HAMILTON — The Patton family has sold 148 acres in Hamilton and Topsfield to a nonprofit land trust that plans to preserve the land for farming, hiking and horseback riding.
Greenbelt announced on Friday that it purchased Green Meadows Farm and the adjacent Vineyard Hill from the Pattons, who have owned the land since it was bought by then-Major George S. Patton and his wife in 1928. Greenbelt paid $4 million, according to Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds records.
The land is located on both sides of Asbury Street and spans an area from the Ipswich River to Bradley Palmer State Park that is critical for watershed protection, agriculture, and wildlife diversity, according to Greenbelt.
"It's such an unbelievably important location and we're really thrilled to be able to pull it off," Chris LaPointe, the organization's director of land conservation, said about the purchase.
Greenbelt plans to continue to use Green Meadows Farm for farming and to open the 89-acre Vineyard Hill to the public for hiking and running on its network of trails.
The sale comes five months after Green Meadows Farm CEO Robert Patton, the grandson of World War II Gen. George S. Patton, withdrew a plan to build a marijuana-growing greenhouse on the farm. That proposal drew strong objections from neighbors and residents of the town, where the Patton family has been praised as generous benefactors, including for its donation of the family estate to the town in 2012.
Robert Patton said Friday that his family was excited about the marijuana business, "but if that couldn't be, this is by far the next thing that we would've wanted."
"We feel much better that the public can use it," Patton said. "It's beautiful land. The values of Greenbelt are our values. It's a really satisfying feeling that it will be open to the public."
Patton said his famous grandfather used to ride his horse on the land and his father, who was also a decorated Army general, often walked the grounds. He said he doesn't see the sale as the end of an era but rather as a "natural progression." The family will retain ownership of 3 acres and two houses on the property, where his mother still lives.
"We have a strong footprint there and we aren't leaving," Patton said.
Much of the Patton property was already under conservation restrictions, but the purchase by Greenbelt assures that the remaining 50 unprotected acres will now be safe from development, LaPointe said.
"The consolidation and the completion of that whole area was really important to us," he said.
LaPointe said Green Meadows Farm will continue to be used for farming. The organization plans to consult with the local farming community to consider the best way to achieve that goal, including whether that means several different farmers and whether to reopen the farmstand, which closed in 2017.
"In agriculture now there's a plethora of young and beginning farmers that have real barriers to farming because of the unavailability of farmland," LaPointe said. "If we can encourage the next generation of farmers and encourage agricultural production in Essex County, that's a real positive."
Vineyard Hills, on the east side of Asbury Street, is less well known to the public but just as spectacular, LaPointe said. It includes 89 acres and an existing trail system that connects to Bradley Palmer State Park and miles of other trails.
The land will become a Greenbelt reservation with a parking area, signage and trail maps that will be open to the public. LaPointe called it a "hidden gem."
"I think people are going to be surprised by it," he said. "It's really stunning land."
Cathy Coffin Lanois, the director of development and community engagement for Greenbelt, said the organization paid for the Patton land entirely with $4 million in donations that it was able to raise in the last few months. Greenbelt appealed to donors with a sweeping video from a drone showing the land. Donors included the Institution for Savings in Newburyport.
"We had overwhelming support from a number of corners in a pretty short time frame," Lanois said. "People love the property for a whole variety of reasons and I think that's why we were so successful."
Greenbelt is a nonprofit land trust that works to conserve farmland, wildlife habitat and scenic landscapes throughout Essex County. It owns and manages more than 6,000 acres of land that is free and open to the public, and also holds more than 240 conservation restrictions on an additional 6,700 acres owned privately.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.