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Cumberland & North Yarmouth

A Neighboring History of Two Towns

Skyline Farm - Making and Preserving History

Down The Lane to Skyline Farm
Down The Lane to Skyline FarmPhoto by Diana Logan

Skyline Farm is a community-based non-profit organization located at 95 The Lane in North Yarmouth, Maine. Its living carriage museum includes over 100 examples of antique carriage & sleighs and provides educational and recreational programs based on the role of horse-drawn transportation in the cultural, social and economic development of New England. The farm's 55 acres of open space includes a network of trails open to the public for non-motorized use.

Loring Family Settlement: 1781 – 1876
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, families began moving inland to the back lots of Ancient North Yarmouth where lumber and agricultural land was more available and affordable. That area eventually became today’s North Yarmouth as other towns seceded. Some of the earliest settlers here were three sons of the prominent Reverend Nicholas Loring, second pastor of the “Church Under the Ledge” near the coast (at the corner of Gilman Road and Route 88 in present day Yarmouth). Rev. Loring’s sons Thomas, Levi, and Jeremiah purchased land and built houses in the Walnut Hill area of North Yarmouth.

In “Old Times of North Yarmouth, Maine”, Rev. Amasa Loring writes that the minister’s children “were trained to habits of industry and economy so as to be examples to those of his flock”. This upbringing prepared Thomas Loring for his 1781 move to Walnut Hill, where he purchased eighty-three acres for 60 pounds, 9 shillings, and 4 pence. There, he established his homestead, now the location of “Skyline Farm.”

By 1801, the land had been transformed into a working farm producing small grain crops which helped support Thomas, his wife Phoebe, and their eleven children. Six of these children grew up, married, and started their own families in North Yarmouth, thereby expanding the Loring family’s roots and influence on the town’s development.

In 1827, the year before his death, Thomas Loring sold 40 of the 83 acres to his thirty-four year old son Jeremiah for $525 with the proviso that he, Thomas, retain one room and a chamber for the remainder of his life. Jeremiah purchased another 15 acres from the original 83 for $150 in 1830. Together with his wife Marjana, they raised six sons and three daughters there, attended the Congregational church, and transacted business at the post office and stores in Walnut Hill. The Loring children went to the nearby Buxton School, a one room schoolhouse.

Skyline Farm Ca. 1900
Skyline Farm Ca. 1900

Item Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

In 1857 Jeremiah replaced the simple center-chimney home and its small detached barn with the existing Greek Revival style house. An ell and large dairy barn were added in the 1860s creating a connected farm, which was a typical New England architectural style. He farmed the 55-acre homestead until his death in 1864. At this point, a couple of other Loring family members owned Skyline Farm. By 1870, Jeremiah’s son Charles Richmond (C.R.) Loring, who lived in Brunswick, was the last Loring family member to own Skyline Farm. When his only remaining brother Jacob was lost at sea in 1876, Charles sold the farm to Abbie A. Curtis Dolloff, the wife of Oscar Fitzland Dolloff. It was the end of an era after nearly a century of Loring ownership!

Dolloff Family Gathering
Dolloff Family Gathering

Item Contributed by
North Yarmouth Historical Society

Dolloff Family Era: 1876 – 1970
Abbie and Oscar Dolloff raised a family of six daughters and one son at Skyline Farm. At that time, the Maine Central Railroad ran close by the farm, facilitating the transportation of dairy and forest products to markets in Portland, Boston, New York and beyond. Several generations of Dolloffs used the premises primarily as a dairy farm. Although son Harry moved to Gray after he married and the girls moved to other farms around town, Skyline stayed in the Dolloff family until 1970.

Skyline Farm Riding School: 1944 - 1970

Ready to Enjoy a Ride  Ca. 1955
Ready to Enjoy a Ride Ca. 1955

In the early 1940’s, Abby Dolloff married Carleton (Carl) R. Semmes and, in 1944, purchased the farm from various Dolloff heirs. Sometime in the late 1940’s, the farm became known as “Skyline Farm,” perhaps originating from the view as one drives down The Lane from the center of town. The Semmes converted the farm from a dairy farm to a riding school where all five family members, Carl, Abby, Sally, Donald, and Richard, were instructors. Generations of children fondly remember learning to ride there while also learning a love of horses and country life.

Bonnie Smith of Yarmouth and Sheila Libby Alexander of Cape Elizabeth, riding instructors in the 1960’s, were paid $3-$5 per day, and they loved every minute of it. Sheila said, “Riding at Skyline was a happy experience. We always had a good time, even when there was work to be done.” Patricia Wescott of Portland, a Skyline student in the 1950’s, said, “It was like one big happy family. There was always something good coming out of the oven to go with your hot chocolate.”

Carl Semmes Securing Trusses on Skyline Riding Arena
Carl Semmes Securing Trusses on Skyline Riding Arena

The indoor riding arena, with its curved, laminated wood trusses, was completed around 1959 and allowed riding year-round. It is believed to be the oldest purpose built arena in the state. The blacksmith’s shed was also added during this time to support the transition from a dairy operation to a riding school. Many lovely trails were built through the fields and woods both on Skyline Farm and in the surrounding area for riders to enjoy.

Ken Sowles Sharing a Sleigh Ride with Children
Ken Sowles Sharing a Sleigh Ride with Children

Dreams of a Carriage Museum at Skyline Farm: 1970 – 1997
It was the colossal riding arena and large barn that attracted the attention of a local foreign automobile dealer. Horace "Ken" Sowles had been collecting representative examples of antique horse-drawn carriages and sleighs since before WWII. By the late 1960s, his collection was overflowing his own as well as borrowed barns around southern Maine. With Skyline, he could consolidate the collection and also have a place where he could have horses to ride and drive carriages. Unable to convince his wife Margaret to move to the country from their home in Falmouth, he was fortunate in finding a young couple, Dick and Dolly Wilbur, to make Skyline their home. There they raised three daughters; Debbie, Judy and Sarah. Both Dick and Dolly were key and integral partners in forming Ken's dream of having a carriage museum. For it was through their care of Skyline, his horses, and collection that his dream lived on.
Ken especially enjoyed sharing his knowledge and love of carriages with school children. Hundreds of local school children, collectors, and other interested people visited the farm and its well-known carriage collection to hear Ken describe the important historical roles carriages and horse-drawn transportation had on our daily life and the advancement of technology. By the time Ken died, his collection of antique carriages and sleighs numbered somewhere over 300.

Carriage Museum Exhibition Hall
Carriage Museum Exhibition HallPhoto by Pamela C. Ames

Fulfilling the Dream and Protecting Open Space: 1999 – present
After Ken Sowles’ death in 1997, Margaret Sowles intended to sell the property. In the fall of 1999, some bold members of the area community, concerned that the property might be developed into house lots, formed a nonprofit organization, appropriately named “Skyline Farm,” to save the farm and collection. By the summer of 2000, the Skyline Farm organization and the Sowles family arranged a purchase with a conservation easement through the Royal River Conservation Trust. Through generous donations by many individuals and support from the Town of North Yarmouth, Skyline Farm's property is now preserved for future generations. Today, numerous volunteers and supporters are working in support of the organization’s mission - to transform Skyline Farm into a community resource as a living carriage museum with an antique carriage and sleigh collection, while also preserving the farm’s open space and historic buildings for recreational and educational use.

In February 2006 Skyline Farm Carriage Museum debuted its new Exhibit Hall in the newly renovated indoor riding arena to display theme-based carriage and sleigh exhibits. Of special interest are vehicles and accessories that demonstrate the technological advances that carry through to today’s automobiles, vans, and trucks. Skyline’s outdoor riding arena and surrounding fields provide a venue for equine events where carriage and sleigh drivers bring to life horse-drawn vehicles, some of which are those seen in the museum. The public also has opportunities to ride in wagons, carriages, and sleighs during the nonprofit organization’s fund raisers, simulating what transportation was like during the Loring and Dolloff eras before the advent of the automobile.

Breaking Ground for Community Supported Agriculture
Breaking Ground for Community Supported AgriculturePhoto by Leah Mahoney

Skyline recently welcomed its newest tenant, organic farmer Justin Deri, to use the southwest fields for his Community Supported Agriculture business. In 2009 he worked with a teamster to organize “Plow Day” during which five teams of draft horses plowed the fields that were originally farmed by the Loring family more than 200 years ago!

Conclusion
Skyline Farm has thus come full circle! A conservation easement on forty-six acres of its fields and woods assures that much of Thomas Loring’s 1781 purchase will never be developed into house lots. Jeremiah Loring’s 1857 connected farm has been returned to its agricultural roots and is actively being used. Carl and Abby Dolloff Semmes’ 1959 indoor riding ring has been restored as Skyline Farm Carriage Museum’s primary exhibit space, a museum that was envisioned by Ken Sowles. Skyline Farm’s repurposed buildings and land, lovingly built and farmed by its forebears, enable the organization’s mission to move forward…going back to the future!

Acknowledgements
We appreciate the advice and information provided by Sheila Libby Alexander, Ursula Baier, Mark Heath, Holly Hurd, Lincoln Merrill, Sally Semmes Pierce, Richard Semmes, Ronald Dolloff, Lee Dunn and Val Johnson.

Open Space at Skyline Farm
Open Space at Skyline FarmPhoto by Diana Logan

Reading Resources
Loring, Amasa. “Historical Sketch of the Loring Family,” In: Corliss, Augustus W. (ed.) Old Times of North Yarmouth, Maine, Vol. 6, no. 3 (July 1, 1882), 878.

Web Links

Text by Pamela C. Ames and John Sowles