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Newtown’s largest private landowner, the Newtown Forest Association (NFA), seeks to keep history, hayfields, and horses at Cherry Grove Farm through an agreement with the farm’s new owner. The NFA, the oldest private land trust in the state, has just kicked off a massive fundraising campaign to raise the $600,000 needed to secure the approximately 29-acre open space purchase. But there is an urgency to their fundraising, which needs to be completed by mid-January 2018. Yes folks, that’s six weeks from now.
Sandy Hook builder Greg Carnrick got many phone calls and e-mails, some as far away as California, when people started reading in The Newtown Bee that Cherry Grove Farm had been sold and its new owner was looking for like-minded historical and environmental preservationists to help keep the majority of the bucolic landscape, open fields, woodlands, and iconic centuries-old farm intact. Mr Carnrick, owner of GRC Construction LLC, who purchased the farm on November 1, is still hoping for a miracle. Now, it looks like his wish may come true.
His vision is to find individuals, a family, or an organization to become stewards of Cherry Grove Farm, where three generations of the Mayer family have lived, farmed, and died since 1912. Among all those inquiries about the farm, it looks like he found some of each to meet his vision — an individual interested in restoring the farmhouse, a family who wants a parcel to start their own small farm to preserve the agricultural lifestyle, and the NFA to protect the pristine open space, where many horse lovers have enjoyed the thrill of riding across the property for decades. Part of the proposed 29 acres includes ten acres surrounding the former Palestine District schoolhouse, which will be relocated locally and restored.
Two housing parcels are already secured for development. One family is interested in a ten-acre parcel on the farthest section of the property down Beaver Dam Road, where they want to create a small farm. On Palestine Road, past the old 1930s schoolhouse, another single parcel of approximately four acres would be developed by a local longtime Newtown couple who have always dreamed about having an apple orchard. Neither of these two new homes would be visible from the farm, nor would they appear in the landscape NFA is hoping to preserve.
“Newtown has a character and there are only a few of these special places in town that define that character. Much of what we see in town is open space, and many people don’t realize where it comes from,” NFA Vice President Bart Smith said. “We think Cherry Grove Farm is one of those spaces and residents won’t know how much it means to the town character until it’s gone.”
Mr Smith and NFA Director Don Morrissey of NFA’s Land Preservation Committee will kick off the fundraising efforts with the organization’s annual direct mail appeal, which will be mailed to every home in Newtown later this week. This annual general appeal is being dedicated this year to the Cherry Grove Farm preservation. Donations would be 100 percent tax deductible.
“We need to raise $600,000 by mid-January to secure the purchase,” Mr Smith said. “We have substantial contributions and pledges for more than a quarter of that amount already. We’ve made good progress, but we need to instill a sense of urgency in people, that if we don’t raise the money, this property just turns into another development and Cherry Grove Farm will cease to exist.”
What About The Farm?
The core of Cherry Grove Farm, with its original 19th Century farmhouse, two barns, silo, corn crib, wood shed, cold storage building, farm stand, and a multitude of other outbuildings, has had several local residents inquire about it. But so far, the farm is still at risk as no one has agreed to purchase that section, yet. The newly created parcel would include two acres of land surrounding the homestead at the corner of Platts Hill, Hundred Acres, and Palestine Roads. At this time, Mr Carnrick is only considering potential new owners who would refurbish and restore, not tear down, the home built in 1825, with its charming small rooms, three fireplaces, wide chestnut floorboards, old latch doors, and two staircases. The entire farm parcel is zoned R-2, for two-acre residential lots.
The vistas and views right off the back porch of the farmhouse and barns would be preserved by NFA if they owned the land. There would be no houses to distort rolling hills, to disturb wildflowers, or to disrupt the sweeping landscape. The farm parcel with its two acres may be too small for interested buyers, who want to have more acreage for a horse property or a return to farming. The NFA said there are currently eight acres of farm field that they want to maintain, but they are open to leasing the land to a potential new owner of the farm.
“After reading Andrea Zimmerman’s book about Cherry Grove Farm, talking to the local residents and hearing all the stories about George Mayer, I started leaning more toward preservation than profitability,” Mr Carnrick said. But in order to make this work from a business perspective, he is depending on a balance of three new private homeowners including the farm parcel, and NFA preservation to keep Cherry Grove Farm as whole as possible.
NFA has been working with other groups in town, most notably the Newtown Bridle Lands Association (NBLA) and the Town of Newtown to secure funding for the property. NFA is also working with a neighborhood group that has raised a significant amount of money. The NFA is planning further public outreach in the coming weeks, including a public meeting and a walk of the property in mid-December.
“Once you take a walk through there you feel the quiet, undisturbed space,” Mr Smith said. You get a sense of tranquility from it being an open space for a long, long time.” The NFA’s goal is to secure the open space for the public to enjoy.
The NBLA Relationship
Mr Smith said NFA has had a longstanding relationship with NBLA for access to its trails.
“We plan on using the property for horse access,” he said. Before the Civil War, working horses were a big part of the farm and in the 20th Century the riding to hounds and later NBLA hunter pace traditions continued on the property.
If NFA purchases the Cherry Grove property, said Mr Smith, it will “honor its history, which includes farming and horse traffic. The NFA intends to continue that use.”
The NBLA has pledged funds toward this preservation of the property, where the group uses many of the trails for its annual Frost on the Pumpkin Hunter Pace. “The NBLA will do everything possible to help secure the purchase of the Cherry Grove Farm open space,” NBLA President Dee Davis said.
To follow the fundraising progress visit Newtown Forest Association on Facebook. To learn more about the NFA and make a donation visit its website at newtownforestassociation.org. The NFA is also offering to give a presentation on the story of Cherry Grove Farm at any organization’s meeting or function during this fundraising drive. Contact Bart Smith at 203-315-5712 or email@example.com for more information.
Lisa Peterson writes about history, horses, and hounds in the regularly published “Lisa Unleashed” column in the Sports section of The Newtown Bee.