Dennis Farm: American History and Energy Future?
Wow! That was a Frenchman’s reaction to the Dennis Farm. But I am getting ahead of a story that began in 1793.
I was invited to a program celebrating the Dennis Farm at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. The 153-acre farm was first settled by Prince and Judith Perkins who moved to northeastern Pennsylvania from Connecticut. The farm has been owned continuously by the same family for 220 years.
Denise Dennis is the great-great-great-great granddaughter of the original settlers. She gave an overview of this American story that is at the intersection of family history, archeology, architecture and landscape:
My ancestors heard the rhetoric of freedom and liberty and embraced the promise even though it didn't apply to them. They saw themselves as Americans and did what everyone else did following the American Revolution. They bought a little land and worked it.
Ms. Dennis shared why her family has preserved the farm:
We know that slaves built George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the White House and the U.S. Capitol. There are few, if any, places like the Dennis Farm, where you can walk around 153 acres and know that a family of free African Americans bought and worked that land and passed it down to the 7th and 8th generations. It was one of the few places in the United States where freedom was really ringing.
The family’s book collection includes the first edition of William Still’s landmark “The Underground Rail Road” published in 1872. The Dennis family will be one of the lives that visitors to the National Museum of African American History and Culture will be able to follow. The museum will open on the National Mall in 2015.
Some readers may be thinking: “Wow! It’s a great story, but it’s off topic for an energy forum.” As you will read, it’s right on point.
The Dennis Farm is located in Susquehanna County, which “is sitting on the sweet spot in the Marcellus,” according to George Stark, director of external affairs for Cabot Oil and Gas Corp.:
All of Susquehanna County is as rich as it could be. Fifteen of the top 20 producing wells in Pennsylvania are in Susquehanna County.
In 2001, Ms. Dennis and her great aunt, Hope Dennis, founded the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust, which has signed a lease agreement with Cabot. The signing bonus and royalties will be payable to the Trust to preserve the farm and restore the timber-style ancestral home.
Cabot anticipates extracting gas from the land “within the next few years.” It’s important to note there will not be any vertical drilling. Instead, they will reach their targets with horizontal drilling 4000 feet outside the farm.
Stark dismissed speculation that Cabot is promoting the Dennis Farm to burnish its image:
The signing bonus kickstarted Ms. Dennis’ vision and helped preserve the farm for the next 150 years. Cabot has invested two billion dollars in Susquehanna County. This is a great opportunity in addition to what we’re already doing.
Cabot looks to be recognized for the work we’re doing in Susquehanna County. Our core business is producing gas. We look for partnerships that will help define who we are. That we can drill and still protect the land.
Stark invited everyone to attend the Dennis Farm educational symposium on May 23, 2013:
We need you to come there and see the history there. It’s critical that you get to see it. We’re moving forward to preserve this farm… This story can’t end tomorrow. It has to be here for 200 more years and beyond… This is part of our history that has not been told and needs to be told.
If you are interested in visiting the Dennis Farm on May 23rd, send me an email.
I am the founder of Tracking Change, an online platform to promote data-driven models of policymaking. I focus on the intersection of technology, civic engagement, and economic and political empowerment.
I am a public policy consultant, social media content creator and curator, and civic innovator. I am project manager for the Cost of Freedom Voter ID App and Yo! Philly Votes.
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