New on the Gibbet Hill menu: Its own growth

GROTON — Gibbet Hill Grill is growing. On Friday and Saturday, so many visit the bar and lounge, that they end up lining the stairway.

The 190-seat restaurant, opened 12 years ago, will increase the size of its lounge, without impacting diners.

The new addition to the historic barn will be built over the winter. Since the work will be done during the day and the restaurant is usually open at night, diners won’t even see the equipment, said Jed Webber, one of the owners of the family business.

Once the addition is complete, the bar — but not the lounge — will be blocked off for a month or so while workers open the wall to the new area. It will be ready for Easter.

Construction began Nov. 7, the first Monday after the end of daylight saving time.

“Everything is going great,” Webber said. “We’re really excited. (This will be) a great place for years to come.”

The restaurant is on the cutting edge of the farm-to-fork movement, featuring produce grown on its own farm. Other ingredients are sourced locally, from wine, cider and beer to meats.

Groton has one of only two U.S. Department of Agriculture approved slaughterhouses in the state, making the meat unusually local. “Literally, they never leave town,” Webber said.

Before the restaurant opened in two existing barns, the land was eyed for a 78-house development. Steven Webber, a Groton native and founder of a communications company, put an end to that. He bought the farm and an abutting orchard. The land went into conservation.

About six acres was designated for what became the restaurant run by his children. The rest of the land can never be developed, his son said.

The farm manager grows crops on three acres above the barns and on another acre at Groton School. That is enough produce for the Groton customers, another two restaurants and a catering business that Jed and his brother Josh and sister Kate own.

Leftover produce goes to Loaves and Fishes, a food pantry in Devens. This year a relay race, the Gibbet Hill Cattle Run, raised $20,000 which was donated to four pantries, including the one in Devens.

As part of the agreement with the town, the Webbers open their land and parking to visitors. “We want people to stay,” Webber said.

Signs tell visitors about the crops. Berries and an orchard are recent additions, said Amy Severino, marketing director.

The farm is home to animals too. The land attracts 60 species of birds. Lambs arrive in spring and go to slaughter later in the year.

The hill is dotted with cows. A jet-black calf snuck into the gardens, calmly munching on some late-season green grass. As visitors approached, it nudged the lower wire over its head and meandered back the field on Gibbet Hill.

The hill, said to be named after a hill in England, has been farmed since the 17th century. There is no proof that anyone was ever executed, hung from a gibbet or gallows, on the hill in Massachusetts.

Instead, the hill fed the farming families that worked there, and perhaps even supplied the milk that was supposedly used to extinguish a 1795 fire in the steeple of the First Parish Church, just across the road.

According to the best knowledge of the time, water could not put out a fire caused by lightning, the church history says on its website.

The remains of a stone structure top the hill. Planned as a retirement home and used as a veterans hospital, it burned on July 4, 1930. Now, thanks to the restaurant and its agreement with the town, visitors can park in the lot and climb a path to the top where a panoramic view awaits.

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