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Globe South People

A history with Prowse Farm

Harvey Robbins is passionate about Canton’s Prowse Farm. Harvey Robbins is passionate about Canton’s Prowse Farm.
By Paul E. Kandarian
September 11, 2011

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Ask Harvey Robbins, president of Friends of Prowse Farm in Canton, about how the 44-acre site came to host a range of fund-raising events over the years, expect a long, detailed, and mostly political answer.

The group started in 1975 to halt Motorola’s quest to develop the land it had bought, which would have housed Codex, one of its subsidiaries. Along the way, the group fought political figures up to and including a governor.

In 1988, Robbins, a concert producer, published a book, “Betrayal: Michael Dukakis and the Battle to Save Historic Prowse Farm,’’ all part of a battle that he said garnered national and international attention.

The farm property, owned since 1990 by Meditech, a medical information technology company, is maintained by the Friends of Prowse Farm, which in the past 20 years “has enjoyed a wonderful joint venture with the corporate world’’ in which both Meditech and the group “have lived in harmony,’’ said Robbins.

On Sept. 24 and 25, the Life is good Festival returns to the farm for the second year, hosted by Life is good, a Boston-based clothing company that seeks to raise $1 million to benefit the Life is Good Playmakers, the action arm of the Life is Good Kids Foundation. The two-day event will feature nationally known musical talent along with popular children’s performers.

Last year, more than 30,000 people attended the event, which featured more than 20 musical groups. Life is good co-founder Bert Jacobs, who calls himself the company’s “chief executive optimist,’’ said last year’s event “was an incredible success, raising awareness and much-needed funds to help kids. Because we believe good vibes can save lives, we are bringing the Life is good Festival back to Prowse Farm.’’

Adult single-day tickets are $65, and $120 for two-day tickets. Children’s tickets, ages 2 to 12, are $20 for one day and $35 for two. Children under two are admitted free. For more information, visit www.lifeisgood.com/festivals/

Such fund-raising efforts are part of the mission of Prowse Farm. Robbins said it includes “making it available for worthy endeavors.’’ It has hosted events for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and an event to raise money for colitis research. Over the years, events hosted at the farm have raised more than $20 million, said Robbins, 70, who lived in Sharon at the time of the preservation battle and now lives in Westford.

Whatever money the Friends group makes from renting the property for events is pumped back into the historic farm house at the site, Robbins said. The house was last owned by Martha Peabody Prowse, who had been given the farm as a wedding gift from her father, wealthy businessman J. Malcolm Forbes.

When Prowse died in 1975, there was no stipulation made for use of the property, Robbins said, which led to the controversy over its development and preservation. Robbins had been a frequent visitor to the farm for 13 years, boarding a horse there, and got to know Prowse well. He said she would be happy with how the land is now used.

“Mrs. Prowse would be thrilled; she was known as a very giving person, donating to a church that was once on the property,’’ Robbins said.

From a historical perspective, it was important to preserve the property, Robbins said. Doty Tavern once stood on the site near where Route 138 now runs. Colonists convened there in 1774, out of sight of the British, as it was blocked from their view by Blue Hill.

“They met and drafted the Suffolk Resolves, . . . the basis of the Declaration of Independence,’’ Robbins said of that meeting in the tavern, now long gone but the original sign from which is in the Prowse Farm museum. “It was signed in Milton and carried by Paul Revere to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.’’

In 1890, Forbes, who gained his wealth in the China trade, bought the property and established a farm to indulge his passion for breeding trotting horses, four of which were eventually named to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y. - Nancy Hanks, Bingen, Arion, and Peter the Great.

Environmentally, the land is just as important, Robbins said, serving “as the gateway to the Blue Hills Reservation’’ and its more than 7,000 acres.

For information on Prowse Farm, visit www.prowsefarm.org/