New life for old farm: Plainfield couple buys former Thatcher property

  • Roberta Wooldridge holds a photo from the 1940s of the barns on the farm she and her family just bought in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Roberta Wooldridge holds a photo taken in the 1940's of the barns on the farm she and her family just bought in Plainfield. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jamie and Roberta Wooldridge stand in one of the barns on the farm they just bought in Plainfield. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jamie and Roberta Wooldridge unload a trailer into the old dairy barn of a farm they recently bought in Plainfield. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jamie and Roberta Wooldridge unload a trailer into the old dairy barn of a farm they recently bought in Plainfield. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The once-stately original house on the Thatcher farm recently bought by Jamie and Roberta Wooldridge is a tear-down. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jamie and Roberta Wooldridge stand in one of the barns on the farm they just bought in Plainfield. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2020 9:23:52 PM

PLAINFIELD — A defunct dairy farm owned by the family of the late fire chief Dennis Thatcher is about to get a jolt of new life after a Plainfield couple and business owners bought the well-known property earlier this month.

The property’s new owners, Jamie and Roberta Wooldridge, paid $250,000 for about 88 acres of land at 1 Pleasant St., as well as parcels off South Central Street, from the estate of Arthur C. Thatcher, according to the new owners and land records.

The Wooldridges have been operating a hybrid car repair shop, called Hilltown Hybrids, as well as Central Farm & Garage, from their South Central Street home in Plainfield for 11 years, according to Roberta Wooldridge. They opened a second hybrid car repair shop, called Hamp Hybrids LLC, at 10 Michelman Ave. in Northampton last month.

The couple had always wanted more land, Roberta said, as their original lot was only an acre. Roberta said the family also sells hay and that she hauls horses.

“We finally made the decision to try and upsize everything, the business and then hopefully buy more land,” Roberta said.

For now, Roberta Wooldridge said Hilltown Hybrids has been put on hiatus until hopefully next spring, as the couple works to revamp an existing shop on their new property for local customers. She also said they are looking to raise beef cattle and horses, open a farm stand, and grow and bale hay to sell on their new property.

In addition to bringing the property back to productive life, the land deal will settle up more than $100,000 in unpaid liabilities accrued over the last decade. Plainfield Treasurer Allan Kidston said about $127,000 in liabilities needed to be paid before transfer of the title, including approximately $76,000 in unpaid real estate taxes dating back to fiscal 2012.

Howard Bronstein, outgoing chair of the town’s Select Board, said that the sale of the farm to the Wooldridges will get the outstanding tax bill paid, which Bronstein noted “is always in the best interest of the town.”

“Every abandoned property, every property that’s not paying taxes, every property that is not maintained, we lose both the tax revenue from that property and it degrades the whole condition of the town,” Bronstein said.

Roberta Wooldridge said the couple’s home in Plainfield sold much more quickly than they had anticipated, so they jumped on the opportunity to buy the Thatcher Farm, which they had looked at earlier in the year.

“We are excited — we’re pretty overwhelmed,” Roberta said.

The couple will initially focus on growing their Northampton hybrid car repair shop, she said.

According to Roberta, two generations of Thatchers lived and worked on her new property in the past as dairy farmers. Bronstein said that Dennis Thatcher — who served as the town’s fire chief until his death in 2019 — was a member of the family who owned the farm.

Roberta Wooldridge said the last person to live in a now-dilapidated brick house on the land was Eugene Thatcher, who died in 2012. Bronstein guessed there hasn’t been any dairy farming on the property for at least a decade. An obituary for Dennis Thatcher said he had taken over the farm’s beef operation after Eugene Thatcher died.

Over the years, there’s been a lot of interest in the property, Bronstein said, and “deals that didn’t work out.” He said the house on the property had been damaged further during a storm last month and will be torn down as it is condemned, though there are some other buildings on the land.

The purchase is an opportunity for the Wooldridges to breathe life into abandoned land. Bronstein used the example of 438 acres of land at 116 East Main St. in the town that used to be a potato farm run by Robert E. Waryjasz that he said had fallen into disrepair amid vacancy. The land was sold in 2018 to a farmer who Bronstein said had the “best corn in the Valley this year.”

“Same example, an abandoned property that was really a blight on the landscape — not to mention a drain on our tax revenue — is now paying taxes like the rest of us do and is an active place that is being taken care of,” Bronstein said.

The Wooldridges will not build a new home on the same space as the condemned brick house. For now, they’re camping on the farm until it gets too cold, at which point they will find another place to stay until they decide where to build anew.

“We’re still scouting house sites,” Roberta said.




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