Donibristle was the original country farm estate of renowned historian James Duncan Phillips, who purchased the property in 1911. It is among the famed rural summer retreats that are part of Topsfield’s long history. With the development of better road access to the town in the late 1800s, wealthy Salem shipping magnates converted existing colonial farms into comfortable "country seats."
Phillips' wife, Nannie Borden Phillips, helped in the development of a model dairy farm with registered Guernseys, no doubt the result of her upbringing in the Borden family known for its milk products. His prize-winning draft horses were judged at the Topsfield Fair.
Indigenous people known as the Pawtucket had a village in Topsfield not far from this land at the junction of Fish Brook and Ipswich River. The original name of Topsfield, Shenewemedy, was an English corruption of an Algonquian place name referring to level ground, ideal siting for cornplanter villages. The people would have used the natural resources found here and on surrounding lands. They also mined raw copper from Nichols Brook nearby, which they pounded into disks to wear as jewelry or body armor.
In 2017, a grassroots community effort led to the successful protection of the property. Greenbelt acquired Donibristle Reservation with the help of private donors, the Town of Topsfield, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through a Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity (LAND) Grant. The property abuts the permanently protected open space at English Commons, and the Donibristle trails connect to the English Commons public walking trail.
Flora & Fauna
Beautiful wooded hillside, featuring wide, extensive trails dominated by towering mature oaks, maples and birch. Wet sections are ideal for spring woodcock sightings. Deer, coyote and red fox are present.
On Route 1 South, go past the Topsfield Fairgrounds and take a right on Salem Road. Then a left on Hill Street. Follow Hill Street to Rowley Bridge Road. On Route 1 North, take a left on Salem Road. Then a left on Hill Street. Follow Hill Street to Rowley Bridge Road. Pull into the driveway and park on the side of the road.
Tell us about your visit.
Town: Topsfield Total Acres: 44 Year Conserved: 2017 Difficulty: Medium
Greenbelt is grateful to several professional and staff photographers whose work is featured prominently within our website.
Thank you Jerry Monkman / ecophotography.com, Lynne Holton, Kindra Clineff, Adrian Scholes and John Raleigh.