Monday May 21, 2007

The Case Estates

Pamela W. Fox writer

The story of begins in 1863, when dry goods merchant and banker James Brown Case became one of the first Boston businessmen to summer in what was then a rural agricultural community. The 18th century farmhouse on his Wellesley Street property was later destroyed by fire and replaced by the fashionable 1889 Shingle-style mansion now called Case House and used for school administrative offices. By 1905, James Case owned 121 acres including the future sites of the Country, Woodland, and Field Schools, the town pool, and the Land’s Sake farm stand.
James and Laura Case had four daughters: Caroline, Mabel, Louisa and Marian. Mabel was killed in a carriage accident at age 25, and Caroline was the only daughter to marry. Louisa inherited the mansion and participated actively in town organizations. Her younger sister, Marian, had other ideas.

After James Case’s death in 1907, Marian, then age 45, embarked on a career combining farming and education. In 1909, she established Hillcrest Farm, which she described as an experimental farm promoting scientific agriculture and employing local boys over their summer vacation. She supplied her “Hillcrest Boys” with uniforms and developed a kind of work-study program with a daily study hour, lectures by experts, and annual pleasure outings. One goal was to build character and instill moral values and a love of nature. Each Labor Day, the season ended with a picnic where the boys presented papers on topics such as agricultural practices, weather data, and insect pests.

One boy described the original vision for Hillcrest in this way: “Miss Case has said that we want to make this the most perfect farm in New England, to grow the best quality of fruit, to inspire New Englanders to return to the soil, and not to let the people of Oregon beat New England in growing fruit.” Gradually, the mission expanded to include ornamental gardening and plant propagation.

Marian Case worked closely with the Arnold Arboretum and other horticultural institutions. When she died in 1944, she willed Hillcrest to the Arboretum, with no restrictions but with “my earnest hope that the estate may be maintained.” The Arboretum made active use of the renamed “Case Estates” until the early 1990s. The remaining 60-plus acres are located at the intersection of Wellesley, Newton, and Ash Streets. Because of the central location, pastoral landscape, and horticultural history, the Case Estates ranks as Weston’s highest priority for acquisition as conservation land. All the Hillcrest buildings still remain. The Greek Revival farmhouses at 101 and 137 Wellesley Street and the 1916 pink stucco cow barn are now in private hands. The Arboretum still owns the Federal farmhouse at No. 131, the red schoolhouse where Miss Case held her programs, and her state-of-the-art 1927 yellow brick barn.




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