Land trust celebrates new center at Helfand Farm

Sep 20, 2016

The Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust (DNRT) recently celebrated the opening of its new center at the Helfand Farm property, welcoming town officials and donors to tour the farmhouse-turned-office-space.

The Helfand property at 318 Chase Road is home to community gardens, rented farm land, and a farmhouse that dates to around 1838, said DNRT Board President Clifton Rice. After completing a $1 million renovation of the house, DNRT moved from its former 404 Elm Street location to the new building.

“We can get to our reserves much more efficiently because it’s the geographic center of town,” said Rice.

The Elm Street location in the Old Southworth library housed DNRT for almost 30 years, but alongside a long commute to reserves from Padanaram Village, the 870 square feet of space was too crowded and provided no privacy, said Rice. “When we had meetings, sometimes people had to pick up their laptops and move to accommodate.”

Renovations to the farmhouse include adding a 42-seat conference room, updating the electric and plumbing, and installing 33 solar panels that collect enough power to run the building.

“It’s a big investment, but it’s an investment in the growth of our organization,” said Outreach Coordinator Jim Bride.

Despite the modern updates, the historical essence of the farmhouse was kept intact. During the construction phase, the front end that had sunken into the clay was lifted, new windows were installed that fit the existing frames, era-appropriate clapboard and shingles were fitted for the exterior, and original trim, doors and flooring were preserved.

“When we realized the value of reusing the historical building, we were convinced it was the right thing to do,” said Rice. “It looks like an old family farm from 100 years ago.”

DNRT acquired the approximately 35-acre property in 2013, broke ground in winter 2015, moved into the new office in summer 2016, and on September 17, welcomed approximately 150 guests with informal tours, hors d'oeuvres, and a thank you ceremony. Helfand sisters Sophie and Edith, who had grown up on the property, also attended the reception.

“The whole idea is to say ‘thanks’ to the people who gave us the resources to do this and to show it off a little bit, show them what they paid for,” said Rice. The new design not only functions as an office, but serves as an educational space, and influences guests towards land conservation, said Rice.

Outside, the DNRT space has apple trees, a butterfly garden, original silo, and a garage to house its equipment, which is helpful because the company truck had been hit by passing drivers on the corner of Elm and Prospect Street, said Rice.

The butterfly garden is a great feature, said Land Manager Linda Vanderveer. “It’s all native plants. As soon as that went in, it was all bees,” she said.

Land Stewardship Assistant Kate Losey, however, appreciates the more ordinary updates. “I like that we have a full kitchen,” she said, explaining that at the former location, she couldn’t fit her thermus under the faucet to fill it, and there was lead piping.

Executive Director Dexter Mead was most impressed with the renovation process. “They did a remarkable job with the Helfand house in particular. It was in such bad shape,” he said.

“We haven’t told Dexter yet that his office was the birthing room,” laughed Rice.

DNRT is still accepting donations for its new center and land conservation. On December 3, DNRT will hold a Holiday Open House at the center for all its members and the public. Visit for more information.