On June 14, voters in Duxbury took a giant step toward preserving open space on the South Shore when they chose to dedicate $1.5 million in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds toward saving Plymouth County’s oldest farm — the O’Neil Dairy Farm on Autumn Avenue, near the Kingston line.

For those of us interested in protecting open space in our rapidly developing region, this is cause for celebration. The O’Neil Farm is the only remaining dairy farm in Duxbury, and one of few in Eastern Massachusetts. Totaling 142 acres, it would likely be slated for future development if not for the conservation and agricultural restrictions now well on their way to being put in place.

Comprised of two separate parcels on opposite sites of Autumn Avenue, the O’Neil property has been farmed continuously since 1740; the farmhouse itself dates to the 1750s. The family of the current owner, Carl O’Neil, purchased the farm in 1826, and has been working it ever since. Containing both woodland and pastures, it is home to seventy cows. It also provides habitat for a number of wildlife species, including nesting hawks.

One of the few remaining undeveloped parcels of land in Duxbury, the O’Neil Farm is an important part of the town’s history and character. It offers a glimpse of what our region was like 350 years ago. The tractors, trucks and milking machines now in use may be modern varieties, but the pastures and woods – and the presence of grazing cows – call to mind a time gone by.

As late as 1950, Duxbury was home to six small dairy farms. All but one of those have now closed down, the lands sold off for development. In the twenty-first century, the small dairy farm is considered an endangered species.

In 2000, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture recognized the O’Neil Farm as a “Century Farm,” honoring the “ingenuity and perseverance of the successive generations that have worked this land for a century or more.”

“This farm is truly rooted in the history of our Commonwealth and our nation,” the state said, “and is commended for their role in keeping Massachusetts agriculture viable and vibrant as we enter the third millennium.”

You might be wondering – now that the O’Neil Farm is on its way to being preserved, what will happen to it once the O’Neil family no longer is able to maintain it? That’s where we come in.

Conservation and agricultural restrictions will ensure that the land will remain a farm, and thus will not be developed. As for running the farm itself, ownership of the property will be transferred to the O’Neil Farm Charitable Corporation, which will be responsible for finding new workers to operate and sustain the farm when Carl O’Neil retires.

In addition, the Charitable Corporation will develop educational guidelines for the farm and possibly contract with the South Shore Natural Science Center or Mass Audubon to provide programs there for school children. Future generations will go there to learn about dairy farming – to discover how a farm operates, and how our food is produced. The Charitable Corporation will also design, construct and maintain walking trails, and make capital improvements to the house and farm buildings.

Our job is to ensure that sufficient funds are raised to make this a reality. $1.5 million is a considerable sum, but there is still work to be done. A total of $4.3 million will be needed to protect the O’Neil Farm for future generations. The Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts has stepped forward to make this happen.

To complete the purchase of the farm, The Wildlands Trust has kicked off a Community Campaign. They plan to raise an additional $1.3 million, most of which will come from foundations and major donors. They are hoping to raise $300,000 at the community level, from people like you and me. They are also seeking $500,000 from the Mass. Agricultural Preservation Restriction program. Private donors have already committed $900,000.

Preserving the O’Neil Farm will save an important piece of our agricultural heritage, and protect a sizable amount of land from development. To find out what you can do to help preserve Plymouth County’s last remaining dairy farm, contact the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts at (781) 934-9018, or visit

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, Correspondent
June 2004

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168.