October 8, 2021
Today, The Trust for Public Land and the Town of Simsbury announced the protection of the historic and culturally significant property, known locally as Meadowood. The 288-acre property, once a thriving tobacco farm, looks about the same as it did more than 75 years ago. This landscape – and the experiences here - offers important connections to Civil Rights history in Connecticut.
“We are pleased to have worked with the Town of Simsbury and many partners to preserve the Meadowood property for generations to enjoy the beauty of this place and learn from the special and often overlooked history of this land,” said Walker Holmes, Connecticut State Director for The Trust for Public Land.
During both World Wars, while much of their workforce was away fighting, tobacco growers in Connecticut recruited thousands of seasonal laborers from around the country and the world to keep their farms running. A partnership with Atlanta’s Morehouse College sent students north to work in these fields and earn money for tuition. One of those students was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who described in letters home during those summers the liberating experience of his time in Connecticut. It was a pivotal time for him and he later traced his calling as a minister “to the summer of 1944 when I felt an inescapable urge to serve society.”
Today, just two percent of sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places focus on the experiences of Black Americans. This collective oversight deprives all Americans of a full understanding of the history of our nation. There is real and urgent risk that many important places will be lost to development or neglect and that the stories and experiences of the people connected to these places will be forgotten. The Trust for Public Land is working to accelerate the preservation of sites nationwide that tell the story of Black life in America through our Black History and Culture initiative. This work is supported by Sony Pictures Entertainment, the 1772 Foundation and other funders who are committed to a more equitable and inclusive future and guided by an Advisory Council of leaders who share a passion for creating, protecting, and activating public spaces of historical and cultural significance to Black communities across the country.
Following a grassroots citizen petition process and special town meeting that put the question of the Meadowood purchase on a referendum ballot back in May, Simsbury residents authorized $2.5 million for the purchase of the 288-acre Meadowood property for open space. The vote passed by a resounding 87 percent. Additional funding for protecting the land comes from the State of Connecticut through the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture, and State Historic Preservation Office, the US Fish and Wildlife Service through the Highlands Conservation Act, the George Dudley Seymour Trust, and many generous individuals, foundations and funders.
“We are so grateful for the community support for this once in a lifetime project,” said First Selectman Eric Wellman. “We had record turnout at the referendum in May, and voters overwhelmingly approved of supporting this purchase.”
“This is a historic acquisition for the Town of Simsbury,” added Deputy First Selectman Sean Askham. “Through agricultural, recreational, and educational opportunities, the preservation of this property will benefit generations to come.”
As part of the purchase, the State of Connecticut will hold an easement for recreational access on nearly 130 acres and about 120 acres is to be preserved as working farmland. The Town of Simsbury has 24 acres set aside for future municipal needs and 2 acres are designated for historic preservation, including interpretive elements that share the special history of the land.
“The permanent protection of this historic site, including prime and important farmland soils, is a testament to collaboration among partners at the local, state, and federal level,” said Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt. “Together we will ensure that a cornerstone of Connecticut’s agricultural and cultural legacy remains intact.”
Now that the property is protected, Meadowood could be included in the Connecticut Freedom Trail, a network of sites that celebrate the accomplishments of the state's African American community and promote heritage tourism.
To preserve the history that remains at Meadowood—and ensure future generations have a chance to explore it— The Trust for Public Land, the Town of Simsbury, the State Historic Preservation Office, partners, and community members will now work together on plans to restore some of the historic tobacco sheds, and activate the space.
"To any person driving down Firetown or Hoskins Roads, Meadowood is a recognizable remnant of Connecticut’s impressive tobacco industry, but what is not readily apparent are the consequential experiences of the people that lived and worked there," said Cathy Labadia, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer for the State of Connecticut. "Preserving this place allows current and future generations to discover the past, reflect on the present, and perhaps also inspire the future."
The property sits between the Great Pond section of Massacoe State Forest and the 4,400-acre McLean Game Refuge. Transferring this land to public ownership creates the opportunity for an expansive network of new trails and access points for hiking and exploration for neighbors and visitors. This is also a vital stretch for birds that meadow-hop up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and migrating birds rely on this high quality meadow habitat to sustain themselves along their journey.
Community-generated ideas for the site could include trails, educational and historical interpretation areas, and areas for wildlife viewing, picnicking, and youth sports.