By Lydia Clemmons (Senior), Charlotte
When my husband, Jack, and I moved to Charlotte from Cleveland, Ohio, in 1962, we decided that we did not want to buy an interim home—that is, a starter home or small home. We wanted to buy a home that our children could be born in, grow up in and return to visit when they in turn grew up. A home where our parents could live with us as they aged and where we could also live as we aged. We fell in love with our farm, its land and buildings at first sight.
My husband first discovered the farm when he came for a job interview with the University of Vermont. He found the farm one day while walking from Shelburne to explore a town called “Charlotte” on what were then dirt roads: Bostwick Road and Greenbush Road. He was in his late 30s back then and had the energy to walk that distance to explore the area. The farm at 2158 Greenbush Road was the first place he stopped during his long walk. He stopped because the owner, Mr. Sawtel, and his sons were standing on the front porch, discussing the future of the farm. The sons wanted to sell the farm. Mr. Sawtel wanted to keep it. It was destiny that Jack walked past the farm right when he did.
Later, Jack introduced me to Mr. Sawtel and the farm.
Our first purchase was the house and 10 acres. The house was sound but needed to be restored. The other buildings on the property were also in need of restoration. We were fortunate to have met Mr. Cliff Francis, an expert carpenter who was at the time working to restore some of the buildings at the Shelburne Museum. His brother, Don Francis, was an expert mason. The two men agreed to work with Jack to restore the house because they liked his ideas about restoration.
Back in the early 1960s, the land was under contract with a company that was searching for natural gas. Supposedly Charlotte was designated back then as one of the areas where natural gas could be found. When the contract for the natural gas exploration ended, we were able to complete the purchase of the remaining 138 acres by mobilizing all of our savings along with financial support from our parents and other family members. We were delighted because now we had a home that was ours to raise our children in and to retire in when the time came.
Life has been wonderful for us in Charlotte. We are retired from our professional careers and are now embarking on furthering our dreams for the farm: a farm that is productive and self-sustaining, a place for our children, our grandchildren and beyond. A place to share with our friends, our neighbors and our community in the way that we did in our younger days and more.
Jack and I have lived a life blessed. Now a new adventure awaits us as we expand from hayfields and large vegetable gardens to a farm that can benefit our home town of Charlotte as well as the State of Vermont and beyond. We are filled with gratitude that we had the good fortune to raise a family and to develop a property that is an asset to our town, state and country—all because our basis for a happy life has always been having one home to raise our children and to retire in, participating in community affairs, sending our children to our local schools, going to church in our local community.
We are grateful that through our jobs we were able to secure financial stability that enables us to be very comfortable now in our lives. We have everything we need. We are grateful for the many people who have come forward to help us in this exciting project, which is to transition our beloved farm into an African American Heritage and Multicultural Center: The Clemmons Family Farm.
So our formula in living our lives has been this: one home (for life) + one community (for life) + contribute to our community and help as many people as possible—all to make this farm a wonderful place to thrive and an inviting place to live and to share with others. We have lived the life we have wanted to live. We are still living the life that we want to live. After 55 years of investing in our property, scrimping, saving, working to improve our property, we would be saddened, totally dismayed if it was sold. All management decisions for the property, while we are alive, are ours. The way the Clemmons Family Farm is being managed is our decision, at our request, and exactly in line with how we have always lived on this property and with what we have always dreamed for the future of this property.
The decision about how we live has always been our decision and is always our decision. Perhaps this is yet another opportunity for Jack and me to serve our community by demonstrating how elders can choose to live their lives.