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EL should save this vital property

By LUANE LANGE

Publication: The Day

Published July 30. 2012 4:00AM

The Town of East Lyme has an opportunity to purchase the historic Samuel Smith House, circa 1685, with its two additions, around 1735 and 1812, located on 17 acres of farm land in the Bride Brook Watershed.

A Nov. 17, 2010 letter from Connecticut State Archaeologist Dr. Nicholas Bellantoni, regarding the Samuel Smith property, sums up its importance:

"As State Archaeologist, we often get the chance to conduct field review of historic properties around Connecticut, but it is a rare opportunity to see a late 1600's house that has maintained such wonderful historic characteristics and adjoining property that has great integrity for archeoligical resources. The property is a gem for both its natural and cultural resources and to preserve it for the community is a positive step to the future quality of life in your town."

The house is exceptional for its 330 years. As a simple farmhouse, it and the surrounding property can be used almost immediately as an historic destination. It can be developed into an educational site to teach how past generations lived and survived.

This property, located on Bride Brook, is in the Bride Brook Watershed and is an integral part of the East Lyme Municipal Water Sytem, from which we obtain approximately 1 million gallons per day of drinking water.

A group of community volunteers has formed to ensure that every effort is made to preserve this home and surrounding farm land for future generations. They have assessments on the condition of the house and are developing a multi-year plan for repairs and costs. They are develooping a not-for-profit (501c3) management plan that includes estimated ongoing operating expenses and future public uses of the house and its surrounding property. They are also researching the estimated economic value of its purchase to the town.

The purchase of the Samuel Smith property has been recommended by the East Lyme Commissions for the Preservations of Natural Resources, and Historic Properties. It is supported by the East Lyme Historical Society and the town historian. The Economic Development Commission supports the purchase. The Parks and Recreation Department feels it could co-sponsor activities there, with like-minded organizations such as 4-H.

The Planning Commission cites the property's preservation "fit" with the East Lyme Plan of Conservation and Development. The purchase is being considered by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance. Negotiations for a purchase price between the town and the owner are underway. The Board of Selectman and the Board of Finance must act to move it on to a taxpayer vote.

A grant for historic preservation of up to $200,000 is available through the Connecticut Department of Culture and Tourism, Historic Preservation Division. At an estimated cost of $500,000, and a 3 percent annual interest rate over 20 years, the approximate cost to each of East Lyme's 9,300 taxpayers would be $3.58 per taxpayer per year ( about a penny a day). Receipt of the acquisition grant could cut the cost to an estimated $2.15 per taxpayer, annually.

The Smith house and property provide unimaginable opportunities for preserving local and statewide histories that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Stories about the families who lived there and the fact that the house was never renovated leaves this an historical and cultural jewel. Do consider the value of a $3.58 annual investment to preserve this tangible piece of history, to be passed on to future generations.

Luane Lange lives in East Lyme. Her views in this commentary are shared by the Commission for the Preservation of Natural Resources, the Historic Properties Commission, and Community Volunteers for the Preservation of the Samuel Smith Property.

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