Troubling questions surround neglect of historic home in Stonington
The antique farm at 330 Al Harvey Road in Stonington was a bustling, joyful place in the not-too-distant past. Many local residents recall the address as the home of Terra Firma Farm, a spot where young day campers learned about growing vegetables and herbs and taking care of livestock. It was the go-to place for many locals to buy fresh veggies, eggs and meat.
Terra Firma vacated the 18th century home and moved to North Stonington in 2016. Since then the Stonington farm has stood empty on the rural road in the north end of town. The farm’s once neat and trim appearance has deteriorated miserably: tall weeds choke the lawn, broken windows pock the 1750 farmhouse and birds fly freely to and from its attic.
This is a sad fate, indeed, for any historically significant property, but the farm’s condition seems sadder still because of the contrasting condition with which so many were familiar just a short time ago. Saddest of all, the farm is owned by a wealthy organization well known as stewards of historically significant properties, including New London’s Hempsted houses and Coventry’s Nathan Hale Homestead.
The organization is Connecticut Landmarks and reporting by Day columnist David Collins shows it has breached a trust by failing to properly maintain the Al Harvey Road property. Benefactors entrusted the site’s preservation to the organization when they bequeathed it in 1982. Charles and Virginia Berry bought the property in 1942 and 40 years later — following the death of Virginia Berry — gifted it to the organization, which was then called the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society.
The Berrys no doubt loved the property they knew as Forge Farm. They must have felt a deep respect for its historical significance.
Connecticut Landmarks’ leadership has been less than forthcoming, even duplicitous, about the reasons the former site of Terra Firma Farm has been allowed to deteriorate to a deplorable state. It has failed to explain what became of the endowment set aside by the Berrys to maintain it. Executive Director Sheryl Hack blamed at least some of the condition on Terra Firma’s owners. Yet the evidence shows that before the tenants moved out they had begged Connecticut Landmarks to make needed repairs.
In subsequent reporting, Collins determined that Landmarks officials have been in contact with the Office of the State Attorney General about its potential sale. Hack had previously denied there was any consideration of selling the property. What is up?
Connecticut Landmarks must take action, and quickly, to explain how things got to this point and what it will do to rectify the situation. A first step could be an open meeting with the Stonington Historical Society, which has fielded calls and inquiries about the farm’s conditions. Elizabeth Wood, the historical society’s executive director, said she would be happy to be a part of discussions about the property.
Locally connected members of the Landmarks board of trustees include New London’s Jay Levin, a political lobbyist, and Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons, a former trustee and now an honorary trustee. They and other trustees, particularly the first selectman, should focus on ensuring this historic property is restored and determine if this situation is indicative of larger problems with the organization.
Unfortunately, when called by Collins on Friday, Simmons, a person not exactly known for being reticent about offering opinions, said he would not be answering questions about this matter and had no comment.
That won’t do.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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