Samuel D. Warren II grew up on Cedar Hill, his family’s estate in Waltham. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1877, started his own firm with wicked smart classmate Louis Brandeis, and teamed up with Brandeis to co-author “The Right to Privacy,” the journal article that launched a revolution in American constitutional law.
Sam’s younger sister Cornelia was no slouch, either. While he married after law school and took up residence in Boston, she lived by herself in Waltham, emerging as a formidable force in some of the great movements of her day: women’s education (early trustee of Wellesley College), social justice (chief benefactor of Denison House, a center for poor immigrant women in Boston’s South End), and progressive agriculture (tested in the fields of Cedar Hill).
In her will, executed upon her death in 1921, Cornelia divvied up the Hill’s sprawling expanse. A portion went to the Girl Scouts, a portion went to Harvard University, and — fortunately for many of us — 60 acres went to the Massachusetts Agricultural College, later UMass Amherst, so that the institution could offer extension services — advisory services — to eastern Massachusetts residents interested in effective farming.
Through a near-century of ups and downs for farms in Greater Boston, Cornelia’s vision has held fast. Today, UMass’s Waltham Field Station on Beaver Street serves as shared work space and headquarters for eight nonprofits involved in sustainable agriculture, local produce, and educating urban residents about healthy eating. The honor roll: Massachusetts Farmers Markets, Grow Native Massachusetts, Waltham Land Trust, Massachusetts 4-H, Waltham Fields Community Farm, Boston Area Gleaners, Waltham Community Gardens, and the Boston Area Climate Experiment.
Then, last summer, came a jolt. When it became clear the Baker administration would not sign off on a modernized Center for Urban Sustainability at the site, despite $20 million authorized for the purpose by the Legislature, some UMass officials decided to evict the tenants at the end of the year and shutter the buildings.
Whoa. A bad development for Massachusetts residents who have a craving for good food, locally grown. An even worse call for the University itself, as anger mounted over the prospect of a public institution evicting nonprofit tenants working in the public interest.
Today, nine months after the evictions were first announced, I am happy to report that cooler heads and kinder hearts may yet prevail at UMass. Leaders have had recent talks with Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy, to discuss a possible sale to the city and preservation of Cornelia Warren’s intentions for the property. The mayor is a friend of the tenants and an unabashed Warren fan, so this may work. I’ve become involved to help move things along, as has State Rep. John Lawn and members of the Waltham City Council.
This isn’t over yet, but I want to offer provisional thanks to UMass for reconsidering its options. Kudos to the tenants for organizing so well in their self-defense. Special tip of the hat to State Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways & Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for giving the cause a helpful boost.
Dear reader, you may want to drop a line to UMass Dean Steve Goodwin at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask him to stop the evictions. You just might make the difference. Stay tuned.
Appreciatively, Senator Mike Barrett
Office of State Senator Mike Barrett, Mass. State House, Suite 416, Boston, MA 02133