By SHERIDAN CYR
So you think that open space is just for the environment? Think again. Most of Southington’s open space parcels and development rights have been purchased to protect forest, watersheds, vernal pools, and wetlands, but some are purchased as “cultural” resources to protect properties with historic significance.
Last weekend, town officials invited the public on “historic” open space bus tour to highlight the history on some of the town’s parcels, with Planning and Zoning commissioner Jen Clock and Open Space Acquisition Committee member Bob Berkmoes leading the way. Two buses from the Calendar House brought the group to a number of historic parcels of land in Southington, Plantsville and Marion, stopping at each, so Clock and Berkmoes could share their stories.
“Southington’s open space parcels are very important to the community, and many of them connect back to the history of the town,” said Berkmoes. “It’s helpful and interesting to learn about the town’s past and how it came to be.”
An architectural survey conducted by the town in 1986 revealed and documented 330 historic structures that were associated with the historical development of the town or that had architectural merit. As a result of the survey, five historic districts, two thematic listings and 32 individual properties were listed on the national register of historic places.
In a 2017 survey update, Building Conservation Associates, Inc., reviewed resources surveyed in 1986, and looked at town-owned open space adjacent to historic resources to identify visual and historical connections between historic buildings and open space that may be important to the town of Southington’s heritage identity.
“The report revealed some great information that I was unaware of,” said Clock, who served as a volunteer project manager on the project. “We thought it was a great idea to share this information about our open space program, which actively seeks and purchases land to remain undeveloped.”
The updated survey explains the earliest known settlers in the area of present-day Southington were nomadic tribes of Tunxis and Metabesett Indians. The abundant wildlife, deer, wolves, wildcats, beavers and plentiful fish in the Quinnipiac River and its tributaries were a ready source of food for the Native Americans.
The first permanent settlement, according to the survey, is generally thought to have begun with the construction in 1698 by Samuel Woodruff, who is accredited as the first settler of Southington. Other families were encouraged to move to the area by the completion in 1722 of the official “South Division” or “South Farmington” which later was shortened to “Southington.”
Southington developed from an 18th century farming settlement into a 19th century industrial center, then again into the vibrant suburban community it is today.
The open space tour shared the historic significance of several parcels of land that the town has purchased and therefore cannot be developed on. This November, on Election Day, a referendum question will appear on Southington residents’ ballots regarding open space: “Shall the Town of Southington appropriate $2,000,000 for acquisition of land for open space purposes; and authorizing the issue of bonds and notes in the same amount to finance said appropriation?”
“We want to be able to pursue potential open space properties, to stave off development, and to conserve land in our town for its overall aesthetic, for natural resources, for wildlife, for cultural value – all of those good things – in an expedient manner,” said Dawn Miceli, democratic town councilor and chair of the open space commission, at a council meeting in March. “For us to achieve that, we would need to have monies within our coffers.”
To read the survey report, click here: 2018 Open Space report
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.