The rich heritage of Flanders Nature Center & Land Trust began in 1926. In that year, the well-to-do Van Vleck family of New York purchased a farm and home in the rolling hillsides of Woodbury, Connecticut, situated along both sides of Flanders Road, which was, at the time, no more than a two-wheeled cart path. Their daughter, Natalie Van Vleck, an accomplished artist, built a studio with living quarters and a carpentry shop on the property, close to her parents’ home.
In 1934, the Van Vlecks increased their land holdings with the purchase of 108 acres from the Connecticut Light and Power Company. The following year, Natalie Van Vleck turned her attention away from art and to her goal of building a prosperous, fully-working farm. Beginning with a pair of turkeys she won at a “shoot,” Natalie founded a successful turkey farm on her parents’ property, raising, preparing, freezing and shipping her special brand of birds, throughout the United States.
With her mother’s death in 1942, Natalie inherited the Woodbury property, acquired more land, south of Church Hill Road and expanded the Van Vleck Farm’s capabilities and production. By 1955, Natalie was devoted to raising sheep, achieving the same business success as she had with her turkey farm, decades earlier.
During the 1960s, as suburban development began to encroach upon Woodbury’s agricultural traditions, Natalie Van Vleck sought ways to protect the land and environment that had inspired her art, work and life, for so many years.
In consultation with prominent environmentalists, Ms. Van Vleck evolved the idea to develop a nature center on her property, preserving her farm’s traditions, and write the first strategic plan for its use. In 1963, Flanders Nature Center, Inc. was chartered as a non-profit organization. The Center’s first staff naturalist assumed his duties a year later. Through the generosity and efforts of many volunteer groups, including the Junior League of Waterbury, educational activities for children and adults, began to take shape on “Natalie’s farm.”
Flanders became one of the first land trusts in the area in 1973, when it received its initial gift of land, the 6.5 acre Manville Kettle, located in the center of Woodbury. Today, 50 years later, Flanders has preserved more than 2,400 acres and is continuing its active conservation efforts.