Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Driving back and forth daily on Route 7 between the 1896 House and my home, I noticed a simple sign on the side of the road.
I once glanced quickly up the gravel drive and thought it was a private home, so never made the effort to investigate further until one of our 1896 House guests mentioned that their son wanted to get married there. “It’s a PLACE?!” I asked in wonder. Time to get out my designer hiking shoes and check out this Sheep Hill!

I had a sunny September day off, so grabbed the Wondercar and my camera and proceeded up that gravel drive.
I saw a large, looming hill of flowers and grasses and trees in the background, inviting me for a walk, but decided to check out the buildings first.
Following the signs to park, I entered the visitor center, also known as the Lewis Center (and Gallery).
Once inside, I was pleasantly made aware of all the landscape artwork dotting the walls and interesting sculptures, (by artist Phyllis Blair) and walked into the kitchen and dining area, where the art continued.

I was warmly greeted by Cathy, one of the directors, who explained Sheep Hill history to me and showed me around a bit. A volunteer sat dutifully at the dining table, sealing a pile of envelopes for the organization.

Cathy explained that this was a working dairy farm right up to about 1986. Known as SUNNY BROOK FARM, it was owned and operated by the Rosenburg family. Mr. Rosenburg allowed the Williams College Outings Group to use it as a ski center from the 1930s to the 1950s, and it was the site of many winter carnivals.

There was once a tow rope going up the steep incline and Mrs. Rosenburg baked cookies and made hot cocoa, which she sold from an outdoor kitchen stand to the chilled, cheery skiers.
Cathy showed me a thick photo album full of black n white photographs of skiers on the hill from years gone by. Have a peek at this when you go to the center.

The Rosenburgs were well loved in the community and ethical dairy farmers for their time. They passed the farm down to their son, who wanted the land to be preserved for use by future generations. After the son died, the land was gifted to the RED CROSS, where much of the farm equipment and valuables were sold.

It was then taken over by the Williamstown Rural Land Foundation group,(WRLF), a non-profit organization who rely on donations and volunteers to operate the center, as well as manage the grounds upkeep.
The visitor’s center is also a meeting house, (they rent the space out to the public for meetings), an educational center, restrooms for the hill visitors, and a lending library of nature and hiking books. Cathy has every book and CD cataloged and you can borrow any book you want.

The buildings at Sheep Hill are open to the public and harbor interesting information and unique details not found in traditional museums. There is an element of trust here that is refreshing and reflects the old fashioned values of this area. Items are not nailed down or kept in cases away from touching hands or closer views.
The first building I visited was the TOOL SHED.

Once a store-all for the farm, summer interns thinned out the mess and organized interesting displays and artifacts and made signs explaining what items were.
A CD of various local farmers explaining farm life played in the background with old tyme instrumental tunes for atmosphere. Was I ever surprised to hear the voice of Amy, from our own '6 House Pub, on the audio! We get our cheese from her farm and she works at the pub!
I wandered around to the MILKING BARN next.

For the era, this was hygienic and clean and Mr Rosenburg was considered a fine dairy farmer.

There is a very interesting scrapbook full of business receipts, calendars and transactions for the farm. He apparently sold an average of 400 lbs of milk every couple of days.
There is a funny handmade sign explaining how a cow makes milk, right on down to a rudimentary drawing of the stomach(s), and the original milk cans and milk caps are here.

The HORSE BARN is run down, but a great structure to tour.
It of course is close by the SILO, which was built in 1935, but moved to this farm from somewhere else in 2000. (a really big yard sale find?!)

The SKI KITCHEN that Mrs. Rosenburg sold her cocoa and cookies from is full of nostalgic items, like an old stove, kettle and signs on the back wall.
It was also a chicken coop where eggs were gathered for sale during the other seasons of the year.

The CHILDREN’S NATURE SHACK is a lot of fun. Kids can pose in front of shadow bird plaques and compare wingspans with hawks and vultures.

Kids will really LOVE turning over the infamous BUG BOARD to see the ooky, creepy crawlers underneath. I did NOT love it so much. (Eeeooww)

Once inside the nature shack, there are butterfly nets to borrow, backpacks full of equipment for nature hikes, signboards on insect facts, a coloring station, and scavenger hunt sheets to make kid's hikes extra fun.
You have to find things like something prickly, something fuzzy, 2 different bird calls, identify 3 different birds flying overhead, and find a wildflower, among other things. I only got a few of these correct on my own adult hike.
There is a quaint pond (Josiah’s Pond) with seating around and interesting structures.

There is a butterfly house nestled nearby a butterfly garden, with all the plantings marked so you can make your own once you are back home.

I stopped at the TRAIL KIOSK which has a plethora of maps and guides for the hiking part of this place, which is actually the reason most people come here.
I decided to take the easy trail (of course) that sweeps over the meadow in the lower section of the 50 acres of property space.
I hummed Sting’s “Fields of Gold” to myself as I marveled at the scenic beauty of this area. The path I was on was a well mowed trail and little wooden bridges covered the babbling water trickles that ran down from the hill.
There were benches every now and then to rest and eat a chocolate granola bar, and the sound of birds overhead made for a pleasant afternoon walk.
The bees buzzed in the thistle whilst the butterflies floated over the sunny goldenrod that covers most of the grounds this time of year. The September breeze caused a sea of waving purple and yellow flowers, as I hoofed and sweated slowly up the hill.

As I got more and more out of breath, I remembered how our 1896 House guest had told me (with eyes misted), that as a Williams student back in the 1970s, he brought many a date “up the hill” for romantic interludes… (sigh). I was not quite so “lucky” on my lone venture and soon decided it was time to return to the Wondercar for the final leg of my Sheep Hill experience.

I drove up onto BEE HILL ROAD, a dirt road with big ditches on the side (be careful!) which borders the Sheep Hill land. It is way up on the “tree line”, as it’s known by the hikers who get there by foot the hard way up Sheep Hill itself. Beware of the local traffic that treat it like a racetrack.

Bee Hill Road is blessed with several pull off spots that have scenic views, not only of Sheep Hill and it’s buildings, but of the distant mountains and sky over North Adams and Pownal , VT.
My photos were taken late in the afternoon, so perhaps an early morning viewing would have different/better lighting conditions.
One of the pull offs leads to a main trail and has a marker to read. I walked down to it. It is cool because it explains what each of the mountains is called and where it is located. You can see Mt. Greylock (remember Spike?) and even the Hairpin Turn on Route 2.

There are all kinds of programs and events on this property (who knew?!) especially for families with children. Full Moon Hikes, Firefly Hikes, Sheepherding demonstrations, Art and Nature Classes for children, Live music events, Picnics, animal tracking, and food celebrations. Some of these events have a nominal fee for entry.

Sheep Hill is located within ½ mile of the 1896 House, heading north towards Williamstown center, right on Route 7. It is on the left side of the road.

The grounds are open daily from Dawn to Dusk year round.
The Center and Buildings are open from 9 to 5.
Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It is free, but a donation sure would be nice.
The next event planned at SHEEP HILL is :
The 4th Annual AMBLE n SCRAMBLE on SEPTEMBER 19th.
Sure to be a lot of fun!

Sheep Hill is truly a wonderful place that I would certainly recommend to our visitors.
The hikes are terrific and it is SO CLOSE to the 1896 House! Sheep Hill is a hidden treasure in Williamstown.
I cannot wait to return for the Fall Foliage!
Oh no! My designer hiking shoes and coordinating outdoor outfit got dirty!

Be Well,