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Century-old wagon returns to Winchester’s last working farm

Leo and Lia O’Donnell and their children atop a Wright-Locke Farm wagon. Below, a closer look. Leo and Lia O’Donnell and their children atop a Wright-Locke Farm wagon. Below, a closer look. (E. James Whitehead (top), Wendy Maeda/Globe staff (below))
By Brenda J. Buote
Globe Correspondent / November 24, 2011

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After an absence of 50 years, a piece of Winchester’s rich agricultural history has returned to the Wright-Locke Farm, the town’s sole surviving tract of tilled land.

Nestled within an ever-changing landscape of undulating hills and valleys, the farm is now home to not one, but two handsome “market wagons’’ crafted at the turn of the 20th century by Charles Gott.

The two horse-drawn farm carts were reunited last month, when the great-grandson of the celebrated wagon-maker decided it was time to retire the one he had on display in the family’s WFK Ice House Museum in New London, N.H. The antique vehicle had been a featured attraction for five decades.

“My grandfather had bought the wagon back in 1960 or ’61,’’ said Gott’s great-grandson, David H. Kidder, 63, president of the museum board.

“He loved to tell the story of how he had to pay those damn Yankees within $25 of what their father had paid for it brand new.’’

The beautifully crafted wagon is typical of those used by farmers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to haul produce to the vegetable market near Faneuil Hall, where wholesale buyers for hotels, stores, and restaurants gathered at dawn to buy the pick of the crops.

The wagon, once the proud occupant of booth No. 1 at Faneuil Hall, still bears the name of its original owner, G.L. Locke, painted in pure gold leaf on either side of the wagon.

“This was the Cadillac of its day,’’ said Sally Quinn, vice president of the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy, the nonprofit corporation that operates the community-owned farm and preserves its picturesque landscape and historic buildings. “One hundred years later, it’s still in great shape.’’

The wagon’s once bright red paint has faded over time, but freehand striping is still visible just below the wagon bed, a remnant of a bygone era.

The painter’s name, W.A. Graves, also survives, perhaps because the wagon was not in use for very long. Within a few years of its production, trucks replaced wagons.

The Locke wagon sat idle for years in the farmstead’s clapboard barn until Hollis M. Gott, Charles Gott’s son and Kidder’s maternal grandfather, purchased it from brothers Wendell and Chester Locke for display in the ice house museum, which showcases examples of Yankee ingenuity, from steam whistles and padlocks to New London’s first fire engine.

“We weren’t really looking for a home for it,’’ said Kidder, a New Hampshire state representative. “A cousin of mine in Ann Arbor, Michigan got curious and looked up the Locke farm. It was then that we realized the farm had been bought by the town and was still in operation. It seemed to me to be a logical place for the wagon, so it went home to where it needed to be.’’

The market wagon is now on permanent loan to the conservancy.

“Market wagons have become very rare,’’ said John H. Ott, the retired executive director of the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, whose interest in Winchester’s last working farm was sparked by a personal connection to the land.

Ott, an avid collector of farm tools and books about agriculture, is a descendant of John Wright, the original owner of the Wright-Locke farm.

“Most are gone, scrapped,’’ Ott said of the once popular market wagons. “The fact that the conservancy has two of these wagons with their original paint and the Locke name is remarkable.’’

According to a short biography of Charles Gott, penned by his son in 1961, Gott’s shop on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington produced horse-drawn vehicles of every size and strength, from the light flatbed Democrat wagon to great caravans capable of carrying loads weighing up to 10 tons.

The market wagon was a Gott specialty, crafted from planks of ash and red and white oak that were joined together with interlocking dovetails and mortise and tenon joints.

Such joints connected two pieces of wood at a 90-degree angle; the end of one piece of timber was inserted into a corresponding hole in the other. The Locke wagon is believed to be one of the last made by Gott. Records show it was purchased by George Locke for $225 in 1907, the same year the wagon-maker died.

“The return of the market wagon fills out a rich picture of local farming and the relationship of the farm to local markets,’’ said Nina McIntyre, one of hundreds of volunteers at the Wright-Locke Farm, one of the oldest continuously operating farms in Massachusetts.

Established in the 1630s, the farm was owned by only three families - the Wrights, the Lockes, and the Hamiltons - until its purchase by the town of Winchester in July 2007.

Today, the farm remains home to an 1827 barn and an 1828 farmhouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as a vast collection of historical agricultural tools and equipment, including feeders, planters, and markers that have not been made since the 1850s.

Many of the items are on display during the harvest season, when the conservancy hosts its annual Family Fun at the Farm event, featuring pony rides, guided hikes, and hay rides.

Throughout the growing season, visitors to the farm also have an opportunity to connect to the land by picking raspberries and sowing and harvesting certified organic produce.

Ultimately, Quinn said, the conservancy would like to restore the market wagon so it can once again be used.

The conservancy would like visitors to experience firsthand what it would have been like to make the 7-mile trek into Boston at the turn of the 20th century.

“Back in 1907, this wagon brought produce into Faneuil Hall, connecting local people to local farms,’’ said Nina’s husband, Archie McIntyre, volunteer farm manager at the Wright-Locke Farm.

“Our mission is to continue that tradition. We do it in a different way, but we’re still connecting people to local produce.’’

Brenda J. Buote may be reached at brenda.buote@gmail.com.