I always remembered Baker Farm in Lanesborough as a kid, but never knew much about the place. I do remember out-of-towners staying there in cabins by Pontoosuc Lake. My sisters went to Baker's to ride ponies named Midget and Lucky, and when I was in high school, the miniature golf course was the place to take a date.
Over the years on visits to my hometown area, I would stop for a treat at Rita Marie's Ice Cream. But I never knew any history about the Bakers until a few years ago when I met Malcolm "Mal" Baker, a generous and hard-working almost 90-year-old then. Long-term family friend, Debbie Storie, joined us and I learned all about Baker Farm from the two.
Mal was the youngest of three children born in the 1920s to Perry and Theresa Baker. In 1888, Mal's grandfather, Myron Baker, and his brother, Guernsey, purchased the farmland along the shore of the lake just over the Lanesborough line and also on the other side of Route 7.
The brothers operated a dairy business there, delivering milk with a horse and wagon. They would scoop milk out of the cans with a ladle to fill customers' own cans. Perry took over the family business in the 1930s and became the very first farmer in Berkshire County to pasteurize milk. In the early and mid 1900s, he rented the lake property each summer to various boys camps that set up tents for lodging.
In the 1920s, the farm became known as Maplehurst where as a young man, Mal learned the dairy business. Soon after the Great Depression, Perry supplemented the dairy by building tourist cabins near the lake — with sinks and toilets!
Competition pushed Perry into giving up the dairy in 1941. After World War II ended, he ventured into the food business by opening the "Farm Restaurant," later to become the ice cream shop named for daughter Rita Marie. After the war, Mal, who was just in his late teens, took over the farm to raise cows, but rather than have a dairy, he sold the milk to local dairies.
Perry also leased some of the Baker property for a golf driving range, and in 1950 the owner added the miniature golf course. When Perry passed away in 1949, Mal and sister Rita continued to run the cabins, restaurant and farm. In 1968, Mal took over the two golf attractions when the owner retired. With all these family ventures operated by the two siblings, Mal decided to close the farm. The cabins remained until 1985 when the aging structures were sold and moved from the lake.
Over the years, the Bakers leased land for a pitch and putt, a go-kart track and the circular "Cheese House." One of the toughest decisions for the two was the sale of land to the Berkshire Mall's developers for the connector road through their property.
In 1989, Rita Marie passed away and Mal became the last surviving Baker. In 1993, he did a complete make over of the historic miniature golf course that is still one of the few in the Berkshires. In 2005, he sold the site of the former cheese business to the Krispy Kone soft serve, a favorite of many.
There was no real competition for Rita Marie's Ice Cream as it had become more of a family eatery. Mal has continued his businesses with the assistance of Debbie Storie who started working for him at age 13 and has remained with Baker Farm for over 33 years. You can often see Mal, now at 90, on his tractor mowing grass at Baker Farm, especially on your way to play miniature golf.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." For more information on the project and books, go to berkshirecarousel.com.