Fawn Armstrong, left, walks Cruella, an 8-year-old painted Arab, out to pasture after Cruella's new owner, Toby Freeman, far right, spent time working with her on Friday afternoon. Freeman just bought the horse to use for hippotherapy with her therapy for communications disabled children.

CHESTER — The ground was littered with everything imaginable, from car parts to couches, when Fawn and Chad Armstrong arrived at Spring Hill Farm in June. Years of bad tenants had left the barn and farmhouse so rundown that it was barely recognizable to many as Mariel Church’s old farm.

Church, a longtime resident, owned the farm for years and also taught school. Many people visited the farm during her tenure there, but since her death, those visits have been few and far between.

But since the Armstrongs moved in, the future of the 400-plus-acre farm at 96 Towle Road is beginning to look a little brighter. That’s because the newlywed Armstrongs, both in their 20s, have spent nearly every minute of their time cleaning up the farm and repairing the damage others left behind. They even spent their honeymoon working to fix up the farm.

For the farm’s supervisors, the board of trustees, the Armstrongs are a blessing — and quite a change from past tenants.

“At this point, we have no complaints,” said Chuck Myette, a farm trustee. “I think right now we’re in one of the best situations we’ve been in.”

Since establishing an independent trust for the farm in 1998, it’s been the goal of the trustees to make the 157-year-old farm a place both visitors and residents can once again visit and enjoy regularly. The farm was left to the town upon Church’s death in 2001. With the bequest came the condition of keeping the farm in working condition to serve as a place where the community can come together.

Since then, trustees have been trying to fulfill her dreams, but things haven’t exactly worked out.

“Its been a struggle,” said Brad Wamsley, a farm trustee. “They (tenants) basically don’t pay the rent and trash the place.”

The Armstrongs have been paying their rent — about $800 a month — and doing what they can to maintain the farm.

The trustees have seen five different tenants at the farm since Church’s death. When choosing the Armstrongs, the board went to extra lengths and conducted vigorous background checks of the tenants’ credit history and criminal background. They hadn’t done those checks in the past, but decided to change their procedures after the last tenant didn’t regularly pay the rent.

“We were struggling so much with these bad tenants,” Wamsley said. “But I think we have a good couple in there now.”

Not only have the trustees changed their requirements for tenants, but they also have expanded plans for the farm’s future. The next big change could take effect as early as next year — establishing a farm stand on Route 102 to serve the community. Another plan involves reviving community sleigh and hay rides, a mainstay in Church’s day. But that just scratches the surface.

“There are hundreds of things we’d like to do,” Myette said. “There are a lot of things that will make this a better place.”

The Armstrongs are along for the ride and have started by making the farm a much friendlier place. They’ve been taking down all the old barbed wire fencing to make it safer for both children and animals.

They also are clearing paths at the back of the property to make room for the trail riding they have planned for the fall.

Going along with the trustees’ idea of establishing a community farm stand, the Armstrongs are planning to start a community garden on the property so anyone in town can grow their own vegetables.

“We would love to do that,” Fawn Armstrong said of the garden and farm stand. “It would be awesome to have a farm stand. out there.”

Each day presents a new challenge for the Armstrongs as they try to turn the farm around. Fawn Armstrong said their passion and vision for the farm’s future keeps them going.

“It’s never-ending,” she said. “But we’re ready to take it on. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing.”

And the trustees hope they do. They hope farm operations have turned a corner and are finally moving forward, the way Church always wanted it.

“The plan has always been to get people that love the animals and the land,” Myette said. “I think it’s heading in the right direction.”

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