Meeting the commitment to Forge Farm

Our Feb. 11 editorial pointed to “troubling questions” about the deteriorating condition of the former Forge Farm on Al Harvey Road in Stonington, an 18th century farmhouse bequeathed to the care and protection of Connecticut Landmarks.

On Wednesday, representatives of the nonprofit preservation group, which manages 11 historic properties, sat down with us to answer those questions. What became clear is that the farm is not high on the organization’s priority list, which sees it as a burden.

When the organization’s predecessor, Antiquarian & Landmarks Society, took possession in 1982, the house required an extensive rebuild, which was done between 1984 and 1988 at a cost of more than $500,000. Offered a house in that condition today, with a large parcel of associated farm property to care for, Landmarks would decline, said Frederick C. Copeland Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees.

But the organization did assume responsibility for its care and has an endowment to do so, provided by prior owners Charles and Virginia Berry, which now stands at $1.5 million. Landmarks should not have let it slip into disrepair. Bad decisions were made, such as installing vinyl windows. Executive Director Sheryl Hack said that installation met a temporary need — a decade ago — and Landmarks will install architecturally appropriate windows.

As for the former tenants, Terra Firma Farm, which operated it as an educational farming enterprise until 2016, Landmarks officials agreed that it was a perfect fit. Why the tenants left remains a point of contention. The former farm operators say Landmarks failed to maintain the home. Landmarks points to nonpayment of rent.

Our take is that Landmarks could have done more to enable the farm operation.

Looking forward, Copeland said there is a “95 percent chance” that his organization will retain the property and invest income from the endowment into repairs. Landmarks Secretary James Anderson said one opportunity may be to find a tenant for the home and provide its pastures to a neighboring farmer.

That would not meet the organization’s goal of encouraging public engagement. It should be a fallback only if another farm operator, willing to open to the public, cannot be found.

As for transferring the property and the endowment to another nonprofit group, Copeland would not rule it out, but called it unlikely.

It’s impossible to know whether Landmarks, if not called to task by the reporting of Day columnist David Collins, would be making this commitment to Forge Farm. But having done so, it should know the community and this newspaper will be watching.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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