Over the last three years, Killingworth’s civic organizations, town committees, and individual citizens have come together to turn into the vibrant community center that the town needs. This progress has been made with remarkably little cash investment by the town. Instead, volunteers have given hundreds of hours to opening up the property to a wide range of community uses, and various groups have taken on responsibility for different aspects of the farm.
One of those groups is the Killingworth Historical Society. Established over forty years ago, the Historical Society is a typical Killingworth nonprofit organization, run by hard-working volunteers, raising money through fundraisers and fairs, giving much to our community. The Parmelee Farmhouse will be the Historical Society’s first permanent home, allowing it to enlarge, protect, and study its collection of important artifacts and documents; to expand its educational programming; and to provide a glimpse into a bygone era in rural New England. In leasing the farmhouse to the Historical Society, the town gains a partner in sustaining this valuable asset: the town will be responsible for the exterior of the building, while the society will be responsible for the restoration and upkeep of the interior of the building. The arrangement is basically the same as the one the town has with the Killingworth Library Association.
Only the farmhouse and a few feet of the surrounding grounds are leased to the KHS. The Master Plan for Parmelee Farm foresees a wide variety of uses for the remaining 131 acres and three surviving barns. That plan was developed by the Parmelee Farm Steering Committee, composed of representatives from groups ranging from the Garden Club to the Lions; it was presented to the town earlier this year in connection with acceptance of a that will support the initial work to make the farm usable and accessible to the public.
In the course of the political campaign this fall, the Better Choice group charged that the lease should be approved at a Town Meeting. It is clear now that I should have considered the question last year, but I am sorry to say, it didn’t occur to me. Nor was it raised at the time either by the chairman of the Municipal Land Use Committee, who had served on the Charter Review Commission, or by former First Selectman Jerry Lucas, who corresponded with me in the spring of 2010 about the lease. The use of the house by the Historical Society was included in public plans and discussions over and over again since 2008. In the hope that this procedural question will not derail progress on the farm, the Board of Selectmen is bringing the lease to Town Meeting for ratification now.
Another, shorter lease, of the small garage behind the farmhouse, is also on the agenda for the Town Meeting. Under this lease, the Historical Society will be responsible for restoring and maintaining the exterior of the building as well as the interior.
Between 2000, when the town purchased the property, and 2008, when the Community Garden was started, the farm deteriorated from neglect, vandalism, and theft. We are fortunate that, once people started coming to the property and seeing its potential, they mobilized to turn it into the treasure it is today. We’ve learned a lot along the way. For example, it took some preservation experts to show us the historical value of the particular landscape of the farm, and it is now listed on the Connecticut Register of Historic Places. (That makes the farmhouse an especially apt location for the Historical Society.) But we’ve only just begun to realize all that Parmelee Farm can mean for our town. With the participation of the Historical Society and many others, the farm will become a showpiece for the town and a legacy for our children.
Killingworth First Selectman
Editor's Note: The Town Meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8 at Killingworth Elementary School.