Earth Day farm visits

Week of April 16 through 22, 2023

Earth Day farm visits

The Selectmen have been invited by the Agriculture Commission to tour two local farms — and it happens to be the 53rd Earth Day, as well as the ten year anniversary of the passing of Woodbridge First Selectman Ed Sheehy. All and all, a fitting opportunity to look back, take in the landscape of today, and consider what tomorrow may hold as well. Let’s head out…

Today’s first stop: Off Center Farm

Selectman Paul Kuriakos and I met Agriculture Commissioner Kristyna Hulland and Troy Sorensen, Ag Commission Chairman (and former Selectman) Chris Sorensen’s son, at the Alegi Athletic Fields on Pease Road at 9am sharp.

Kristyna farms the land adjoining the soccer fields — 4.25 acres of which are leased from the Town each year (this farmable land spans 2.21 acres of Alegi Property Two and a 2.24 acre portion of Alegi Property One), in addition to the fields that are part of her and husband Oliver Hulland’s 6.41 acre property located at 48 Center Road. Off Center Farm operates a farmstead that can be accessed by the public just off the main driveway at 48 Center Road (visit their website for more information) where the couple also make their home in the historic Hine Hitchcock House. There’s lots of history here!

Let’s start with the land records. According to the listing of Publicly Owned Property published in 2015 on pages 158-161 of the Plan of Conservation and Development:

  • The Town acquired the 40.32 acre parcel known as ‘Alegi Property One’ located at 52 Center Road, with an easement onto Center Road, on 12/31/1997. Subsequently developed as soccer fields and later the site of the Pease Place Playground, the entrance to the property is located on Pease Road nearly opposite the intersection with Shady Lane. The purchase of 52 Center Road for $1,230,000 is documented in the land records in Volume 278, pages 188-192, and notably includes a conservation restriction recorded in Vol. 278, pages 173-187 held by the Woodbridge Conservation Trust, Inc. (which changed its name in 1994 to the Woodbridge Land Trust, see Vol. 281, page 119).
  • The Town later acquired the 3.04 acre parcel known as ‘Alegi Property Two’ (colloquially referred to as the ‘Peter Alegi House Lot’) at 160 Pease Road on 6/24/2005. I’ve been told that the seven and a half years between acquisition of the first larger tract and the much smaller adjoining parcel that fronts Pease Road (and backs up to the portion of the Alegi Property One that leads to the easement onto Center Road) covers a period of time in which Mr. Alegi considered building a house at this location. The eventual purchase, for “good consideration the receipt and sufficiency of which is hereby acknowledged” is documented in the land records with a Quit Claim Deed in Volume 521, pages 306-307 which also extinguishes the conservation restriction held by the Woodbridge Land Trust as recorded in Volume 278, page 192.

The Hine-Hitchcock conservation & historic preservation easement

In January 2006, townspeople gathered for a Special Town Meeting to approve the purchase of an easement on the property at 48 Center Road. The local paper captured the moment:

As described in the article, the Town purchased the development rights on this 6.41 acre parcel for $300,000 — of which $284,000 came from the Town’s open space fund, with a contribution of $5,000 from the Amity & Woodbridge Historical Society, another $5,000 from the Woodbridge Parks Association, and the remaining $6,000 from private donations.

Included in the conservation and historic preservation easement, the circa 1825 Hine-Hitchcock House was most likely built by Edward Hine, Jr. (1797-1882) on land left to him by his father Edward Hine, Sr. (1775-1834) whose parents were Charles Hine (1729-1791) and Lydia Sperry (1732-1810). In 1744, Lydia’s father Nathaniel Sperry, Jr. (1695-1751) had given a nearby plot of land for the establishment of the Eastside Burying Ground, described at the time as being part of his home lot — so it is likely that all the property here as well as the adjoining Alegi Parcels had all belonged to Nathaniel at one time and were divided among his six surviving children (one of whom was my 6th great-grandfather Simeon Sperry, 1738-1805).

The Hine-Hitchcock House was inherited by Edward Hine Jr’s daughter Velina and her husband Lewis Hitchcock, and in turn by their son Edward Amos Hitchcock (1874-1944) who lived here with his wife Maude Clingan (1873-1963). (If her maiden name sounds familiar in 2023 it may be from watching the UCONN men’s basketball team win the NCAA championship — and seeing Maud’s brother William Clingan’s great-great-grandson the 7-foot-2 freshman center Donovan Clingan in action).

Some recent history

During our Earth Day visit, we talked about how the Alegi land had been used in ‘the early aughts’ as the site of the short-lived Woodbridge Firemen’s Carnival. In addition to rides and amusements, community organizations pitched tents around the edge of the fairway. At one such carnival, the local Democrats attracted a crowd with a popular Face Painting operation enjoyed by the smallest Woodbridge citizens as their parents chatted about local and national politics. What could be more American than that? Looking back, it was a beautiful day to celebrate community here in Woodbridge. Here are some scenes from that not so long ago fairway on September 12, 2004 (yes; the first two photos are the same view as today’s photos 4 and 5, above — note the location of the light poles for comparison):

After the carnivals became a thing of the past, the next use considered for this parcel was a potential home to the ‘Field of Dreams’ — the proposal from BethWood Baseball (known at the time as the Woodbridge Father’s Baseball League) to fundraise and construct a 90’ baseball diamond. Under the leadership of First Selectman Ed Sheehy, the Selectmen explored this project for several years; first considering a location at Massaro Farm, then adjacent to the Acorn Hill ballfields, and finally voting to select Alegi Property Two. By 2011 the project’s next steps required a successful fundraising drive. It’s been many years since the Selectmen have received any update.

Meanwhile, as time marched on, the field was added to the list of properties available as part of the Annual Farm Leases the Selectmen award early in the growing season — all the details of this program were gathered and submitted as part of the Town’s submission for SustainableCT certification. (Spoiler alert: in October 2018, we earned Bronze Certification!)

Farming here since 2018, Kristyna spoke with us on our Earth Day visit about the sustainable farming practices she’s been employing to protect and enhance the land. The Ag Commission has also been exploring ways the Town might assist such efforts by the local farmers who lease Town fields, including grants that may be available if the Town can collaborate with farmers to apply. Removing invasives that line the perimeter of the fields and possibly making a walkway (between two stone walls that marked an old lane running parallel to Pease Road) available for the public to enjoy would be just one example of potential future projects that might receive funding!

Next stop: Bishop Estate West

We drove over to the field leased to Chris Sorensen, across Litchfield Turnpike from the Town-owned Thomas Darling House. The Sorensen family have long farmed the land in Woodbridge and operate the roadside farm-stand Merry Mountain Farm at 420 Amity Road (open from the end of June until mid-October). We parked alongside the historic Yellow Saltbox Barn at 1910 Litchfield Turnpike and got an up-close look at the recently started restoration work to repair this circa-1770 barn. Earlier this year, the Selectmen voted unanimously to authorize a grant application be submitted to the state for funding to support this restoration project (related documents submitted to the Board of Selectmen for approval included the granting of an easement, a declaration of covenants and declaration of preservation restrictions, which will effect the parcel for ten years).

Bishop, Darling, and Baldwin family connections

The Town acquired the Bishop Property as two parcels, described in 1982 by CUPOP in its Survey of Publicly Owned Property as follows:


This property was acquired in two (2) Warranty Deeds and one Quit-Claim Deed:

(1) a Warranty Deed for 83-1/2 acres on the east side of the Litchfield Turnpike from the First New Haven National Bank, Trustee for the Estate of G. Halsted Bishop, dated July 28, 1967 and recorded in the Woodbridge Land Records on August 17, 1967 in volume 86, pages 185-88. In compliance with the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Open Space Contract No. Conn. -GSA-64 (G) , dated the 14th of June, 1967, the federal government paid 50% of the total purchase price of $127,550.00.

(2) a Warranty Deed for two (2) non-contiguous pieces of property on the west side of Litchfield Turnpike from the First New Haven National Bank, Trustee for the Estate of G. Halsted Bishop, dated September 28, 1973 and recorded in the Woodbridge Land Records on the same date in volume 103, pages 351-54. Under Open Space Contract #268, dated April 9, 1974, the purchase price was $152,500.00 half of which was paid by the federal government and one quarter of which was paid by the State.

(3) a Quit Claim Deed to a strip of land which would connect the two separate pieces of property on the west side of Litchfield Turnpike for $1.00+ but "less than $100" from Susan S. Olsson, dated October 1974 and recorded in the Woodbridge Land Records on October 17, 1974 in volume 106, pages 484-5.

Who was G. Halsted Bishop? Let’s turn to the pages of the book ‘Historic Woodbridge, An Historic and Architectural Resource Survey, Second Edition’ published in 2016 (and available for purchase at the Town Clerk’s office in Town Hall). On pages 100 and 101 we find some familiar names, and a few faces to place with these.

Gerald Halsted Bishop was born in 1864. He is described in the entry for his home at 1932 Litchfield Turnpike as “G. Halsted Bishop, a son of Charles & Mary Ann (Darling) Bishop. He inherited both this property and the nearby Darling House. When he died in 1932 his property was left to Sila Berenice Baldwin, his wife’s daughter from her previous marriage to Silas James Baldwin (1858-1883), who died of malarial fever when Berenice was an infant.” And here is G. Halsted himself:

Reaching back a bit further to trace the connections, the wife mentioned here actually ties together the two Earth Day Farm Visit properties! She was Nellie E. Hitchcock,born in 1861 here in Woodbridge, a daughter of the Lewis Hitchcock and Velina Hine mentioned above — who lived in the Hine-Hitchcock House at 48 Center Road.

Below are some photographs of Nellie (center), her first husband Silas James Baldwin, and the couple’s daughter Sila Berenice Baldwin. Born in 1883, Berenice, as she was known, would become the last living heir of her step-father G. Halsted Bishop. When she died at age 90 in 1973, G. Halsted’s Trust completed the sale of his estate to the Town — the west field of which has been leased out for farming since that time.