Q&A with Denise Dennis – Part I

Towards the end of 2013 it was announced that Cabot had entered into a partnership with a very historic place in Pennsylvania – the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust owned by Madame Denise Dennis.

Of course this isn’t the first time that a land trust or historical site had leased its land to an oil and gas company but this parcel of land has an amazing history attached to it that is impossible to find anywhere else in the country. For this reason, several media outlets took notice of the leasing of the land including the Philadelphia Inquirer.

But what is impossible to get across in one article is the rich heritage of the land, the drive of M. Dennis to restore the farm to its former glory and her full story on what led her on a journey to better understand the industry.

In Part I, we will take a deeper look at what makes the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust a national treasure and get a glimpse the reasoning behind signing a lease with Cabot in M. Dennis’ own words.

DD —  Public records in Massachusetts confirm that the Dennis family dates back to Concord, Massachusetts at the dawn of the American Revolution. Americans and even non-Americans are fascinated to learn that there were free black landowners–in the North–more than a half-century before the Civil War began and that the same family is steward of the land in the 21st century.

So the farm represents a family that has had a front row seat to American history from April 19, 1775 right up to the current revolution in energy alternatives. Natural gas extraction in the early 21st century is now a part of the story of the farm.

We’ve received requests from schools (elementary, high schools, colleges and universities) who want to visit the Farm, from historians and researchers and from people who are simply fascinated by the story of the property and the people who lived there.

Our objectives include restoration of the nineteenth century farm house and construction of an interpretive center on the site of the old barn complex.  That way, visitors to the site can learn about the farm’s more than two-century old history as they experience the site.

DD —   In the five years prior to signing a least with Cabot, we were continuing with our plans for the DFCLT  An architect who specializes in historic structures assessed what is required to restore the farm house (which pre-dates the Civil War) prepared plans for achieving it, and gave us an estimate of the cost.

In 2008 and 2009, we had a partnership with the State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton’s Department of Anthropology.  Binghamton held an archaeological field school at the Dennis Farm in the spring/summer sessions each year.  The doctoral candidate who directed the field school wrote his Ph.D. dissertation about the Dennis Farm and family, the artifacts they uncovered at the site and what the artifacts revealed about the daily lives of my ancestors.  His dissertation was a success; he now has his doctorate and continues to write about the farm.  His dissertation was the first study of free African American landowners in the rural North throughout the 19th century and it broke new ground in academia.

Through the Binghamton field school, we acquired the archaeological studies required for our National Register of Historic Places nomination (we were designated eligible for the National Register).  The partnership with Binghamton is also consistent with DFCLT’s educational mission.

The Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust is involved with the Smithsonian Institution, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) that placed the farm on its list of the most rare African American historical sites in the northeast US; the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR) and Preservation Pennsylvania.

In the last five years representatives from NTHP, Preservation Pennsylvania, EMHR and the University of Delaware are among those we’re involved with who’ve made field trips to the farm. In 2006, I was a guest speaker at Keystone College and the University of Scranton; we are interested in working with them, as well.

DD —   The safety of the Dennis Farm and whether not natural gas drilling would prevent us from proceeding with our plans for the DFCLT were foremost on my mind.   I wanted to know as much as possible about the industry because that seemed to be the best way to protect the property.

On the other hand, when I applied for college and had to write an essay on one of my personal qualities, I wrote about my curiosity and how it inspires me to learn.  I’ve been fascinated by everything I’ve learned about natural gas drilling and feel that I am, in a small way, now a part of an international industry.  I look forward to learning more.

DD — My decision was based on several years of in-depth research on horizontal hydraulic fracturing.  I read and evaluated information about the process and its effects, consulted with scientists, attended public forums in such places as the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Philadelphia Public Library, and talked with people I know in Susquehanna County who have leases.  I arrive at my decision thoughtfully, weighing the pros and cons.

Look for Part II of the M. Denise Dennis interview tomorrow as she discusses in detail how she reached her decision and her advice for any other land trust or historical sites out there who are considering leasing with a company.

Brittany Ramos

Brittany was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and attended Pennsylvania State University where she earned degrees in Public Relations and Psychology. She recently earned her Masters in Sociology from Sam Houston State University. Brittany works in the External Affairs for Cabot where she manages communications and outreach projects to community members, elected officials, media and online supporters.

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