Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
Memories, hopes merge~
October 21, 2007
Section: LOCAL NEWS
By ~~~Steven H. Foskett Jr.
SUTTON - Sitting on a bundle of hay in the capacious gambrel-style barn on Shaw Farm, Rita Shaw said calling the 130-acre farm town property still didn't sound right.
Streaks of light poked through gaps in the wood where shingles had fallen away. From the outside, the large barn, built in the late 1930s and early 1940s after a fire destroyed the original, looks a bit run-down. But inside, the elaborate wood structure still looks as sturdy and functional as it was the day it was built. "I always said that if you turned it upside down, it could be an ark," Ms. Shaw said.
Ms. Shaw recently closed on the $4.5 million sale of the farm to the town. The farm, which borders Central Turnpike and Putnam Hill Road, was classified as a Chapter 61 property. Chapter 61 is a state law that gives landowners property tax relief in return for commitments to keeping up and preserving their land. If a landowner wants to remove a property from the Chapter 61 designation, the town has the right, within a 120-day window, to match a bona fide offer on the land.
Selectmen voted to exercise the town's right to match the $4.5 million offer on the farm, and the funding was approved by town meeting and an election in the spring. A residential developer made the original offer, and had plans to build dozens of homes on the property, a scenario Ms. Shaw said she didn't want to see played out.
"That was my big thing," Ms. Shaw said, pointing to a gently rising knoll behind the farmhouse that provided a gorgeous view of the tree line along the back of the property. "That a lot of it be kept open. I didn't want to see a plywood palace up there."
What will become of the barn and the few other buildings on the farm, including the century-old farmhouse, is no longer a question Ms. Shaw can answer. She has suggestions, of course. The old barn might make a good place for the Highway Department to store equipment. She said she thinks the farm would make a great location for a future police station, fire station or municipal center. Ball fields could also be carved out, she said.
Whatever is built, there will be plenty of land on the sprawling farm left over for open space or preservation, and Ms. Shaw said she is confident the town will conserve as much as it can.
The farm dates to the 1800s. Once a dairy operation, it now has three residents - Ms. Shaw, a small black cat, and a 26-year-old mule named Taz. Ms. Shaw has a six-month tenancy as part of the sale to the town. She said she is heading to Kentucky after her time on the farm is up.
Her grandfather S. Martin Shaw was the town's first fire chief for many years, and her father, Elliot R. Shaw, was a longtime firefighter, and in the days when the town's firetruck was pulled by horsepower in the literal sense, the horses stayed on the farm, often tied to a stone hitch at the end of the long driveway that leads into the property. The town's first internal-combustion-powered fire engine was also housed on the farm.
She said a visitor once crashed his car into the horse hitch without causing any damage; she said she hoped it will somehow be incorporated into a future design for a police or fire station on the site.
"I hope the town doesn't just rip that up," Ms. Shaw said.
Kevin Geraghty, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the broad support and consensus that persuaded residents to support the purchase will hopefully continue now that the town owns the farm and is starting to think about what to do with it. There's no rush to build on it right away, he said.
"Now you'll see some type of discussion start up about how to approach this from a long-range planning point of view," Mr. Geraghty said.
The town at least has time on its side, now that the hard deadlines of the Chapter 61 process have been successfully navigated. Mr. Geraghty said he hopes the town comes up with a sort of master plan for the property that looks at what the farm will be 10, 20, even 30 years from now.
On a recent warm, breezy afternoon, Ms. Shaw walked into the stable where Taz, the mule, spends her days.
"She's starting to get her winter coat," Ms. Shaw said. "In a few months, she'll look like she has pajamas on."
The mule's gigantic head turned warmly toward Ms. Shaw. She stuck her hand in Taz's ear and rubbed, to the animal's apparent delight. Ms. Shaw said that when she leaves, Taz will move to another farm in town. She said she wasn't overly sentimental about what becomes of the buildings, although she said she would like to see the barn continue to be used. But she said she doesn't have any regrets about selling the farm.
"I'm going to miss it," Ms. Shaw said. "But it's time to move on."