SHIRLEY — “We all need a place like Farandnear — somewhere close enough to home and yet special enough to seem far away from life’s everyday business.”
Those words, spoken by The Trustees of Reservations West Regional Director Joanna Ballantine, set the stage for a rainy Sunday introduction to a “unique and wonderful” property in the town of Shirley.
Ballantine was addressing a large gathering of gardeners, conservationists and residents who attended the Trustees-hosted fall foliage walk and celebration of the property on Oct. 6.
As Ballantine explained it, Professor Arthur “Art” Banks knew that his family’s summer home sat in a unique and wonderful location. The property was named Farandnear by his grandfather, Charles Goodspeed, in 1902, due to its relative distance from Boston.
“More importantly,” she said, “he was determined to share it with the community.”
“Banks made a practice of welcoming neighbors to explore the property, which eventually reached 89 acres, and even included a small golf course in the 1950s,” said Ballantine.
In 1994, Banks included a typewritten note with his annual dues to the Trustees, inquiring if the organization would consider protecting the property for future generations. He left Farandnear to the Trustees upon his death, along with a portion of his household collection, which included items from his grandfather’s business, Goodspeed Book Shop in Boston.
Banks, a professor emeritus of political science at Binghamton University, died at the age of 84 in 2011. As Ballantine noted, he was known both as an “ecological benefactor” and a beloved “curmudgeon.”
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who said that he has worked closely with the Trustees on other properties, concurred with Ballantine’s assessment. He told the story of visiting the property eight or nine years ago, after he wrote a letter to the editor of the Shirley Volunteer, for which Banks was the editor.
“I noticed that the editorial was not published,” he said. Later, he received his letter back from Banks in the mail. “He had returned it marked in red ink, noting all of my grammatical mistakes,” chuckled Eldridge. “I gave him a call and he invited me to come visit the property.”
Upon Eldridge’s visit, Banks arranged to have his assistant give him a tour of the estate.
Eldridge observed that Banks was one of many Shirley citizens committed to preserving conservation land. He complimented the Trustees for their efforts to maintain and open such properties to the public.
Shirley native Betsy Colburn Mirkovic’s grandmother was the sister of Arthur Banks’ mother.
“Five generations of this family have loved and treasured this place,” she said, “from the time when Charles Eliot Goodspeed stood near the spot where we stand, looked westward toward Mount Wachusett, and decided this was where he would build a house where his family could spend time away from the pollution and bustle of the city, up to the land’s transfer to the Trustees last year. ”
Goodspeed was born on Cape Cod in Cotuit in 1867 and raised in Needham and Newton. Ending his formal schooling at age 14, he eventually spent 18 years traveling the northeast selling farm equipment.
The depression of 1893 ended Goodspeed’s sales career, and in 1898, he opened his Park Street bookshop in Boston. By the time of his death at the end of 1950, Goodspeed’s bookshop was one of the preeminent rare bookshops in the world.
During his life, said Mirkovic, he was known for his honesty, good communication skills and love of books, nature, gardening and history.
“Although he died more than 60 years ago, he is still remembered, including by people in this town, with respect and deep affection. I believe that his spirit is still here at Farandnear,” she mused.
By 1903, Goodspeed had come to Shirley, and would bring his family there every summer.
His daughter Miriam married Gordon Banks, and they settled in the little brick schoolhouse on the corner of Center and Hazen roads and raised three children, Barbara, Shirley and Arthur.
Later, when Arthur was in his teens, the original Farandnear house burned down and the existing year-round house built in its place. Arthur would ultimately retire there.
Mirkovic’s grandparents, Miriam’s older sister Margaret and Wellen Colburn, summered at Farandnear with their family, and moved to Shirley after Wellen retired. There, her father spent many hours connecting with nature and developing a conservation ethic that he passed down to his children.
“For me, as a little girl, Farandnear was a fairyland place…where the house was full of light and wood smoke and books and great Chinese gongs that you could ring, and where beautiful old trees stood on the hillside, and I dreamed of living here,” she recollected.
The land has changed greatly over its 110-year tenure under the Goodspeed and Banks families. The two men were avid golfers and used the south and east lawns for a small, nine-hole golf course open to the community.
In the ’80s and ’90s, Banks bought two additional parcels of land and heavily planted the fairways and lawns close to the house with ornamental shrubs and trees.
The open fields and pinewoods present in 1903 have grown up into hemlock groves and deciduous forest, and in the last decade, beavers have changed the character of the woods and wetlands west and north of the house. Bear, bobcat, turkeys and other wildlife have also returned to the property, Mirkovic said.
Acknowledging that the combination of ornamental conifers, highly manicured gardens and the continually changing woods and wetlands represent a management challenge, she said she believes Banks understood that the Trustees were well equipped to handle it.
Trustees Pioneer Valley operations manager Thomas Por, regional ecologist Julie Richburg and Shirley Conservation Commission Vice Chairman Bob Burkhardt led three walks around the property. Lunch, kids’ activities and even putters for a rainy day round of golf were also provided.
Today, Farandnear, located at 156 Center Road, is open dawn to dusk so the public can enjoy its 2.7 miles of easy wooded trails, cranberry bog, “Paradise Ravine” of soaring hemlocks, wetlands, Spruce Swamp Brook, fields of wildflowers and formal plantings of 80 conifers and other ornamental trees and shrubs.