A Rich History of Generosity
When Charles Pratt, Mitchell Gratwick and Harold Birchall sat around the kitchen table in Pratt’s Roxbury home in 1970, they may have seemed an unlikely trio to found the Roxbury Land Trust. Birchall was a local dairy farmer and the town’s First Selectman from 1968-1981, Pratt, a nationally known photographer whose family started the Pratt Institute, and Gratwick, a doctor and the retired headmaster of the Horace Mann School in New York.
But the three men had one thing in common: an abiding love of Roxbury’s rural landscape and a deep conviction that something had to be done to preserve the land and the quality of the water in its rivers and brooks. Few could have predicted what this group’s foresight would launch when they signed incorporation papers and began inviting others to join the conservation effort.
The first years of the organization were the hardest, according to those who remember the struggle to get people to understand that Roxbury’s wooded knolls, undulating farmlands and historic sites could be lost forever if not protected. After one director finally “loaned” some land for a nature trail, the Trust began bringing in school children for hikes — a tradition that continues to this day.
The non-profit organization’s first gift of land came in 1974. Dr. Robert and Ruth Sherman donated 56 acres on Squire Road in memory of Brian Tierney, who had given his life in the Vietnam War. As the Trust was building trails on this magnificent property, a second major gift came in. Intrigued by stories in the local newspapers about what the Trust was doing, Natalie Todd Lilly decided to donate 128 acres of her farm in memory of her husband, who had died 25 years earlier. Those two gifts would help establish a pattern of generous donations of land and money by townspeople — often in memory of loved ones — that has continued for decades.
In the fall of 1978, the Land Trust launched an ambitious fund-raising campaign to acquire Mine Hill. David Beglan, a long-time director who was a driving force in the effort, described the property as Roxbury’s “crown jewel” in terms of natural resources, flora, fauna and a rich history entwined with the town since the 1800’s when the iron mine fueled the area’s economy. It took two years for the Trust to raise $350,000 and receive a $105,000 matching grant to buy the 360-acre tract. The preserve, which now encompasses some 450 acres and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, attracts history and nature lovers alike.
Another major undertaking that stands as a testament to the community’s investment in itself was the design, engineering and construction of a bridge over the Shepaug River to connect the River Road and Erbacher Preserves. During six weekends in 1991, more than 80 volunteers brought their own hammers, saws and drills to erect the 100-foot long, 15-foot high span. Now known as “Volunteer’s Bridge,” it cost just $7,500 to complete — far less than the original estimate of $80,000.
The holdings of the Trust continued to grow steadily, but the pressures of development were becoming more and more obvious as houses sprouted in farm fields and along ridge lines. To help preserve the town’s rural heritage, the Trust embarked on its second major fund-raising campaign to save three of Roxbury’s most historic farms. The “Save Our Farms” Capital Campaign was officially launched in 2001. By the end of 2004, $7.1 million had been raised to acquire the Gavel, Orzech and Good Hill farms and preserve in perpetuity 800 acres of prime farmland. The generosity of the farm families, private donors and matching grants by the State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s Open Space and Watershed Acquisition Fund made this daunting feat possible.
The Roxbury Land Trust now safeguards 18% (15% owned, 3% protected via conservation easements) of the approximately 16,800 acres in the town — beautiful land in a natural state. There are trails for hiking and horseback riding, miles of the Shepaug River and brooks protected for fishing, and tranquil sites for picnics overlooking spectacular vistas. There are farm fields where cattle graze and crops are grown and harvested. There are large swaths of woodlands and wetlands that preserve precious habitat for wildlife. There are historic sites, both hidden and well-preserved.
After 50 years, the Roxbury Land Trust has made significant strides in fulfilling the founders’ original vision. Hard work, an unrelenting “can do” spirit and remarkable gifts of time, talent and money have carried the organization to where it is today. But perhaps more important has been the readiness of people of all walks of life — carpenters, lawyers, farmers, Wall Street traders, artists, bankers, writers, and young and old alike — to work together toward the common goal of preserving Roxbury’s natural splendor. May that continue for generations to come.
Today, the Roxbury Land Trust has close to 450 members and 3,800 acres of land preserved, protected and maintained for public use. Under its stewardship are 32 different preserves with some 30 miles of trails, as well as three working farms, a granite quarry and a 19th century iron ore mining and steel manufacturing site.
Roxbury Land Trust Through the Years
Natalie White Preserve established with 9-acre gift from Rose and William Styron. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Adams and the Styrons will later give gifts to expand the preserve to more than 16 acres.
Lilly Preserve (128 acres) donated by Natalie Todd Lilly in memory of her husband Thomas Robert Lilly. The Bowers’ family will make additional gifts to expand the preserve in 1980 and 1981.
Humphrey Preserve (15 acres) donated by John H. Humphrey.
River Road Preserve (52 acres) donated by Frasier McCann.
Connecticut State Historical Commission awards $20,000 to help stabilize Mine Hill blast furnace and do archaeological study.
Erbacher Preserve (262 acres) donated by Joan Erbacher McMahan and Edward Erbacher.
First set of preserve maps produced by Yale School of Forestry student.
First conservation easement accepted to protect Jack’s Brook.
Battle Swamp Brook Preserve (6 acres) started with gift of Ethan Allen. Another 18.5 acres will be added in 1997 through gifts of Robinson Lacy, John F.B. Lamb, James Taylor, Jeffrey Tindel and James H. Worth.
Raven Rock Preserve (20 acres) donated by Rod Thorne to connect to Battle Swamp Brook Preserve.
Glaves Preserve (5 acres) donated by Terry and Pat Glaves.
Leander Woods Preserve (34 acres) donated by Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Glass.
Volunteer’s Bridge erected over Shepaug River.
McMahan Preserve donated by Joan McMahon, who will continue to gift land to the preserve over the years to bring it to its current size of 44 acres.
Golden Harvest Preserve (100.5 acres) donated by Golden Harvest Farm Limited Partnership to extend River Road and Erbacher Preserves.
Bray Preserve (1.5 acres) donated by Malcolm Bray.
Paul Krauss III donates conservation easement (14 acres) in memory of Katharine Krauss.
Fulkerson Preserve (9 acres) donated by Charles Fulkerson.
Howard and Cathleen Bronson donate conservation easement on field along Shepaug River at base of Mine Hill; gift marks the beginning of active farming preservation effort. Adjacent 28.5 acre field is purchased by the Trust.
Carter Preserve (160 acres) donated by Arthur L. Carter.
Jagiri Loomba Preserve (4.9 acres) donated by N. Paul Loomba and Mary Adams Loomba.
Styron Preserve (22 acres) donated by William and Rose Styron.
Widmark Preserve (4 acres) with one-room schoolhouse donated by Richard and Anne Widmark; Widmark Trust will donate another 22 acres in 2004 to expand preserve and link to other preserves.
Installation of “bat friendly” grating to reinforce aging vertical air shafts enclosures at Mine Hill.
Matthau Preserve (34 acres) donated by Walter and Carole Matthau.
Save Our Farms, $7.2 million capital campaign launched to preserve three historic farms.
Gavel Family Farm Preserve (200 acres) acquired with generosity of Frank Gavel family, private donors and state grant.
Roxbury Land Trust works with local artist Billy Steers to create new comprehensive Preserves Map. Detailed maps follow.
Orzech Farm Preserve (112 acres) acquired with generosity of Edward Orzech, private donors and state grant.
Trust receives a bequest of 100.5 acres of land in memory of Walter Shortt
River’s Edge Preserve, the former gravel mine (24.08 acres) operated by Connecticut Light and Power is acquired with the generosity of a private donor.
Frisbie Farm conservation easement (55.5 acres) donated by Stephen and Denise Adams.
Good Hill Farm Preserve (467 acres) acquired through generosity of Pond family, private donors, two state grants, the Town of Woodbury and funds donated by the Ceres and Diebold Foundations in honor of Dorothy Diebold.
Gurney conservation easement (14.91 acres) donated by Pete and Molly Gurney.
Allen S. Hurlburt Preserve (25 acres) donated by Sarah Houck in memory of her father who served as First Selectman of Roxbury for nearly 30 years.
Baldwin Connector (3 acres) donated by Martha Baldwin to connect Widmark Preserve to Good Hill Farm Preserve
Einbinder conservation easement (42.91 acres) donated by Lee and Lisa Einbinder.
Roxbury Remembered reprinted by RLT as fundraiser.
Nathoo Conservation Easement (8.64 acres) donated by Rafiq and Michelle Nathoo.
Arthur Miller and Inge Morath Miller Family Preserve (55 acres) donated by the Family of Arthur Miller.
Horrigan Family Preserve (5.77 acres) donated by the Horrigan Family.
Gruson Easement (16.32 acres) donated by Lindsey Gruson and Jane Whitney.
Coyle Easement (11.65 acres) acquired through the generosity of Dennis Coyle and private donors.
Good Hill Schoolhouse is researched and refurbished by Roxbury resident Ryan Walsh as his Shepaug Valley High School Senior Project.
Mine Hill 19th century iron ore mining complex interpretive signage completed.
Carter easement (137 acres) donated by Arthur and Linda Carter.
Lower County and Route 67 easement (75 acres) donated by Roxbury Property, LLC.
McCann easement (35 acres) donated by Mr. and Mrs. Franklin McCann.
Wiant easement (39.5 acres) donated by Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Wiant.
Roxbury Land Trust celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Joan Erbacher McMahan donated a parcel off Rocky Mountain Road, for a contiguous 80 acres of unspoiled woodlands on the east side of River Road.
RLT received an $11,000 WHIP grant for habitat management of a field on the Orzech Family Preserve.
Mark Levine donated 7 acres off Painter Hill Road, Woodbury.
Mine Hill Stonewall Stabilization Project completed and funded by a matching grant from Connecticut’s Historic Restoration Fund, administered by The State Historic Preservation Office, Department of Economic and Community Development.
Mark and Lauren Booth donated a conservation easement on 28 acres of natural woodlands on Old Roxbury Road that are contiguous to the Baldwin and van Deusen Preserves.
Joan McMahan added 30+ acres to the McMahan Preserve on River and High Bridge Roads creating an undisturbed woodland preserve of 86+ acres.
Jane Whitney Gruson donated a second conservation easement protecting a meadow, pond and woodland area now totaling 32+ acres in the Battle Swamp Brook watershed.
Good Hill Farm Trail was expanded and opened on Labor Day Weekend.
Orzech Family Preserve parking area was reconstructed.
Two Eagle Scout Projects were completed at Mine Hill. Sean Irwin constructed a shed to protect the historic ore tumbler. Nate Steers created and installed sign posts identifying nine structures that were part of this active 19th century iron ore mining site.
The Orzech Family Farm Preserve railroad bed that was severely eroded by major storms the past few years, jeopardizing the very popular hiking Kress Family Trail was successfully stabilized.
A new trail to the Orzech Upper Farm Field was constructed off the railroad bed. The trail is a moderate uphill hike to large open farm field with two ponds, a granite bench and sweeping views.
In February 120 acres of open upland and forest were preserved. Rebecca Miller offered to donate 100 acres if RLT purchased a contiguous parcel of 20 acres. This Greenbelt Expansion Project creates an uninterrupted greenbelt of 720 acres stretching from Painter Hill Road at the north to Grassy Hill Road at the south of the airstrip at Good Hill Farm.
The Tierney Preserve parking area was washed out by heavy spring rains and was reconstructed.
In April the Good Hill Farm Preserve was listed on the State Register of Historic Places as one of 200 important agricultural properties in Connecticut.
A 34-acre conservation easement on Battle Swamp Road was donated in December. It is contiguous to land protected by Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust and Steep Rock Association.
RLT is now the steward of more than 3,600 acres.
In July RLT moved into its permanent headquarters at 6 Mine Hill, gateway to the Mine Hill Preserve.
RLT welcomed the Maynards, a local farming family, to Good Hill Farm.
Protected 59.2 acres of open space through bequests specifically for land acquisition from the estates of Joan M. McMahan and Ruth Johnson.
Awarded the 2018 Outstanding Organization Pathfinder Award for farmland conservation from the Working Lands Alliance.
Opened the new Yellow Trail connecting Gavel Family Farm Preserve and Lilly Preserve.
Protected 14.112 acres of woodlands and brooks adjacent to Town Open Space. The property, donated by Ramarax Holdings LLLP and Defer LLLP, will be named the Geraldine Stutz Preserve.
Opened the new White Trail which explores upland and riparian habitat adjacent to the Shepaug River just south of and expanding the River Road Preserve.