From the April 9, 1948 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Some cows get all the breaks and those at Vineyard Downs are particularly blessed. They live in a two-story barn on the portion of the farm called Charlie’s Choice, surrounded by a spacious tract of pasture and hay-land. The barn was once judged to be one of the best in Massachusetts — and has prizes to prove it. Since that time the new state requirements caught up with it, and a few years ago it would not even pass inspection. But the stout structure has been renovated from top to bottom, and if it used to be good, now it is even better.

The cows which are giving milk are berthed upstairs. Those that have been dried off have their apartments on the lower floor, which is the nursery and maternity ward. Because the barn is built into the hillside, both floors have access to the ground, and no elevators are required. Also on the lower floor are calving pens and an enclosure for the calves. Three or four of them are in there now, with their inquisitive noses peeking through the slats.

The barn is snug as a tight ship, well painted, light and airy. Overhead in the peak of the structure stored the summer’s crop of hay, all of it grown on the fields of Vineyard Downs. Also in the barn are the farm office, a milking room and cooler, a work room and a shed for equipment.

The transformation of the barn was accomplished under the supervision of Charles G. Norton, who was the first manager of Vineyard Downs. He saw the potentialities of the building and knew its prize-winning history. In fact, his general enthusiasm for the James F. Adams place, Oak View Farm, was in large measure responsible for the purchase of the farm by Walker and Company, a firm of Boston wool brokers, in 1941. Because of Mr. Norton’s persuasiveness, this portion of Vineyard Downs was christened Charlie’s Choice.

The Choice and Sarita Sands, named in honor of Joseph R. Walker’s wife, are the two tracts of land. They were purchased originally as a site for an experiment in sheep breeding. Mr. Norton, who was born and spent his youth on the Island, convinced Mr. Walker and his associates that the Vineyard, particularly the rolling up-Island country, was an ideal spot for raising sheep.

After an absence of thirty years, Mr. Norton returned to the Island in 1939 to begin the adventure on his own family homestead. Walker and Company then bought Sarita Sands and the Choice to provide the larger areas of grazing land necessary for the venture.

As the experiment progressed it became evident that more and more land would have to be purchased to provide adequate grazing land for the sheep. Although Mr. Norton had excellent results with his cropland — his soy bean crop in the second year of his operation was fifty per cent above the national average produced per acre — his grazing land was not rich or large enough to take care of the hungry flocks. Rather than go too deeply into the red, the partners of Walker and Company decided to abandon the sheep raising experiments and turn their farm into a dairy.

Reluctant as he was to give up his search for the ideal lamb, Mr. Norton voted his approval of the measure ­— even though, as a dairyman, he knew he would not be able to continue as manager of Vineyard Downs.

“You can tie up a sheep,” he said. “But you tie yourself to a cow.”

Because of his engineering experience he gravitated naturally enough into the contracting business but still keeps about thirty sheep, more or less to keep alive the sheep raising traditions of his Vineyard ancestors.

Three of the partners of Walker and Company grew so fond of the Island during their inspection trips to Vineyard Downs that they bought places of their own: Joseph R. Walker came first at Scrubby Neck; E. B. Keith and B. H. Cohen followed, further up-Island.

The members of the firm chose Crichton Magee, who had been Mr. Norton’s assistant, as manager of Vineyard Downs. He operates the farm as a unit distinct from the enterprises of the partners, though sometimes Mr. Walker and Mr. Magee receive one another’s bills. Actually their is no direct connection between the farms.

Charlie’s Choice is now the scene of one of the Island’s most modern dairies. In the summertime its thirty-six cows produce up to 275 quarts of milk a day, which is sent for pasteurization and bottling to the Cooperative Dairy. At the moment the cows are in their slack season, and only 80 quarts are daily being shipped to the dairy.

Assisting Mr. Magee on the farm are Antone T. Silva, Carroll Drew, and Leonard Athearn, as year round employees. In the summertime one or two extra farm hands are hired to take care of the increased activity. For the past few years one of the summer hands has been Jack Reed who is now a student at Massachusetts State University on a Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society scholarship.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox