The ancient stonewalls are still here that marked off the land grant from the King of England, and thus started the agricultural legacy that continues today on the Fort Hill Farms property.
The name “Fort Hill Farms” was coined in 1889 when John Doane, of The Chicago & Pacific Union Railroad, came to Thompson, and consolidated the 5 parcels back under one owner, to start a dairy farm. His friend came to visit him, and said “I like Thompson; I want to build a house here.” He was Bruce Ream, the founder of U.S. Steel, who built what is now known as Marianapolis Prep School.
Together, Ream & Doane brought in Italian stone masons and paid them $.05/day to build the famous stonewalls which are at Quinnatisset Golf Course, and which were “uncovered” from bittersweet and poison ivy at Fort Hill Farms.
When the Orr’s cleared off the stonewalls at Fort Hill Farms, they found a 350-foot-long barn foundation, 12-feet high, which was in pristine shape. Not a stone had to be replaced, save for a wall that was along the road, from which stones had been stolen.
Fast Forward to the 1940s, when Ernest O’Leary was in eighth grade. He worked for an employer who could not pay him a cash wage. Ernie’s payment was a young brown-and-white calf.
70 years later, Fort Hill Farms’ dairy herd has over 200 milking cows, and the bloodline of that original brown-and-white calf is still present.
For many of the early years, milk was shipped from the O’Leary family farm and sold as butter, milk, cream, cheese and more.
In the mid 1990s, Ernie and his wife Norma had a family Fourth of July party and sat down to talk with Ernie’s daughter Kristin and her husband Peter Orr who had a nursery, lavender garden and pick-your-own operation on a different tract of land they referred to as Fort Hill Farms & Gardens. The discussion led to a succession plan for the dairy farm and the Orr’s made the decision to take over the dairy business and run both.
At the time of the passing of the baton, the O’Leary’s dairy was a member of Agri-Mark, a farmer cooperative that included buying dairy for use by Cabot Cheese. The Orrs were always looking for a way to answer a popular question by the community around them – “How do we buy your dairy products directly?”
In the early 2000s, the Orrs partnered with six other CT dairy farms and formed a cooperative named The Farmer’s Cow. More than ten years later, you can find Farmer’s Cow products in many CT groceries (such as Stop & Shop, Big Y and WalMart) as well as many small markets and farm stands.
Peter and Kristin Orr, along with their daughters Kies and Lily, opened The Creamery at Fort Hill Farms, finally giving the option of direct sale to the public. The Creamery is a full-service ice cream shop, scooping many Farmer’s Cow ice cream flavors such as Farmland Crunch, Hay! Hay! Hay! Vanilla, Cow Barn Chocolate, Fields of Mint Chocolate Chip, Cow-Co-Nut and many more. They also sell Farmer’s Cow milk, eggs and seasonal beverages, not to mention many products made from the lavender grown in the farm’s gardens.
The Creamery is truly a place the public can come and enjoy a local product in the location the product comes from – they can even visit with the calves that will grow up to become the cows that produce the milk that make the ice cream.
Today the Orr family operates many agricultural pursuits on this scenic and historic land. Once again, milk is offered for sale from the farm’s award winning dairy herd to the public via the Farmer’s Cow label. The farm offers fall fun such as a 6+ acre educational corn maze, gem mining, events such as Pumpkinlandia, unusual perennial plant gardens, gardens of organic lavender, annual hot air balloon rides, hikes and more.
Fort Hill Farms has been deemed “Best in New England” by Yankee Magazine and was named Connecticut Tourism Ambassadors. They have been featured in countless newspapers, radios shows, television programs and even podcasts. In 2013, the town of Thompson named Fort Hill Farms as their first winner of the “Business of the Year” Award.
The tradition of a quality local product continues to grow and Fort Hill Farms prides itself on remaining a strong part of the community.