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Letter: Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society Asks for Support

The Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society is pleased that a discussion of the “Good to Great” grant that we have been awarded by the state Department of Economic and Community Development is on your agenda today.  This $48,000 grant, when matched by $16,000 in our funding, will allow us to enhance the experience of visitors to the Thomas Darling house and expand our program offerings by providing kitchen space, repurposing an unused portion of the museum, modifying a washroom in the adjacent caretaker’s cottage so it is accessible by the public, and installing a sprinkler fire suppression system.

The Darling House is a living link to Woodbridge’s history that the Historical Society and Town have partnered on since the Town purchased the building and property.  Today’s action should be an occasion of shared accomplishment.  It will be if we work together to resolve a concern that has arisen regarding the status of the caretaker’s cottage adjacent to the Darling House.

The Darling House is—as per the wishes of the Darling family when they entrusted it to the Historical Society—a museum, and there has been a caretaker living onsite since the Historical Society built the caretaker’s cottage 45 years ago.  Our caretakers have added value to the museum, saved money for the town, and helped to keep many of our priceless town artifacts from being lost.  They are part handy-person, part repairer, part insurance policy, and their duties have ranged from upkeep of the building and grounds to responding to ice dams, burst pipes and any of the other urgencies that crop up in a 250-year-old building.

Our most recent caretaker expanded the practice of farming on the Darling property and devoted more of his time and attention to farming, to the point where we decided we needed to transition to a new caretaker, whose duties would be exclusively that of caring for the Darling House, its contents of inestimable value, and the grounds.  Our museum needs a live-in caretaker who will work directly with us on the Good to Great-funded improvements.  Without a caretaker in residence, we do not see how we can go forward with the Good to Great Grant in terms of making our matching contribution and implementing it.  The caretaker is an essential part of that endeavor and all our operations.

We believe there is room for a caretaker for the museum and a farmer for the Town, and we want you and the people of Woodbridge to know that a solution is readily achievable.  Last month, we met with First Selectman Heller and the town attorney to discuss ways to manage the Darling House and surrounding lands in a way that will achieve both Historical Society and Town goals.

We came away from our second meeting, September 24th, feeling that there had been some movement in the right direction.

  • We offered a model template from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for a property that is managed by a historical society and owned by another party, and offered to undertake the work of redrafting the decades-old agreement into a contemporary one that would better serve the Town and the Historical Society.
  • We expressed our need to hire a new caretaker and have them on site by January 1, so we can be assured that the grant-funded improvements will begin and be supervised appropriately.
  • We offered a solution to provide a home for a farmer on site, both exploring a temporary option and contacting a noted architect on ideas to design a historically appropriate permanent home.

We must resolve these issues as soon as possible in order to begin the important work that the Good to Great grant has in store.  Time is running out.  We need the Board to act to make the caretaker’s cottage available to a new caretaker.  Because the current occupant of the caretaker’s cottage is a holdover tenant on a month-to-month basis, it is required that he be given 30 days’ notice to make this change.  We also need to draft a new agreement, a task that could take weeks to accomplish.

Even though our agreement with the Town was renewed two years ago, and has not changed, it is 40 years old and inconsistent with current best practices.  Recently, the town attorney has pointed out to us that the town can unilaterally terminate the agreement without cause, raising the question of whether we can assert to the state that we have long-term ability to determine the use of the museum or the quarters to which we have proposed modifications—an assurance that is critical to our accepting and implementing this grant and our matching investment.

It is in our collective best interest that we start that process now.  We ask, therefore, that you to act at your regularly scheduled November meeting to end the holdover lease for the caretaker cottager by December 31 and that you also vote to empower the Society and the Town, through our attorneys, to work on a new long-term agreement that could be presented for your approval hopefully at your December meeting.

Thank you for your service on the Board of Selectmen and the work that you do on behalf of our town.

The Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society is convinced that our partnership with the Town has provided the people of Woodbridge with a vital and unique historic asset for generations.  We have great history together, and a bright future, and we ask for your support in getting there together.

Sincerely,

Alexia Belperron, President

Mary Dean, Vice President

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