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    Sunday, June 16, 2024

    One of Connecticut's most picturesque farms preserved

    Wehpittituck Farm on Cove Road in Stonington, as it appeared Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. The farm, which has been owned by the same family for more than 300 years, has been permanently preserved. (David Collins/The Day)
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    Much of the rural Connecticut landscape is blessed with a wide range of vistas across majestic farmland, marked by miles of pasture and stone walls and so many memorable, iconic farm buildings.

    I would have to nominate as my favorite —  surely among the most picturesque Connecticut farms —  one here in the heart of southeastern Connecticut: Wehpittituck Farm on Cove Road in Stonington.

    The farm is nestled into a scraggy, sloping hillside at the head of Quiambaug Cove in Stonington, with a 300-year-old farmhouse surrounded by fields and outbuildings, with views down the cove meandering toward the broad open waters of Fishers Island Sound.

    Before the cove was crossed by highway and railroad bridges, small ships could make it inland to the farm and maneuver in 6 to 10 feet of navigable water there.

    Today, Wehpittituck is still a working farm, leased by a young farmer, Jimmy Moran, who sells the produce and flowers he grows there from an antique farm stand building on a bend above the water on Cove Road. There are fresh eggs year-round.

    The farm is owned by David Rathbun, a 79-year-old retired businessman and former chair of a number of town boards, most recently the Planning and Zoning Commission.

    The land on which the 300-year-old Wehpittituck farmhouse sits has been in Rathbun's family since 1650. He is a descendant of Thomas Miner, a founder of Stonington, and he inherited the farm at the age of 15 in 1958 from his grandfather, a Westerly lawyer and judge.

    The strategy of leaving the property to the oldest grandson was meant to help preserve it longer, skipping a generation, with fewer heirs who might sell or break it up.

    Rathbun kept much of the farm intact, selling off a few pieces over the years but adding more strategic ones, creating a larger single block next to other preserved sections of town.

    And he has now sealed that preservation strategy for generations to come, by selling the development rights to the farm to the Connecticut Farmland Trust.

    The 42 preserved acres of the farm were zoned — long before Rathbun was involved in town zoning, he notes — for half-acre home sites. And the land could have been extensively developed.

    Instead, Rathbun has ensured that this idyllic little section of Stonington, an antique farm perched on a picturesque curve of a rural road above the cove, will be preserved forever.

    It is surrounded by other preserved land, and Rathbun says it was the last large undeveloped piece of property between Mystic and Stonington Borough, along the shoreline piece of town, not preserved.

    "When I look out now, I know it will look like that forever," he said.

    The sale of the development rights was organized by the farmland trust. The price was $610,000, certainly considerably less than what the property was worth for its development potential.

    Much of the money came from federal farm preservation funds and some state agricultural funding. The town contributed $55,000 from its open space fund, and neighbors pitched in another $110,000.

    I find the neighbors' contribution especially heartening, an investment in preserving their community, its natural beauty and history.

    Rathbun was glad to talk about the arrangements. He said he hopes it will encourage others with farms or large undeveloped property to consider doing the same kind of thing.

    Rathbun has two children and three grandchildren, who visit often in the summer. He said people have kidded him about how they will one day say, "Grandpa gave away the farm."

    I think it's more likely they will say, proudly, "Grandpa preserved the farm."

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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