For more than a hundred years, the barn at Hoft Farm has born witness to the hard work and heartbreak of Vineyard rural life. The large barn, rising three stories high from its substantial fieldstone foundation, marked the ambition and optimism of the Hoft family, who settled on the Island after ocean journey and shipwreck. John Hoft, born in Hamburg, Germany, planted an orchard of apples, pears, peaches and plums. When he died unexpectedly, his 17-year-old son, who had dreamt of leaving the Island to become a steam engineer, dutifully turned his hand to carrying on his father’s work. He expanded the orchard to over a thousand trees and, using the latest in steam-driven farm machinery, raised fruit that took first prize at the Boston American Apple Show.
The hurricane of 1938 laid waste to the orchard, and to the work of three generations of Hofts. But the barn stood. Recent years have not been good to this hardy survivor. But even now, with timbers eaten by insects and several windows missing, it continues to be useful. Plover enclosures belonging to Mass. Audubon are stored there, and field staff of the Nature Conservancy, which owns the Hoft Farm, use it as an occasional indoor work area. The massive fieldstones of the barn’s foundation provide a warm basking place and a sheltered hibernaculum for milk and ring-necked snakes, increasingly rare elsewhere on the Island.
And there’s another role the barn plays, settled into its gentle rise above Blackwater Pond. As walkers amble the interlinking trails of the land bank, the Nature Conservancy and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, the old barn flickers in and out of view between the trees, connecting the ‘here and now’ to the ‘there and then.’
Like the lichen-covered stone walls marking forgotten fields, it stands as a reminder of all the farms and the families who once toiled here. A low sun reddens the pond, and the blush reflects in the rippled glass of a surviving window. For a minute, you can imagine John Hoft, standing by that window as ripe apples rumble in, satisfied at last with the fruits of all his labors.