Farm donated to New London Heritage Historical Society
A New London woman left her family farm, which was the site of the “City Fair” 125 years ago, to the New London Heritage Historical Society.
She also left a substantial financial gift to pay for historically themed programming and upkeep.
Sandra Fuller, whose family owned the farm at the intersection of State Highway 54 and U.S. 45 for more than 100 years, donated it to the historical society through her estate.
Fuller died of cancer July 4, 2015, at age 70. She also left an undisclosed amount of money that will generate enough in earnings to pay in perpetuity for programming, maintenance of the farm and a part-time staff position for what is now an all-volunteer organization.
The historical society used the gift to establish the Sandra L. Fuller-Thern Homestead Fund in the Appleton-based Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.
“Her gift is going to save the farm,” said Robert Polaske, president of the New London Heritage Historical Society.
Polaske noted that the farm and funds are the largest gift the group has ever received.
Members of the historical society’s Thern Farm Subcommittee said they expect it will take the better part of two years to figure out how best to use the proceeds of this major gift. They plan to develop a job description and hire a program director by the end of 2016. That person would implement programming for 2017.
Fuller spent 12 years renovating the house, finishing in 2010. She and her husband of 30 years, Tony Fuller, had planned to open a bed and breakfast there.
The picturesque farm setting has led many people to stop through the years and ask about buying the property. Some were interested more in its highly accessible site, to build a gas station or a hotel there.
That was Sandra’s greatest nightmare for the home, said Tony, a retired minister.
“This was the love and passion of her life,” he said, “and she put a lot of time into it.”
The farm hosted New London’s city fair from 1891 to 1912. The owner then, James Henry Cannon, used the fairs to promote horse racing at the half-mile track he built there. He added the house initially to serve as a dining hall for the races.
Photographs show crowds of people dressed up in ties and their best Sunday hats for the popular event. Among its more famous visitors was Sen. “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, who delivered a two-hour speech at the fair in 1897.
“One of the important roles the Community Foundation serves is to be able to assure our donors that someone will be looking after their charitable intentions long after they are gone,” said Foundation President and CEO Curt Detjen. “The historical society came to us and asked that we manage and invest the money for the long-term, and that is exactly the service we provide.” The foundation awards more than $16 million in grants annually from the 1,300 charitable funds created by its donors.
The New London Heritage Historical Society also operates a historic village and railroad museum in New London’s Memorial Park, featuring relocated buildings including an octagon house, log cabin, train depot and chapel. The chapel is actually a converted one-room schoolhouse that was saved from demolition in 1992 by Sandra Fuller’s late aunt, Pearl Doris Ramseth.
Ramseth taught there at the start of her career in 1938. She also established an endowment in the Community Foundation to maintain that building in perpetuity.
“The hope is that Sandra’s gift will allow some overlap, with the maintenance and programming staff being used for the Heritage Village, too,” Tony Fuller said.
The society will still need to do fundraising to cover expenses and further develop programming at the village.
The historical society has formed a new committee to manage the farm. Its volunteer members include Tony, as well as Kristen Dedering, Sandra’s daughter from her first marriage.
Ten days before her death, Sandra Fuller compiled a list of programs she’d like to see conducted at the farm. It includes logging on the Wolf and Embarrass rivers, the history of rail transportation, Victorian etiquette, big-wheeled bicycles, harnessing horses and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which her father, Earl Thern, attended.
“We hope to offer a couple of open houses in the coming summer, with some attractions like quilt turning in the bedrooms and antique farm machinery in the yard,” Tony Fuller said. “We may give house tours by appointment and rent the farm house out to small group tours.”
160310_001 Click to play audio attached