Connecticut Landmarks plans to improve 'Berry House' in Stonington
Concerning Day columnist David Collins' reporting on the condition of the “Berry House” on Al Harvey Road in Stonington, owned by Connecticut Landmarks: we agree with Mr. Collins this house is not currently in the condition we would expect of any property that should be preserved in a historically consistent manner.
Connecticut Landmarks received by bequest the property in 1983. At the time we received it, an inspection revealed considerable damage caused by weather and termites. In the next six years nearly $500,000 was spent to bring the home into a habitable safe condition. Original materials were used whenever possible, but over 75 percent of the house required replacement.
In subsequent years, our trustees decided to lease the home to a couple who would run it as a farm, providing largely summer agricultural educational opportunities for young people from the area. This fit perfectly with the Berry's interest in promoting agriculture in Connecticut, and our mission to encourage learning about America’s past. We had a long term relationship with the tenants (2004 to 2017) represented by a lease negotiated and signed in good faith, and guaranteed by a direct relative, that was renewed in excess of 10 times.
In December 2016, the tenants abandoned the property without notice, with six months of rent unpaid and still outstanding. During their occupancy, Connecticut Landmarks continued to maintain and improve the property.
Our organization owns and maintains 11 properties in Connecticut. As approximately 50 percent of our annual budget is contributed by generous current donors we carefully manage our operating and repair/replacement costs. The latter are typically budgeted in two- and sometimes three-year cycles with priorities recommended by Executive Director Sheryl Hack, and approved by our Board. It is our current intention to devote considerable funds to improving the condition of The Berry House and grounds.
The reason the house in not on our website is that it currently is not open to the public.
Also Ms. Hack has been in touch with several members of the Stonington Historical Society and looks forward to continuing her discussions in the future.
We encourage your readers to visit our historic properties throughout Connecticut. We particularly draw your attention to the 17th- and 18th-century Hempsted Houses in New London. They are wonderful examples of that period.
Rick Copeland is chairman of the Board of Trustees of Connecticut Landmarks, based in Hartford.
Note: This commentary was updated to reflect a change requested by the Landmarks group.