John "Whit" Davis told me this week, as he stood on a piece of the 400 or so farm acres he owns in Stonington, that this particular stretch of land, on the Pawcatuck River looking across the water at Watch Hill, R.I., has never been plowed or tilled or disturbed in any way.
Davis should know. He grew up on the farm. He and his ancestors have owned it since the 17th century.
As if to prove his own long connection to the land, Davis later showed me a couple of early pictures of himself.
One was from when he was 4 years old, standing in the barnyard with an old Model T visible inside a shed in the background, and another from when he was a young man, during World War II, riding horseback across the open fields of the farm, the broad waters of Little Narragansett Bay in the background, as he patrolled for German submarines.
The waterfront piece of the farm Davis gave me a tour of this week is about 48 acres and has about a half mile of waterfront with coves, beachfront and rocky shore.
Archaeologists over the years have found significant evidence of the remains of an Indian village that was believed to have been inhabited on the site thousands of years ago, Davis says. The Davis family kept a significant collection of Indian artifacts that turned up on the farm, when fields were plowed by hand.
I set up the meeting with Davis because the notion of protecting the 48-acre riverfront piece of his farm from development came up earlier in the week at a meeting of the Stonington Conservation Commission, as members considered a proposal to protect Coogan Farm on Route 27 in Mystic.
Some commission members have suggested there is property in town they might prefer to save over Coogan Farm. The Davis farm was discussed in a closed-door executive session, according to Commission Chairman Stanton Simm Jr.
The state owns the development rights to about 228 acres of the farm, but Davis retained the 48 acres of waterfront land when the development rights to other land were sold in 1990.
Davis, who is now 87, told me he'd like to preserve the waterfront land and create some kind of endowment so that there will be money for his two children to pay the taxes on the farm in the future.
"You can have a bad year on the farm, but the tax collector doesn't care," said Davis, who still does regular farm chores, collecting daily up to 10 dozen eggs he sells to restaurants and at farm markets, and tending to his vegetable fields.
"Some of the rows aren't straight, but you get in more seed that way," Davis said on a tour of the fields, with a touch of the wry Yankee humor he practices well.
He also offers up opinions on a variety of topics. When she heard he was meeting with a reporter, Davis said, his wife told him to take along his short soapbox.
Davis told me there are no pending deals or arrangements in the works for a sale of the 48 acres. He added that he doesn't want to compete with the efforts to preserve Coogan Farm, to which town voters could eventually be asked to contribute $1.5 million in bond money.
Davis and his family have a history of saving and protecting and conserving history.
Not long ago, Davis donated to a new nonprofit museum the farm's 17th century homestead and all its remarkable contents, the remains of many generations of collecting, from whaling spears and 19th century oil paintings of the local landscape to a table that Uncas, the early Mohegan chief, is believed to have been entertained at.
Volunteers with the Stanton-Davis Homestead Museum have been at work cataloging and storing the collection and raising money to stabilize and restore the house.
Davis many years ago also donated to a land trust acres of marsh used for provisioning during the Revolutionary War. Known as the Continental Marshes, they have been featured in photos in National Geographic and remain a remarkable stretch of undeveloped shoreline between the Barn Island state park and the Davis Farm.
Davis also once served on the town's Conservation Commission and got involved over the years in many efforts, some successful and some not, to preserve land in the region from development.
"When it's gone, it's gone," he told me this week, showing me a place on the 48 acres where archaeologists once turned up the remains of an Indian child, buried with the spoils of a hunt.
"Conservation is not some kick I'm on. I've lived it my whole life," Davis said.
Pretty soon, he's going to need some help.
He's right. It shouldn't be cast as a competition.
The effort to preserve Coogan Farm, which could become a linchpin for recreation and education and open space in the heart of ground zero of the state's tourism industry, is laudable.
And the Davis Farm is an incredible treasure that not only the people of Connecticut, but those across the Pawcatuck River in Rhode Island, too, need to protect, at least as long as the Stanton and Davis families have, like maybe the next four or five centuries.
This is the opinion of David Collins.