George Massey Interview
This is file #33, cycle 3. Today’s date is April 18, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing George Massey. He is going to talk about his family background, Land Trust, Habitat for Humanity and the Women’s Support Services. First we’ll start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
JM:Where were you born?
JM:When were you born?
GM:June 26, 1946
JM:Your parents’ names?
GM:Eugene Massey and Marie Noonan Massey. They were both from the Midwest, the Chicago area.
JM:Do you have siblings?
GM:I have a sister a year and one half older Joanne and a brother four years older Eugene.
JM:How did you come to this area?
GM:I got a job with the Dairy Farm Improvement Association. That was a farmer’s cooperative that kept records on dairy cows for production records for the benefit of the farmer. That brought me to Salisbury. I went around to 20 different farms for the evening milking and the morning milking, wrote down the information and sent it off to Cornell. The farmers got print outs on all of their cows so they knew which ones were making money. When I first moved here, I did not have a place to stay. I used to camp in farm fields. Most of the farmers invited me for breakfast. That was very nice because it was a nice way to come into the area. I knew something of what was going on. In 1971 dairy farming was still a going concern; it was interesting to see all these small farms. It turns out that that was their swan song. They were wonderful people and it was a wonderful way to come to the area.
JM:Was this the same type of work that George Tuttle did?
GM:Exactly the same work.
JM:How did you get involved with the Land Trust?
GM:In 1971 when winter was coming on, I found a farm house to rent in Cornwall. I found a couple of people to share it with me. From 1971 to 1979 I lived in Cornwall. I was kind of a 1960s dropout! Wood stove, vegetable garden, I lived the simple life. One of the owners of the farmhouse returned and
wanted to live in the farmhouse so I had to find new housing. My farm connections helped me in good stead. This was just the time Norm Sills was retiring from farming. (See tape #109A and file #35, Norm Sills) Jeffery Sills was going to take it up. Jeffery has just built a house on Twin Lakes. (173 Taconic Road) In fact it is the house where Norm Sills later lived and where the Dave Hecks now live. He was going to live there. He knew I needed a place. He is one of the people who had lived with me in Cornwall. He said, “If you’ll come and take care of the cows on Sunday, you can live in that farmhouse.” I lived there (Hamlin Hill Farm on Prospect Mountain Road, Salisbury) for about one year. That is what got me to Salisbury. In the course of that year we were doing a term of contra dancing up in Sheffield, Mass. One of the people that used to come to that was living on the Hewitt’s property on Selleck Hill. They said that there is a house that is going to become available next year. “Are you interested?” By this time Hamlin Hill Farm had been sold to Peter Findlay. The clock was ticking for me to get out of that farmhouse. I went over and talked to the Hewitts. They were very gracious and helpful. I moved into that house in 1980 or 1981. I have been there for the next 35 years.
JM:The Land Trust came out of what?
GM:The Land Trust came out of that kind of switching in town. I think the whole feel of Salisbury which has a reputation of a town that is very full of non-profit organizations throughout the community. They make the community really work. I think there was an issue about water quality of the aquafers. I was in conversation with Bill Morrill about some of these things. A number of people on the Land Trust were leading it, I think Bill among them and maybe Curtis Rand; (See File #37, Curtis Rand) people that had positions in the town. Curtis was on the Wetlands committee. Planning and Zoning was involved. They saw that there was too much opportunity for conflict of interests between the Land Trust properties and things that the town would be involved in. At this time Mary Alice White was taking over as Chairman of the Land Trust. There were probably 6 or 7 vacancies on the Land Trust. I believe Bill Morrill asked me if I would be interested. I said, “Sure.”
JM:Why was the Land Trust interesting to you?
GM:One of my quotes that I quote myself on. “I got on by accident, but stayed on purpose.” It is the reason that I stayed is not that I had a good job or not that I had a lot of friends, it was that the landscape was so engaging. The villages, the farms the forest, the hillsides the lakes and rivers and streams this was and still is incredibly a wonderful place to live. It has a beautiful ecosystem and one in which humans work fairly well I think
JM:When you got on the Land Trust as a board member, what were some of your responsibilities?
GM:What we all do on the Land Trust is act to monitor one or more easements. Most of the land that Salisbury protects is done through a conservation easement. A conservation easement is when the owner gives up his rights to do certain things: usually it is to build houses or subdivide, to keep the land in a conservation state. That can allow for forestry, or farming it can allow for passive recreation. Mostly we have these arrangements. We have the Belchers, the Hewitts, the Boks, the Thomases, the
McClarens and many others who have made very generous donations of conservation easements on their property. Part of the responsibility with the Land Trust is to visit those and make sure that the rules are being followed. That is something we all do. The other thing we do is we look into finding new land. We talk to land owners who have land that we think is important.
One of the properties we are talking about specifically is what we call “Tory Hill” (R.t 41, 384 Sharon Road) which was the Blum property at Fairfield Farm. That was obviously to us a very important property. We met with Jack & Jeanne Blum. We said when you are ready to do something with that land, please let us know. We like it when people give us things, but for important property we just want to have the opportunity for people to know that we are doing what we can to conserve it. All of the Land Trust members are kind of involved in that.
JM:Who makes the rules about the easements?
GM:Good question. They are very specific, particularly with someone donates an easement. We will be very amenable to the kind of things that they want to do. Basically they can’t seriously interfere with the real conservation. If they wanted to keep forestry, or hunting or certain kinds of agriculture; if they want to have a farm with more buildings on it, we can have an easement that allows for agricultural buildings. Some easements that we do have a cut out so it is 60 acres, but we cut out 4 acres and don’t put that in the easement. The farmer can do whatever he wants in those 4 acres. He does not have to come to us and ask, “Can I do this or that?” We have it zoned that way. We will be protecting the farmland that way.
JM:Is there a minimum number of acres that can be donated?
GM:We have taken one very small easement, almost as a favor. It was adjacent to a much larger one. It was just a few acres. I assume we would not have taken it on its own. As far as going to monitor it, if you are monitoring 40 acres, you can monitor 42 acres.
JM:What is the importance of accreditation of the Land Trust?
GM:Back around 2000 the Nature Conservancy got into some trouble. One of the twin rules of conservation can be to get a big chuck of land and then sell off a few pieces of it to help pay for it. That is an entirely respectable operation. The reason the Nature Conservancy got into trouble was that they let their board directors have first shot at these cut out properties. They were sold below market, but they weren’t ironclad transactions. It isn’t right. They knew it wasn’t right. There was a brouhaha in Washington about all these people taking the tax advantage. If you give an easement and there are public benefits, you are allowed to take a tax benefit on the difference between what that land was worth now and what it was worth before. You have to show that there is a clear benefit. You can’t just protect your back yard and claim a tax advantage. The Land Trust Alliance decided to make sure that these things don’t happen. They organized a fairly complex group of rules that governed seizures and policies about how land protection should be done. If you go through, most people were doing this for
the most part anyway, but to go through the accreditation process, you sign on and your shoulder is looked over continuously that you agreed to these things. They want you to show that you are doing them or if you haven’t been doing them, you promise to do them in the future. They will come back and check. It makes the whole process a little bit more complicated, but it makes it much more secure that it is getting done right. We’ll withstand the test of time because these easements are forever. Down the road you get these challenges from people, “Why can’t I do this?” We have to have good information and everything in place. The appraisal is all done right if they involve any tax benefit.
The accreditation process was arduous. In my view it was more complicated that it needed to be. Nonetheless it is obvious that it is very important. It is very important from the whole Land Trust community that everyone understands, everyone is protected, but the community understands that the Land Trust is self-regulating in a strenuous and important way to make sure that it is not abused. These tax benefits are a major help to get these easements. To lose that would be very hard. They got this done. Since then we have had the benefit of now if you make a charitable contribution of an easement, you can carry that forward 15 years. The thinking there was that a lot of people are land rich. If they have a farm, what good is $800,000 reduction to you, if your income in only $65,000? This change allows the people of modest means to still get some benefits from these gifts. We are now checked on. The RIS has not exactly knocked on our door, but they knocked on our door once in terms of what someone else is doing. That all came out ok. Any of these things at any time can go wrong.
As we went back and redid some things, we found there were some holes in our record keeping. It also clarified the standards of what the record keeping which are much more detailed than they were before. Even with all the records we had got brought up to date to today’s standards. It was expensive and cumbersome, but it is now in place.
One of the offshoots for better or worse is that we no longer be a volunteer organization; there is too much to do. Now we have Harry White who is a part time Conservation Director. Harry is the guy who goes out and does the map reports. Shelley Harms as our Executive Director who has been great. She is the one shepherded us through the accreditation process. She was very well positioned to know where everything is. She is moving us forward. We are very lucky to have her. She is doing a great job. They are both paid. It is a wonderful system; they are both one quarter to one third time employees. They are getting paid a decent wage, but we are not hiring them for 40 hours. We share Shelley with the Cornwall Land Trust and Harry works both with the Cornwall Land Trust and the Sharon Land Trust. By sharing these people, they can get the wage they deserve and we get their expertise at a price we can afford. . We are looking at a property. Harry will produce all those photo maps from the sky, the underlayment of the soils and all these things. As we assemble what conservation value there are in the property, it supplies our reasons for going forward.
JM:Does that take some of the burden off the volunteers then?
GM:Yes, we have almost always had some help with that, but he is really is there for us. Recently we moved to try to buy 200 acres from Alice Yoakum. (See tape #167A, Alice Yoakum) That came about very
quickly. Alice was anxious to do it and there was a window of opportunity. Tim Abbot of the Housatonic Valley Association had been talking with her. It looked like a deal was possible. If we were going to do it, we were going to have to have the application into the state for a grant which could provide 3 or 4 hundred thousand and that was due 6 weeks into the future. I have been through the process, and it is very complicated. It is like a Master’s thesis. To have Shelley and Harry as employees, we are very hopeful that we are going to be successful. That was put together in quick order and got in on time. It would have been a great strain or impossible without them. These people were right there. Harry was out and got stuff on the land and got together all the things that we needed to do to have our application be complete. We’ll find out at the end of this year, if we get it or not.
JM:Tell me about Dark Hollow? Where is it located?
GM:Dark Hollow is a dirt road that runs from the Salisbury side of Salmon Kill Road over to Farnam Road, a diagonal road. It belonged to the Cannon family before that it was part of the Yale Farm. The Cannons wanted to sell it. I think the Arnolds were the original Impetus that we should get this together and make it happen. We had a number of meetings. I did the grant application for that. Bill Morrill was important in that, Lou Hecht was important and I am not sure whether Jim Dresser was in on that or not. We formed a fund raising and negotiating committee to deal with the Cannons.
It is an interesting story there I did the grant application and it was refused. I came out 20th on the list of 40 or something. 17 got money and we didn’t. Through the Freedom of Information Act I could see by scoring. I looked at my scoring. This is not right. There were a number of categories and for each one, there were usually four things at 5 points each. The most obvious one was good for fish. If you had fish like salmon or shad that came upstream to spawn, if you had them, you had 6 points. If you had unusual fish you would get 5 points. If you had healthy fish, you got 5 points. If you supplied Public Access, you got 5 points. We had no points. We have more than a half mile of frontage on the brook there. I had a letter from the head of the Department of Fisheries saying that we had healthy fish. These were clear miss scorings. There was also a miss scoring on is this property in danger of development? I already had in there an ad from the newspaper as evidence that an adjacent parcel had already been sold. We should have had 10 points there. At that time we had Roberta Willis (See file # 63, cycle 2, Roberta Willis) and Andrew Roraback in Hartford, I went to Hartford and met with both of them. They said they would look into it. They did. In the meantime to try to close that gap, there was a Belcher Trust Fund. I think the Belchers among other had done a lot of horseback riding in and around that area. Sarah and Ward directed that money to help close the gap. Then six months later I got a call from Andrew Roraback that the state admitted that they had made a mistake so we were going to get the money .The $450,000 eventually came. That action provided us with a surplus: we used some of that money to buy more land along Dark Hollow which belonged to the Pope family. We bought another 9 acre and 4 acre parcel at the Salmon Kill end of Dark Hollow. We put the rest of that money in our storage fund. We have a comfortable surplus fund, although we always need more to protect our property and to manage our property, and to be able to defend ourselves in court if we need to. WE have had a number of big chunks that have gone into that.
JM:When did Dark Hollow actually become acquired?6.
GM:I think 2003. That is a good guess. Mary Alice resigned in 2000.
JM:When was Tory Hill acquired?
GM:Tory Hill was another one I did a grant proposal for. I am through with that now. The Blums came to Larry Power who was then Head of Sharon Land Trust and me. “We are going to sell this. We did some negations and they came down in their price so they were selling it below market. This is another interesting story. The actual corner lot on the south east corner of Long Pond Road belonged to the Keiters. They owned about 300 feet along Route 41 heading south. We looked at the Tory Hill 50 acres after that. We knew that we had to know what happens on that corner because if we were going to buy Tory Hill and someone was going to put a 25,000 square foot house up in that corner, it would not be a success. The major virtue of that property is the view over Twin Oaks and Mudge Pond. It really is an iconic view for everyone who travels route 41. In order to set up the project and to be most successful, Lou Hecht and I contacted the Keiters and asked them about the top of that field. They did not want anything built there. I said that that was our feeling exactly. We really need to have it protected to allow us to justify raising $1,000,000 to buy the next piece. We walked out their door and started walking up the road toward 41. Just when you began to see cars cresting the hill, I just put my hand out and said, “We’d like you to protect that.” The next day they called aback and said yes. So we were in business.
Then looking in the other direction; the view to the North displays the Taconic Range and the Hewitt high hay fields is extraordinary. We were concerned with that view. We talked to Jerry and Ann Douglas who owned that parcel. Mrs. Douglas is a Blagden. In fact the land belonged to the children. We wanted a triangle that would line up with the Keiter’s portion. They sold that easement to us at a very modest price. It was really for their children. It would be nice if the kids could get some benefits. They sold it at probably one tenth of its value. We got that triangle. We also bought 60 feet in from Route 41. The reason we bought that is because we didn’t want somebody to buy that lot and then put evergreens all along the road. That was all we needed. Now we have the story where we were protecting two major views. I think Jim Dresser wan instrumental in this. He was the head of the fund drive for this. Sharon Land Trust was enormously helpful. We got several hundred thousand from them. It was an incredible cooperative deal between Sharon and Salisbury.
Backing up a little when the Twin Oaks deal was bought (that was when Mary Alice was head) we raised a lot of money in Salisbury to help with that deal. That was the first major cooperative between the two land trusts in buying Twin Oaks field, buying Tory Hill, and we cooperated again in another land purchase which I shall talk about after we are done with Tory Hill.
JM:What part of Fairfield Farm does Hotchkiss own?
GM:Hotchkiss owns the other side of the road, where the barns and the grey house is, everything that is on the east side of the road. The building rights have already been sold to the Department of
Agriculture. You can sell the land but the easement goes with it. The Department of Agriculture had an easement on the Blum land outside of that. They have a barn cut out there.
JM:We had a cut out at 384 Sharon Road of about 2 acres. When did you acquire the tory Hill property?
GM:I am going to guess 2007. The Twin Oaks was in the 1990s. We had a big party Sharon and Salisbury on the lawn there. We had music and everything else. Salisbury was getting the Twin Oaks field and then after that we bought Tory Hill and had a big picnic there for both Sharon and Salisbury because they had helped us buy Tory Hill.
JM:From the back of our house next to Fairfield Farm we were the only ones who could see Beeslick Pond and Red Mountain. When did you get the Red Mountain property?
GM:The Red Mountain property is part of another parcel. One of the other places we cooperated on was Red Mountain. That is in Sharon. A fellow named Longstreth owned that property. He wanted to sell it. Larry Power came to me and started a conversation about how we would do that. Again, I always think of the landscape. This is going to be a better project is we can get the Briscoes to protect those high fields (See tape #70A, Martha Briscoe) that run into it. We went and talked to the Briscoes to find out if there was any way. Again this belongs to the children. They were not in a position to give it all away. We arrived at an arrangement that their two building lots up there; they are not in places that are visible, one is back farm and another one is visible but behind the tree line, and you are not allowed to clear cut the tree line. So they have two very valuable lots up there should they decide they need to use them. They are probably hoping they won’t but it depended on how long it stays a family place. They agreed to that. That made the whole project work, so the whole ridgeline now was protected. They have a family graveyard up there up on the top of that hill.
It is interesting because the fact that we were doing Briscoes’ property, this is a very view conscious community. What things look like is often a bigger factor when we are trying to raise money that if there is a bog turtle on it or not. The bog turtle is important, but the checks are not as big. The fact that we had the Briscoes in, someone who saw that and had not given to us before, gave us $35,000 and there was someone else that we knew had seen it: A knew B and made a phone cal. As soon as we sent them our proof of nonprofit, we got another $25,000. These people in part had this view and they appreciated it.
JM:When did Red Mountain come into the Land Trust?
GM:I think 2012.
JM:Tell me about Sycamore Field?
GM:Sycamore Field has its own interesting story. HVA (Housatonic Valley Association) had lined up a GE grant. GE agreed through a consent decree with Environmental Protection to certain things to
benefit the Housatonic River to compensate for the damage that had been done by the PCBs up in Pittsfield.
JM:Where is this property?
GM:Sycamore Field is just below the high school on Route 7. You go Route 112 to Route 7 South and turn right towards Cornwall. It is a quarter mile on your left. It is a large field, it had been a forage field and then a Belter farm field, now Salisbury Association owns that. We are currently leasing it to the Jacquiers in Canaan. HVA had lined up some GE grant money for that. They had felt that the Appalachian Trail might want to own it. As it turned out they didn’t. Tim Abbott called me up and asked if Salisbury Association like to own it? Could they kick in $50,000 to help tie up all the ends of getting the work done? We said yes and yes. Thus we became the owners of Sycamore Field.
JM:Why is it called Sycamore Field?
GM:It has a bunch of sycamore trees along the river.
JM:They can be very long lived?
GM:Yes they can be, very large, a beautiful tree.
JM:When did Sycamore Field come to the Land Trust?
GM:I would say 2014 maybe. Speaking of the GE money we also got some GE grant money which gave us money to do a conservation easement on the Grossman property and the Binzen property over along Weatogue Road. Those were conservation easements which were accomplished with those GE funds.
JM:Is there anything you want to add to the Land Trust portion of this interview before we go on to Habitat for Humanity?
GM: Bus trips? Back in 1990 Mary Alice White said, “Let’s do something to get the community out on the land.” I thought ok, but let’s do something that is a little different than just going out and looking at a nice piece of property. While I was trying to discover what to do, I visited my friend John Mitchell in Lincoln, Mass. By a coincidence a Salisbury School Graduate himself, he is the head of Audubon Magazine for 20 years. It was a fantastic magazine but is no longer being published. He had written a book called Ceremonial Time in which he talked about everything that happened to his property since the Ice Age. He has walks in the woods where he envisioned Indians. It is imaginary but he is talking about what the land was and how it has changed. I said to myself, “This is what we need to do.” The idea was Salmon Kill Road; let’s look at salmon Kill road for a number of different aspects. Ed Kirby (See tape # 97 A/B Edward Kirby) is always good for a talk. We called up Ed and he was on board. This became a bus and bicycle tour. You could ride your bicycle to each of the four stops. We had two school buses full and people on bicycles. The first stop was at Salmon Kill Farm up on the hill there. Ed
Kirby talked about the Ice Age and the geology. Donnie Stevens talked about what the Native Americans were doing there. We went on to the Lime Rock Iron furnace and heard more from Ed Kirby. Cilio Berti spoke a couple of times. (See tape 74A, Cilio Berti). He had worked in that furnace when it was operating. Cilio said that at the end of the work day, they had all this iron out in the pigs. There might be a little overflow. They would get some tongs and grab a chunk and throw it into the trough of water to heat the water to wash with. That’s what they did for washing up at the end of the day. That was just one of his stories. We learned about the furnace and the railroad wheels stories. Then we went back to Malcolm McLaren’s farm (Whippoorwill Farm). Malcolm and Hank Belter (See tape # 28A, Henry Belter) each talked about their experiences farming on the land. Bob Estarbook (See tape # 76 A/B, Bob Estabrook) talked about the railroad which harks back to the iron works because those were the guys that wanted the railroad to go through and get their rail car wheels across the Hudson River. That was a very well received tour and everybody had a great time.
The next tour was sometime in early 2000, I think. That was a Mt. Riga tour. That had to do with iron and water power. We had two school buses full of folk. In order to get the school buses up Mt. Riga Road, Jim Dresser had his little motor scooter. We stopped traffic from going down and then he made sure we were stopping traffic going up and we got the school buses up. Up at the furnace we had a wonderful talk by Tim Abbott about the ecology, and the history of the forest up there and a little bit about the people up there. (See file # 23-26, Jim Dresser & Steve Griggs) We then had more talk from Ed Kirby about the whole iron process and what was going on there and the difficulties about getting that iron ore established. Several people went bankrupt trying to get the business going. More talk on the iron works. Then we came down the hill and gathered at Pewter Pond, the last pond before you get to Selleck Hill Road. We stopped there and there was a place to let people off. We gathered and there were about 8 different places where the water gathered so they could hold it back and use the power for industry. We had various talks about the different kinds of manufacturing and why this was called Factory/Washinee Street. It was also called Washinee Street because one of the factories was the Washine woolen Mill from Twin Lakes. That was the second bus tour.
JM:I must have been on the third one, then.
GM:The third one stared out up at Hammertown Road. It was the all town tour. We had three buses full. We got up to Taconic and Hammertown and that lovely view of the whole ridge. We let Ed Kirby at it again: he talked a little bit about geology and what this place looked like before. Then Curtis Rand gave a talk about forestry, but the highlight of Curtis’s talk was after he had given his prepared remarks. This was an October tour. He looked across the hillside and he said, “You see that yellow patches, those are ash trees.” He read the whole hills side. “See that dark green, those are hemlocks.” That ravine is so steep that is has never been logged.” He just read the whole hillside by the fall colors. I thought that was a highlight. Next we went over to Between –the-Lakes- Road to the Great Falls where we had talks by Dick Paddock (See File # 17, cycle 2, Richard Paddock) and Lou on the industry there. That was one a great iron works (Ames Iron Works Ed.) and cannon works. It was a big train wheels factory; now it is back to nature. I gave a talk on forestry quoting Norm Sills (See tape #109, and file
#35, Norman Sills) that in 1900 there were 100 family farms in Salisbury. By 1950 there were 50, and I shall finish that up by now there really aren’t any. There is still farming, but it is more mixed farming, not just dairy. We went over to the Lime rock Iron furnace again where we finished up. The History Society was more engaged with that one.
JM:I can attest that it was a wonderful tour. It is so important go get people out to see.
GM:One of the after effects of the bus tours was that for 7 or 8 years I did walking tours depicting the water power use on Factory Street as part of the Upper Housatonic Heritage Fall walks.
JM:Shall we go on to Habitat for Humanity.
GM:Yes, Mary Alice White, when she was the chairman of the Land Trust, was always concerned about land protections as also affordable housing. Are there going to be places for working people to live her in Salisbury? With her encouragement, I went off and joined Habitat for Humanity to try and see if I could address that issue. (See John Pogue file #29, cycle 2, John Pogue) One of the interesting things that we have done in Habitat for Humanity is to have the homeowners buy the improvements, but lease the land. That makes the property cheaper to buy and it makes it easier to buy it back. Our business plan is so far successful. We do buy these houses back when they come on the market. When we have a Habitat house on a Habitat site, we don’t want it to get away if we can help it. I know there were some problems earlier on with affordable housing in town. They were affordable for the first people who owned it, but they weren’t affordable any more. Our goal is that when people buy these houses at a modest price, their resale price is restricted to that price plus cost of living increase. When it comes back on the market, the sale price is market value or sale price plus cost of living, or whichever less is. We have the right to buy it back. If we can’t buy it, it still has to be made available to people at or below the median income level for 6 months.
JM:What is the median income level?
GM:Probably $60,000 in a year. That is still not a banker from New York,
JM:It is not a school teacher’s salary either.
GM:A school teacher could buy that house.
JM:Now they could. I started teaching at $5,000 so $60,000 seems like a lot of money.
GM:We have had three or four houses that have turned over and we have bought them back. Then if they needed any rehab, we did that and sold them again. WE hope to continue that way.
JM:Is this the only chapter that does this?
GM:To my knowledge, yes. With the help of Barbara Bigos (See file #53, Barbara Bigos) when she was the Town Assessor, we rewrote our land leases in a manner that we could satisfy the state of
Connecticut as affordable housing. They want to know that it is going to remain affordable x years into the future. That allowed Barbara to remove the land portion form the tax rolls on these houses. Habitat owns the land and it is being used for charitable purposes so it is available to be tax exempt.
JM:How many houses do you have in your portfolio?
GM:I am going to say a dozen. We started out fairly slowly and we are trying to do one a year. That is our goal. Every once in a while there is enthusiasm to try to build faster, but let’s just see if we can do one a year well. In 20 years you’ll have 20 houses. That is substantial. We are chugging along pretty well. It is a very complicated organization. Not only do we have to raise the money, but also to build the houses and we hold the mortgages as well. That is why the home owner can have an interest free mortgage because we are the bank. It also meant that if you get behind on your payments, we’ll talk to you. A good number of our people have fun a little bit behind; we are willing to carry them as long as we believe they have a chance to catch up. We have had a foreclosure. This can’t happen; reluctantly we will foreclose. We also can be very generous in the arrangements and extending things, putting off payments, if it looks like something can get back on track.
JM:When a house becomes available, do you have a lot of applicants?
GM:It varies. We have been getting more and better applicants of late. We go out to the banks (See file # 21, cycle 3, John Perotti and tape #166A, Rick Cantele, Salisbury Bank & Trust) as well as the social service people (See file # 97, Patrice McGrath, Salisbury Family Services) and word of mouth from other Habitat owners. Our last 2 houses in Canaan were friends. We did one house and he said his friend got the next house. One of the first one went to somebody that sent to the bank for a mortgage and the bank said, “We can’t lend you the money, but why don’t you talk to Habitat?” They contacted us and it worked out well. We have more connections out there now. Our latest homeowner in Falls Village is a woman that knows Arabic and is helping in Salisbury Central School with the Syrian children.
JM:Is your chapter Region #1?
GM:Not quite, we started out being 5 towns without Kent: then we took in Norfolk. Starr Childs was an early member and we thought we had a line on some property there, but that did not work out. We have had a lot of board members from Norfolk, including our past president, the Congregational Minister Erik Olsen.
JM:Have you actually gone out with hammer and saw to work on a house?
GM:I have gone out, but I am not skilled in that area. I am more doing town hall and zoning things. Our 5 lot subdivision in Falls Village towards Music Mountain, I was the one who got that through subdivision, knowing nothing about it, just going to meetings. I was told, “You have to do so and so. “ I went and did it. “You had better do that.” So I went and did that. It took more than a year, but we got the subdivision. That gave us 5 lots and in addition it gave us 4 building lots. We sold one of them to help pay for all the costs in getting the lots. That was land from which Lime Rock Park was made out of.
That is where a lot of sand and gravel came from earlier when James Vaill owned it. (See tape # 56A/B, James Vaill) It does look like a wasteland, particularly when we got there, but it is kind of nice to be down and away from the road. It worked out very nicely.
JM:The last thing you wanted to talk about is Women’s Support Services. Tell me about that.
GM:Like Habitat is a multi -town organization. When I joined it was called, it was called women’s emergency Services.
JM:When did you join?
GM:It would have been in the late 1990s. The Violence against Women Act was passed in 2000. I was still on there when that was passed. I got on there when Trade Secrets first began at Bunny Williams’ house in Falls Village. For the second Trade Secrets at bunny’s house we had snow and it messed up her lawn tremendously. Part of the reason I got involved was my sister is very active in domestic violence in Washington, D. C. She called me up and said,” We are doing this national campaign around there is no excuse for domestic violence. We are trying to do for domestic violence what Mothers against Drunk Drivers did for drinking. It is not acceptable.” I told her about these stickers which came from New York City which says “This is a Safe Haven”. I am not aware of anyone making use of them, but it does alert everybody in town that there is an organization here. It cares and is willing to do something and alerts men and women that domestic violence is an issue. There is an active organization here. I told her about these and she said, “We are going to have hearings. You should come down and testify.” Rona Roberts of Renegade Farm on Britton Hill Road co-President and Nancy Bayersdorfer the other co-President and I and some other people went down. The office then was out of the Falls Village train station. Rona testified before the then Congressman Schumer’s Health and Human Services Committee. Then we went over to the Press Club. This was all part of the launch of that campaign and a push towards getting the Violence against Women Act passed through Congress. It did not pass that year, but it did pass in 2000. We eventually provided funding that helped the support services get their building in Sharon. It is very active and with Trade Secrets May 19 & 20, 2018, is very successful. It is satisfactory to get that funding to provide the kind of staff they need. Even when I was there we started to do school programs against violence.
JM:They work with the Housatonic Youth Service Bureau which is where I heard about Women’s support Services. (See file #24, cycle 3, Cynthia Bianchi, and file # 25, cycle 3, Nick Pohl)
Is there anything you would like to add before we close?
GM:Once closed I will think of something else.
JM:Thank you so much.