Speaking with Dee Kricker, a Waltham community member to her very core, is a truly delightful experience. I was recently lucky enough to have such an opportunity, which I took in order to learn more about her involvement at the Waltham Field Station and the resulting award she received last June. Dee was recognized by the State of Massachusetts and the MA Commission on the Status of Women as an “unsung heroine.” Nominated by state Senator Mike Barret, she joined 132 other women in celebration of their outstanding work in social services, community organization, and commitment to justice. For Dee, the title “unsung heroine” acknowledges her passionate dedication to the communities of the Waltham Field Station. Now recognized as a leader with 25 years of experience at the field station, her involvement in the station began as many others’ have–a friend invited her to participate in a gardening project.
A literal groundbreaker, Dee was one of a small crew that started construction on Green Rows of Waltham Community Gardens in 1994. Later that same year, she met Oakes Plimpton, the founder of Waltham Fields Community Farm, as he began the process of revitalizing the station’s fallow fields. Captivated by the idea of a functioning community farm, Dee became an unofficial board member, helping to “create the scaffolding from which Waltham Fields Community Farm could grow.” Since then, she has also served on the board of another field station organization, the Waltham Land Trust.
The Waltham Fields Community Farm, the Waltham Land Trust, and GROW have remained very dear to Dee’s heart. Though she no longer maintains a garden with GROW, or serves formally on any field station board, her work is still deeply invested in these non-profits. She continues to work as a volunteer on the WLT Land Committee, which hopes to construct paths that close the loop of the Western Greenway Trail. In addition, much of her energy is concentrated in recording and telling the history of the field station and its land. One of the brightest spots in this history, as Dee is quick to point out, is fellow unsung heroine Cornelia Warren. Upon her death in 1921, Cornelia’s beloved Cedar Hill Estate was left to three institutions–one of which would use the land to eventually build the Waltham Field Station as we know it today.
Cornelia Warren, the only daughter of Susan and Samuel Warren, was born at the Cedar Hill Estate in 1857. There, she spent her childhood summers roaming the 200-acre property barefoot or on horseback, along with her five brothers. During the rest of the year, she traveled the world with her mother, and attended school in Boston. Growing up with a serious dedication to her studies, she passed examinations for Harvard University with flying colors. However, as a young woman, she was not able to formally attend, and instead studied philosophy with two Harvard professors in private.
Inspired by her father’s own business model, which provided social services for his paper mill employees, she dedicated her professional life to conducting philanthropy and social welfare initiatives. In Boston, she became a founding member of the Denison House, a social center for immigrant women. A believer in the power of education, she also became a trustee of Wellesley College and a benefactor of the International Institute for Girls in San Sebastián, Spain. A famous portrait of Cornelia at age 14, painted by French artist Alexandre Cabenel, hangs in the Davis Museum at Wellesley College today. Privately, she wove the same values from her formal work into her passion project: improving the grounds and operation of the Cedar Hill Estate in order to build local community.
Cornelia was immensely proud of the estate’s model dairy farm, featuring a herd of 100 cows and cutting-edge milking and bottling techniques. Milkmen and cows alike at Cedar Hill were required to observe hygiene and sanitation practices ahead of their times. Cows were bathed, milkmen wore spotless uniforms, and milk was chilled and bottled at a record-breaking rate. Furthermore, Cedar Hill farmers were in direct control of the herd’s diet, as rye and wheat fields grown on site were directly processed into animal feed. The Warren dairy farm was one of the few in the region to be “certified–” meaning state government agencies regularly inspected and validated the farm’s operations. Waltham residents enjoyed superior quality dairy products because of Cornelia’s dedication.
In addition to her model farm, Cornelia worked hard to ensure her estate was a space for the whole community to enjoy. Children’s events were held on the greens, including theater festivals, church retreats, and summertime picnics. Always seeking more ways to serve and entertain her guests, Cornelia built a bowling alley on the property for locals to use. At age 48, Cornelia began construction on her most crowd-pleasing project yet: a hedge maze with more than 1000 feet of path. Residents from around the Greater Boston Area traveled miles on foot to see the finished project, which included thriving 5’10” hedges and an observation tower. Though the hedges no longer exist, the center of the maze–two marble benches and a reflecting pool–still sits in its original location, now hosting Girl Scouts to enjoy the sights and sounds of the summertime woods.
Cornelia’s legacy is one of generosity, justice, and joy. A true heroine, she shared the things that brought her joy with others, making equality her mission in her chosen communities. After her death, that mission continued. In her will, the trustees of the Cedar Hill Estate were tasked with dividing up Cedar Hill in a way that honored her philanthropic spirit. As such, 75 acres went to the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, 85 to the Massachusetts Agricultural College, and the rest to the city of Waltham. For almost 100 years, the Cedar Hill Estate has continued to host these institutions. The Girl Scouts have grown to manage a summer program that serves 400 girls, a museum that educates scouts and alumni from all over the country, and a restoration program for some historic Cedar Hill structures. The City of Waltham created a local ballpark and offered parts of the estate to Bentley University–a decision that Cornelia surely would have supported. Finally, as Mass Aggie became UMass Amherst, the Waltham Field Station was built. The station has sheltered a Warren-approved culture of sustainable agriculture, non-profit service, and community building amongst Waltham residents for more than 70 years.
I interviewed Dee Kricker about her own work, and the work of Cornelia Warren, intending to write two separate pieces. However, after we finished our conversation, I felt it made more sense to write about them together. Both, clearly, are unsung heroines.
Dee’s favorite moment as a leader in the station’s period of transformation during the 1990s is small but powerful: she witnessed the mismatched knots and ties used by community gardeners to create plot fencing. To Dee, that was symbolically significant. “It was like weaving a tapestry,” she explained,” the hands of a diverse group of people creating something meaningful–it’s humanity.” I think Cornelia would be very glad to know that her land is becoming a woven tapestry. Such a weaving includes not only the fencing of Green Rows of Waltham, but also the larger acreage of the Cedar Hill Estate, which has been divided, shared, and enjoyed by so many diverse communities.
Dee Kricker is exactly the kind of community leader who Cornelia would have envisioned as a steward of the estate after her death. Dee’s own visions for the future of the land, however, are cautious. We don’t know what is going to happen to the station after this year, nor do we know if the station’s many communities will be able to remain in partnership and solidarity. The tapestry may unravel.
However, Dee has allowed herself some hopes: a future where Cornelia Warren’s legacy is fulfilled and taken seriously, where the farmland is allowed to continue being cultivated and the buildings are revitalized. More specifically, she mentioned one important project that should be considered before it is too late. The centennial anniversary of Cornelia Warren’s death and the Cedar Hill Estate’s original division will pass in 2021. Yet, Cornelia and her life achievements have yet to be formally memorialized at any section of her childhood home. Dee hopes that, with a memorial, Cornelia Warren will become—simply—a heroine.
If you are interested in learning more about Cornelia Warren or her estate, there are plenty of resources. I recommend paying the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts a visit! Their museum is a wonderful look into the history of the Cedar Hill Estate. Additionally, their volunteers were kind enough to lend me resources about Cornelia for this project: thank you so much, Lynn and Betty! Finally, contact your local and state legislators. Raise awareness for our own unsung heroines of Waltham.
Ross, Patricia M., and Diane M. White. Cedar Hill Memories: the Warren Family and Girl Scouts in Waltham, Massachusetts. Patriots Trail Girl Scout Council, Inc., 1996.
Prescott, Dorothy M. Cornelia Warren and the Story of Cedar Hill. S.D. Warren Co., 1958.
Kricker, Dee. “Waltham: A Farming Community!” Waltham Land Trust Journal Spring 2011, Feb. 2011, pp. 1–5., walthamlandtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/WLT-2011-Spring.pdf.
By Anneke Craig, Boston Area Gleaners Intern