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Letter: Darling House Update

From the AWHS Board of Directors

We want share with your readers what is happening to the Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society (AWHS) and the Thomas Darling Historic House Museum.  We believe that the long-term preservation of the Darling Museum and property is in jeopardy and we need the town’s support to preserve this important historic site.

For 45 years we have been the stewards of the house and property and are mostly responsible for its restoration and maintenance.  When the Society first took on this role, we built, with our own funds, a caretaker residence adjacent to the museum in order to have live, onsite security for the property and the Society’s collections. In 2015 our most recent caretaker requested, and was granted, the additional benefit of farming the land for free. We experimented with allowing farming on site because we thought it could be a complement to our historic house museum, but it ultimately failed for many reasons.  As farming instead of caretaking became his priority, the property began to suffer both from lack of attention by the caretaker and the incompatibility of 21st century farming with a historic house museum.  The farmer’s needs, as expressed at a recent BOS meeting, also directly interfere with our ability to implement the Good to Great grant we received from the state to complete a capital project at the museum with a total budget of over $64,000.  Those moneys would be used to improve and preserve this town resource at no expense to taxpayers with a significant financial contribution from the Society. Thus, as its appointed agents, we asked the Town, as the owners of the building, to give the farmer notice that his residential lease would not be renewed and serve him a notice to quit. In direct contradiction to our current long-term AWHS-Town agreement that allows us to choose our onsite caretaker, they voted to allow the farmer to remain another six months, depriving us of a new caretaker and putting the grant project in jeopardy. That was last June! Since then, our non-profit Society has been forced not only to pay out of its own funds for the maintenance of the property, but is also expected to pay for the utility costs for the farmer to run his for-profit farm. The below-market rent that we collect from the farmer is not enough to pay for site maintenance and security as well as his increasing farm and residential utility costs. The harm to the property and the Society has gone on for too long so, recently, we sent a letter to the Board of Selectman requesting that our managerial authority be restored. The following is an excerpt from that letter:

The historical society has been waiting to return to the positive working relationship that it has had with the town for 45 years.  We have done what was asked of us. We have explored every option available, and we cannot wait indefinitely. Without further delay the Board of Selectmen must decide if the Historical Society will continue to be entrusted with the preservation and sole occupancy of the Darling House Property, and we request that you answer this question at your next scheduled meeting, February 12, 2020, if not before.

Specifically, we call upon you to:

  • Approve the new version of the agreement, reaffirming the role and responsibilities of the historical society and the town in the management of the darling house property, including the caretaker’s residence.
  • Give the tenant, Mr. Ethan Schneider, the 30 days-notice required for him to quit the property in its entirety as soon as possible, and absolutely no later than your regularly scheduled February BOS meeting on February 12, 2020.

 

If the Board of Selectmen does not take these actions at or before its February 12, 2020 meeting, our plan is to proceed immediately with the following steps:

  • Notify the state historic preservation office that we cannot retain the Good to Great grant because we will not have sufficient control and use of the property to properly execute the project.
  • Publicly confirm that the museum will continue to be closed to any functions including tours, open houses, school field trips, and other events and notify any groups with scheduled events that they must be cancelled.
  • Accelerate plans to relocate the most valuable and irreplaceable pieces of our collections for safety. This may involve long-term loans to other museums or historical societies.

 

The Society continues to hope that the town will reverse its actions of the last nine months and return to the successful operating structure that existed between the Society and the Town for 45 years.

We ask Woodbridge residents to attend the BOS meeting in Town Hall on February 12 at 6 p.m. and voice your support for the Historical Society and its efforts to preserve Woodbridge history at the Darling House Museum. Without your support, this wonderful heritage site that is part of the public trust may be irrevocably changed and thus lost to future generations.  Please visit our website www.woodbridgehistory.org and Facebook page or email us at info@woodbridgehistory.org for more detailed information.

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