandfather would say ‘we have another cow on the roof,” she said. She has a snapshot of a cow standing atop the garage roof sometime in the 1950s.
Remnants of the working farm are visible, with old, browned hay still drying in half of one pole barn, an open-faced barn used to store damp hay that could become a spontaneous fire hazard in a remote location away from the house and barns. A roll of rusted barbed wire sits neatly at the bank of the farm pond. The gravel bank the Watsons used for farm roads and other purposes remains, and piles of topsoil scraped off when the golf course was graded also never left the property. Then there’s the decaying small wooden boat sitting nowhere near the farm pond and now nearly completely concealed by brush. Christine Kendall shrugged. She has no idea why it’s there.
While the livestock is gone, wildlife have free reign of the land. Birds, including a leucistic white red-tailed hawk, minks, turtles, fishers, coyotes, many deer and numerous other animals have been seen on John Kendall’s wildlife motion-sensor camera.
“It was a very hard decision to sell it all,” Christine Kendall said. “I’d like to see it stay in farming, maybe organic farming. It would be great for a hemp farm. It would be great for a campground, too.”