Red BarnNote: The entire content of an article published in 1990 is reprinted here as it includes information about the local history of the area as well as the beginnings of the community gardens.

"Farm Purchase Doubles Size of Tawasentha Park," Guilderland Parks and Recreation Newsletter, Spring, 1990 (Volume 2, Number 1)

Small farms are disappearing from the countryside at a rate we would all like to see diminish. Disappearing along with them are both a traditional way of American life and a traditional way at which the rest of America looks at its landscape. It's important to remember that before the small farm dotted the countryside of the Northeast that vast woodlands existed. These woodlands reached as far west as the prairie states. For centuries, man has had to beat back this forest in order to survive. What remains today throughout this area is a remnant sample of what he originally cleared the land for, the family farm. We will never bring back the expansive eastern deciduous forest, nor most likely will we ever see a return of the family farm. Though, once in a while, an opportunity presents itself to preserve part of this past landscape. The Town of Guilderland, last year [1989], purchased an old dairy farm alongside Tawasentha Park. Perhaps in doing so, we have preserved a small part of a once dominant landscape of this area.

The original farm was owned by Judge Van Aken. In 1945, he sold the portion just recently purchased by the town to John and Elizabeth Houck. It remained a dairy farm of about thirty-five cows until the late 1960s. That is when the dairy industry in this area went to picking up milk in bulk rather than in cans. John and Elizabeth also sold their milk door-to-door in Albany and Colonie.

The fields that once fed dairy cows are starting to show the regenerating effects of succession. What was at one-time pasture and maintained as pasture by grazing cows has now become overgrown with a variety of shrubs, vines and tall grasses. Hedgerows parallel the steep ravines that run through the property dividing the old farm into convenient parcels. Ancient shale beds have been exposed in these ravines by the carving action of water as it makes its way to the Normans Kill. An old apple orchard stands by itself. A dozen or so trees remain with each tree showing the effects of neglect and age. A small woodlot can be found alongside the Normans Kill, opposite from where the Little League fields are located. In the middle of the property next to Rte. 146 sits a small house and an old barn. Even though the house is not old, the barn has harvest dates carved in the hand-hewed beams that go back into the 1800s.

The 1989 purchase of the Houck Farm has doubled the size of Tawasentha Park. This new acquisition borders Tawasentha Park to the south and west and is dissected by Rte. 146. As you head towards Altamont on Rte. 146, passing over the Normans Kill, the land on your left is now part of the park. This portion includes the fields and a brush lot that brings you nearly to the intersection of Rte. 146 and Ostrander Road. On the opposite side (north) of Rte. 146, the town owns the fields located west of the New York State Historical Marker noting the battle of the Normans Kill. This also includes the white house and the barn.

This 97-acre annex has added a new dimension to recreation within the town of Guilderland. Our winter recreation program will be expanded into this area to include cross-country skiing and a beginners down hill slope. A community garden project was initiated last year [1989] and included over twenty garden plots. This year we will have to expand the gardens to meet demand. A small arboretum was planted in what used to be an old apple orchard. This collection of trees and shrubs from the more temperate regions of the world will hopefully inspire some of us to take an interest in the diversity of plant life found on our planet.

With suburbia knocking at our doorstep, it is essential that this new acquisition not be overdeveloped for the purpose of organized recreational activities. That is not to say that we do not want people enjoying the resource. Though we would like to keep human impact at a reasonable level so as to maintain an area where wildlife and man can coexist. People of all age groups for many years to come should be able to enjoy a landscape that remains uncluttered with driveways, parking lots and fences. By some standards, 97 acres seems like an awful lot of land. This is merely a drop in the bucket when trying to preserve an area that provides you with a representative sample of the wildlife you would expect to find in our area. Our plans for the future recreational space include developing a corridor that runs through the Normans Kill Valley that will remain essentially unchanged and undeveloped. Hopefully, this will relieve some of the pressures that development puts on wildlife and people alike.

This old farm with its landscape diversity is a bonanza for people who care to wander in the old fields and observe a variety of wildlife. Small mammals are abundant and a variety of hawks are taking advantage of their presence. Deer and red fox are commonly seen in the fields and the evasive coyote has been both seen and heard on the property. Eastern bluebirds have taken up year-round residence along with a variety of other birds. This past fall, a flock of about fifty wild turkeys could be seen almost daily from Rte. 146. Although future real estate development in this area will surely displace some of these animals, proper planning and management should ease the impact on most.

If you wish to visit the old farm for whatever reason, please park alongside of the barn on Rte. 146. As always, we are open to your suggestions and if during your visits you happen across anything unusual, please let us know about it.