Every adventure starts with a vision. The vision for Coogan Farm emerged from a deep love of Mystic’s special place in the world and an unrelenting desire to preserve it. That vision was embraced by our many supporters and donors, perhaps by none more insightfully than our single largest private donor, Charles and Irene Hamm. Beyond magnanimous financial support which helped secure the land in perpetuity, the Hamms recognized the historical significance of the Coogan Farm property as “a birthplace of Mystic and the American spirit” and sparked a wonderful adventure into the nature and heritage of historic Greenmanville that continues to unfold. With the recent addition of generous support from the Edward and Mary Lord Foundation, work has begun to restore the Gallup Orchard. Dating back to the original 1654 Gallup homestead and actively farmed by the Greenman brothers during the age of shipbuilding in the 1800s to feed their shipworkers at what is now Mystic Seaport Museum, the orchard contains clues that will help us uncover the history and heritage of the land.
Eliza Greenman, our heirloom orchardist (and Greenman descendant) has removed hundreds of invasive plants including Autumn Olive, Barberry, Multiflora Rose, and Bittersweet. Using a forestry mulcher, plants are cut down while the soil remains covered, keeping the existing mycorrhizal networks and native bacterial colonies in the soil unharmed while preventing weeds from germinating.
In additional to its historical significance, the Coogan Farm property is protected in a conservation easement as part of the Ledyard-Coastal Focus Area for New England Cottontail to prevent this vulnerable species’ from declining further by preserving suitable habitat. Rabbits take advantage of “edge” habitat and brush that give cover from predators. Abandoned and overgrowing farmland provide just that. As we remove invasive plants in favor of native ones, we need to ensure we maintain habitat through the transition. In addition to leaving large areas untouched, branches and cuttings are being collected and used to make brush piles for rabbits. Alone, they are too dense to provide rabbit habitat, but with a little engineering by including a pallet or smaller structure that creates a rise in the middle of the pile, 4” pipes can be inserted to make quick and safe runways into the center as rabbits seek shelter.
As we follow the clues to determine what types of apple and pear varieties on the property, we are working with the Mystic Seaport Museum and have recently taken a clipping of an apple tree that was previously grafted from the Greenman house on Greenmanville Avenue after that tree succumbed to a local storm. We plan to use that clipping to start genetic testing to help discover specific varietals. At one-point Mystic local, horticulturalist, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Connecticut, Rudy Favretti preliminarily identified that variety as “Benoni” which is a dessert apple originating from Dedham, Massachusetts around 1830. We also expect that we might find a heavy planting of cider apples considering how important cider was in the first few centuries in America. However, dessert apples would certainly be more fitting, as the Greenmans were ardent Seventh-Day Baptists and active in the temperance movement.
Heavily encumbered by invasive plants, we originally estimated 70 trees would be uncovered, but we now count closer to 200! There are many apples trees but also a significant number of large pear trees, with many different varieties present.
Come take a walk by following the Greenmanville trail up the hill to see our progress as we uncover the clues left on the land to learn from our past to inform a more sustainable future. Trees that have been selected for pruning are tagged, green for pear and pink for apple. See if you can tell the difference! If you’re quiet, you might spot a rabbit foraging on early spring shoots. As you stand on the top of the ridge, look down the Mystic River and imagine ships lined up ready to set sail on worldwide adventures loaded with their provisions of dried apples, cider, and vinegar from this very spot and a vision into the heritage of the land begins to emerge.