A New Chapter for the Warelands Historic Property to Become Farm-Based Education SchoolJul 31, 2020 02:08PM ● By Grace Allen
An historic property on Boardman Street in Norfolk will soon have a new role in town. The Warelands, built in 1733, is slated to become a non-profit farm-based education school.
It’s a nod to its past, which includes stints as a turkey farm, horse farm, and perhaps most significantly, a dairy farm. From about 1905 to 1913, the property was the site of a unique enterprise, the Warelands Dairy School, which taught safety initiatives in the handling of raw milk and other dairy products.Willa Bandler and Jeremiah Huson have taken on the task of returning the Warelands to its roots. The Walpole couple purchased the property in 2018 and is in the process of renovating and restoring the buildings on the almost 40-acre lot. Their vision for the property is one of a working farm with an educational component for local schoolchildren, not unlike the Soule Homestead Education Center in Middleboro.
The property’s unique past has influenced the couple in their goal for its future. In addition to its role as a dairy school, in 1717 the property housed the first school in North Wrentham, as the area was known at the time.
“The Warelands has a long history of a place where education happened,” said Bandler. “I see that as its primary job. One of the valuable things about having a farm for education purposes is having kids be able to develop a relationship with it over time rather than on one particular day.”
Bandler owns horses and has managed horse farms in the past. She grew up near Santa Fe, New Mexico, surrounded by animals. She has experience with non-profits—her mother founded a horse rescue and Bandler served as its executive director for a time. She also has some grounding in historical preservation.
Huson also grew up in the Santa Fe area and moved to Massachusetts with Bandler to attend architecture school. Halfway through school, he realized he wanted to return to working with physical materials (he had been a professional welder). He is now a blacksmith.
Their new roles as caretakers of the Warelands would seem to be kismet.
First, however, the colonial-era property needs to be rehabilitated. Bandler and Huson are working with Sam Ziegler of SZ Restoration Carpentry, Inc. to restore the Warelands. In addition to the main house, the property includes a barn and horse stables, as well as the former dairy’s bottling plant, which will become a home for the farm school’s manager.
One of the many decisions Bandler and Huson had to make was which period of the home’s long history to emphasize, an important consideration in historical restoration.
In 1661, Robert Ware, one of the first settlers in what is now Norfolk, built his home on the site of the current Warelands. That first house burned down and then Robert’s grandson, Ebenezer Ware, built another home on the spot in the 1690s, which was eventually replaced in 1733 by the current structure. The farm remained in the family for generations, and in 1895 Robert Ware, a descendent of the man who built the first home on the site, married Charlotte Barrell. Charlotte, a graduate of Boston University, went on to establish the dairy school at her husband’s ancestral home, earning a reputation as an agricultural pioneer and a proponent of milk safety and sanitation standards.
“In historical preservation, one of the things you tend to look at is what period of significance are you going for,” explained Bandler. “Because you can’t preserve everything in a house that’s been there for hundreds of years. Architecturally speaking, the person who really had the most impact on how the house looks now and whose impact we want to emphasize is Charlotte Ware. I want her vision to be seen and not mine.”
The farm school itself will also incorporate Charlotte’s vision of the Warelands. It’s inevitable there will be at least one cow, likely a Jersey cow, since that’s what Charlotte had. There will be goats, natural herbivores. A garden has already been started on the property. Bandler also acknowledges the long history of the area and the indigenous people who were there before the colonists. She is thinking the farm school will incorporate some of those aspects of the site’s history, too, with a focus on environmentalism and holistic farming practices.
In 1977, the Warelands was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1980s, the owners at the time put extensive conservation restrictions on the property that limited what any future owners could do with the buildings and the land. Bandler says her plans are to keep the interior of the big house intact while making it practical for modern life. The home is rich with historical details, including five fireplaces and wide pine floors.
“One of the reasons historic properties are not taken care of is because they don’t work well for people and so people don’t care about them,” said Bandler. “Also, a property like this has to have a job that can financially sustain it. It’s important to me to do everything I can within those conservation restrictions to set the Warelands up for success and keep it from falling into disrepair again. I want to make sure it’s sustainable in the future and maximize the things we can do here as a way to protect it. There’s no point in doing this if in another 50 years it needs to be done again.”
Although Bandler and Huson may have saved the Warelands and set it on a path to a flourishing future once again, they consider themselves simply the caretakers of the historic property and Charlotte’s legacy.
“We’re just the help,” Huson quipped.
“Yes, we’re just the staff,” agreed Bandler. “Everything we’re doing here is for the Warelands, not for us.”
For more information about the Warelands, visit www.thewarelands.org or follow the Warelands on Facebook.