Sarah Jane Farmer was the founder of what has become Green Acre: A Baha’i Center of Learning. Initially a resort hotel, but under Sarah’s vision and leadership Green Acre began to offer gatherings on progressive subjects such as sciences, arts and religion that were universal in scope and open to all races and creeds. In 1894, Sarah Farmer dedicated Green Acre to the ideals of peace and religious unity and founded the “Green Acre Conferences.” Over time, these conferences brought together renowned writers, educators, philosophers, artists and activists.
Sarah Farmer’s parents, Moses Gerrish Farmer (1820-1893) and Hannah Tobey Shapleigh Farmer (1823-1891) focused their lives on the betterment of society. Moses Gerrish Farmer was a prolific inventor, creating a fire alarm pull box—the design of which is still in use today as well as the first electric railway car. He also helped electrify some of the first homes in the country. He was a transcendentalist, believing that his inventions were emanations from God, and, in this spirit, did not patent any of his inventions.
Hannah Tobey Shapleigh Farmer, was a prominent philanthropist, involving herself with the abolitionist and feminist movements of the day. Their home was a way station on the Underground Railroad. Hannah founded Rosemary Cottage in 1888, a retreat in Eliot for unwed mothers and their children, serving families primarily from Boston.
SARAH FARMER INN
In 1889, construction began on the Inn by the Eliot Hotel Company with Sarah Farmer joining as a partner in 1890. Originally conceived as a resort hotel for Bostononians to escape the city, it was described in its opening season as a “quiet resting place…on the banks of the Piscataqua River, which divides a portion of the state of Maine from New Hampshire.” The great poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who visited the resort, fondly referred to the hotel as “Green Acre.” The hotel became known as the Greenacre-on-the-Piscataqua for many years before later being named the Sarah Farmer Inn.
In the early years of the 20th century, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá —the eldest Son of Bahá’u’lláh—was the Bahá’í Faith’s leading exponent, renowned as a champion of social justice and an ambassador for international peace. He visited Green Acre for one week during August of 1912. During this time He gave frequent addresses, sometimes to several hundred, in the Green Acre Hall and in a nearby pine grove. He walked the slopes of one of Green Acre’s hills, foreseeing the day when institutions dedicated to higher education and to the worship of God would be established on its sylvan summit. An extremely sociable person and a vigorous walker, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also called on people at a number of homes in the area, sharing prayers and divine education with them.
The Green Acre Conferences became so popular that the Inn overflowed and tents were set up to house the guests. The programs included topics such as peace, education, evolution, nature, sociology, art, child study, psychology, and comparative religion.As the Green Acre conferences drew large diverse audiences, they attracted the support of social and cultural figures such as Edward Everett Hale, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Jane Addams, and Phoebe Hearst.
In 1894 at the dedication of the conferences, Sarah Farmer raised the first known peace flag—a 36-foot long banner with the word “PEACE” in green letters against a white background, flying on an 85-foot flagpole made from two ships’ masts. She explained:
“In looking for an emblem, we wanted something that would be a call to everybody and fit everybody-and we felt that the Message that had been brought to the world by prophet after prophet was the message of ‘Peace.’ So we have put on a large banner over our heads: PEACE.”
Louis George Gregory (1874-1951) was an African-American attorney born just after the Emancipation Proclamation. He earned a law degree from Howard University and was admitted to the bar in Washington D.C. in 1902. He became a Bahá’í in 1909 and was distinguished by being the first African-American to be invited by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the Holy Land for Bahá’í pilgrimage. Louis Gregory and a white English Bahá’í, Louisa (Louise) A. M. Mathew were married at the encouragement of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on September 27, 1912 in New York City.
Louis Gregory devoted the remainder of his life to the cause of racial amity and the promotion of the Bahá’í teachings. He travelled the country extensively giving talks and organizing gatherings for Race Amity. He and Louisa spent the last portion of their lives near Green Acre. He died at the age of seventy-seven on July 30, 1951 and is buried with his devoted wife Louisa in Eliot, Maine.