Morrill, William

Interviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: Scoville Library
Date of Interview:
File No: 35 Cycle: 3
Summary: Berkshire-Litchield Environmental Counsel, Planning & Zoning Board, Parks & Forest Commission, Affordable Housing Advisory Board, Salisbury Association- Land Trust, Holley-Williams House, Holleywood

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

Bill Morrill Interview

This is file #35, cycle 3. Today’s date is May 2, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing William f. Morrill. He is going to talk about the Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Counsel, the Salisbury Planning & Zoning commission, the Salisbury Park & Forest Commission, Salisbury Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, the Salisbury Association and anything else he wants to talk about. First we will ask you…

JM:What is your name?

BM:William F. Morrill

JM:How did you come to the area?

BM:I came to the area in 1970 at an invitation of the Berkshire Litchfield Environmental Counsel. I was hired as Executive Director of the Counsel.

JM:What was the focus of BLEC?

BM:It was organized to oppose an electric utility project, pump storage generation that was proposed for the town of Canaan just across the Housatonic. It would be a 2,000 megawatt or 2 million kilowatt generation facility that would flood the Wangum Valley in Canaan and also flood a good part of Canaan Mountain with a dam about three miles long which would create a large lake. Water would be pumped up the hill by the pump generator machines and then it would be left to run back down the hill on its generator operating like a giant battery.

JM:Was there only one pump station or two? You showed me two maps.

BM:There were two proposals. Initially each was proposed as alternatives. There was one just north of the state line by Mount Grace. The other was by Wangum and Schnob Brook Valley as the lower reservoir. The one in Canaan would have been on the top of Canaan Mountain and the valley below it.

JM:I gather that it did not go through.

BM:No, neither proposal so far has been passed. This was back in 1970 and they sort of withdrew it in the mid-1970s. The key thing is that the batteries are not an independent generator; they had to have pumping energy, cheap pumping energy to get the water to the hill or to let it run down. They were relying on nuclear for that and the cost of nuclear went up to where it was not cost effective. It is not as if the proposal was welcomed, there was a lot of apposition to it.

JM:You were with BLEC from 1970 to 1973?

BM: Yes and part time beyond that, but basically I was full time for about 3 years.

JM:Then you eventually went on to the Salisbury Planning & Zoning. You were on that for 20 years.

Why did you join that board?


BM:Well that was sort of extracurricular. The people involved with BLEC were also interested in activities in Salisbury. Although the water proposal was not in Salisbury itself, it would affect Salisbury. They got me into zoning as well. I was an alternate initially and then I was chairman for 10 years (1983-1993).

JM:Were you elected or appointed?

BM:I was elected only as an alternate.

JM:At the time, how many members were on the board, do you remember?

BM:There were 5 members on the board and 2 alternates. Basically you wanted to have 5 voting members.

JM:What does the P & Z actually do?

BM:The P & Z administers the zoning regulations. It is a combined planning and zoning commission. The zoning sets out or divides the town into zones, commercial or residential of various types and industrial so things are not so intermingled as to disrupt the residents. There are specifics about the size of the lots you can use, setbacks from boundaries, street requirements, and things like that. Planning goes along with zoning: it is mainly the subdivision regulations. As the town was developed, individual developers would come in with a proposal for say a 10 lot subdivision. The duty of the P & Z was to make sure that complied with the subdivision regulations which complement the zoning regulations. This is to make sure that it is done in a safe way.

JM:Like Chatfield Hill where I live would be an example.

BM:I think it did come in, but I am not sure if I was there then or not. Over time the regulations got more precise and stringent; some things which were allowed early on were later on were discouraged or prohibited. I am not sure I recall any problems with Chatfield.

JM:No there were 18 lots. It was a Valentine and McKernon sub division. The 15 houses are very happy and we are a public water company.

BM:Do you have wells?

JM:We have a well that supplies all the houses. I ran that water company for nine years.

Now I have not heard of the Salisbury Park and Forest Commission. You got on that in 1973.

BM:That was another extracurricular activity. The town has over the years accumulated a number of parks. I think there are 16 or 17. They vary from postage stamp sized park such as the one next to the old bank the Salisbury Bank & Trust Co, (Holley Street where the Holley Block once stood Ed.) across the street from the Holley –Williams House. It became a park and then some of it became a parking lot. It


lost some of its value as a park. There are those that small and some are quite large like the Scoville property called Turnip Top which is 50 or 60 acres.

JM:Where is that one?

BM:It is at the intersection of Taconic Road and Route 44. It is on the north side of Route 44 and goes almost up to Salisbury School.

JM:What does this commission do?

BM:It is supposed to inspect the parks, monitor them and make sure that they are not misused which can happen. On the Scoville property there was a lean-to at the top of the hill which we found during one inspection had been burnt down. Nobody was there it do anything about it

Some of the other parks include Wack Forest (|Route 112 near Lime Rock) which I think is 30 or 40 acres. I have not been on this commission for a while (1973 -2014 Ed.). It was pretty inactive. In the early days when Ben Belcher (See tape #36A/B, Ben Belcher) and a couple of others with the selectmen went out to inspect it, it had a cabin which the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts used.

Another park which has its own oversight committee is the Grove by the lake. There is a Grove Committee that takes care of that. By and large park lands were donated by residents for the benefit of the town.

There is a park right up the hill from the Town Hall Washinee Park. One thing about having all these parks and open land has allowed nature to manage itself. The invasive vegetation has come in and really over whelmed some of the native vegetation. Washinee Park is a great example of that. A number of people led by Tom Zetterstrom have pressed the town to clean it up. A lot of emphasis was taken to clean it up. (Hotchkiss students help with this as a community service project Ed.) There were a lot of plantings done in the park. (Mrs. Lois Church Warner and her gardener put in several special trees and shrubs during the late 1940s. It is the oldest town park as the first acre of land right behind the Old Burial Ground was donated in Dec. 23, 1910, by George Coffing Warner. Ed.) Those planting were released from the invasive plants so now instead of being all over grown; it is a nicely landscaped park with various trees and shrubs that were allowed to come back.

JM:My concern because I inspect all the town cemeteries is the over grown pine trees. If they fall, there is going to be a problem.

BM:People are aware of that. Curtis Rand has been urged to take them down. He said that they will take them down. He hasn’t done it yet. It is something that needs to be done because some tree is going to come down and smash up the stones.

JM:I have been on his case about that for 4 years. That is something he knows about.

BM:It should be done; you would have to bring in some equipment.4.

JM:It is going to be expensive because they will have to have a cherry picker, a climber and take it down piece by piece. It can be done.

BM:It is a hassle and an expense, but people will be fairly upset if stones are broken.

JM:If a tree came down and hit one of the Coffing monuments that are in the back, the big one that would be a real tragedy. That is a very valuable monument.

BM:A lot of times some calamity happens which could have been prevented.

JM:I would prefer to be pro-active on that one.

BM:Keep at him.

JM: IN 2008 you went on the Salisbury Affordable Housing Advisory Committee.

BM:That was a committee that was set up to document the needs and possibilities for affordable housing. Affordable housing basically means housing that working families can afford. This is so people who are working in town can also live in town. We have a lot of people in various businesses that come in from outlying area. The same is true of teachers: there are relatively few local ones now. It is not healthy. In a lot of the towns activities are volunteer activities: all kinds of people like the fire department, the ambulance. We need to have those people available who are concerned about ”their” town. Affordable housing is most important.

JM:What would you say is the median cost of working people? George Massey said that the median income was $60,000. I felt that was high.

BM:In a lot of families there are two earners today. That is relatively new. $50,000 is not that much anymore because of inflation. When I graduated from college in 1960 $5,000 was a lot of money as an opening salary. Now you expect a living wage.

JM:For affordable housing we have East Meadow, Faith Housing, and Sarum Village: Habitat for Humanity has built houses. We have affordable housing that Inge Dunham’s husband started. See file #81, Inge Dunham)

BM:That is the Housing Trust.

JM:Are there plans for more affordable housing?

BM:The affordable housing efforts were started back in the 1970s with Village Housing down on Fowler Street. East Meadow is also purchased housing.

There were other efforts; the major one was Sarum Village which Ben Belcher (See Tape #36 A/B, Ben Belcher) really was tenacious worker on that in arranging for the funding with a 50 year mortgage from the government. That is rental. It is a combination of rental housing and subsidized rental housing.


Sarum Village is up beyond the White Hart on route 41 and Cobble road. (See file #36, cycle 2, Anne Kremer)

There is a low cost housing purchase as that is the way the Housing Trust doe. The Housing Trust will keep ownership of the land but sell the house. By taking the land out of the equation, it is easier and cheaper to buy a house. If someone wants to leave it, they can’t sell it for full market value. That keeps the price down. They do those one at a time. Now there is a cluster of them. Dunham Lane is off Route 44.

{Habitat for Humanity does the same thing. See file #33, cycle 3, George Massey Ed.}

There were a couple of false starts. There was a house up on 130 Undermountain Road, Lavender Lovell’s house that had 4 apartments in it. It is right near the Appalachian Trail which passes through that property. So the government ended up buying it. They had no use for the building so they transferred it to the town in exchange for a town park up on Barack Matiff. That added to the trail corridor. The town was then going to fix up the building and have 4 apartments in it. They wanted to get state aid; the state came in and said that it would cost you $100,000 for each apartment. So the town just walked away from it and sold the property.

JM:I had done Norm Sills on the Appalachian Trail and he talked about having his office in that building. (See file #35, Norm Sills)

You were one of the co-founders of the Salisbury Land Trust.

BM: I guess so.

JM: Who else was involved in that?

BM:There were a number of people who worked on that: Gus Pope was the real instigator; Doris Walker was very much involved: and Mitch Finlay was President of the Salisbury Association. We had to have a home, so to speak, so he agreed to have the Land Trust as a committee of the Salisbury Association so they did not have to get their own tax exemption. Also there were other people Ed MacDonald was involved. He was a wonderful guy. The interesting things was that both Gus Pope and Doris Walker not only was interested in creating a Land Trust, but they were also interested providing land for the Land Trust and putting on a conservation easement on Trust land. They got the thing underway from a practical point of view. There were relatively few Land Trusts at that point in the early 1970s. The Nature Conservancy had started up in the 1960s. They were encouraging towns to create their own land trusts. There were conferences. We had meeting with people who had already done it. We learned from their mistakes. We attended conferences. It took a couple of years but in the late 1970s both Gus Pope and Doris Walker made their gifts to the Land Trust and got it underway. Those gifts were sent through the Nature Conservancy because they were an experienced organization: their tax and legal issues were handled properly. The agreement was that they would take the property and convey it to us the Land Trust once it was all squared away. Then we just started accumulating these


and now there are about 60 properties that have conservation easements on them. There are about half a dozen properties that are owned outright by the Salisbury Association, Land Trust.

JM:George Massey did Dark Hollow, Tory Hill, Red Mountain, and Sycamore Field. Those are the ones that he specified in his oral history (See File #33, cycle3, George Massey)

BM:That’s about it. There is the Schlesinger Preserve which is a donation.

JM:Where is that one?

BM:It is on Scoville Ore Mine road off Route 41. There are a couple of little plots. There is one that I know of, one of the other side of the lake, but I can’t remember the name. There are about 3,000 acres of land which is protected by the Association.

JM:Tell me about the Accreditation process which was arduous.

BM:Yeah! Land Trust had quite an important serious legal responsibility. When they acquire land, one thing is to make sure that all is properly legal. There is an inducement for people to give easements and to give land for the tax deduction. Some people are really looking at the tax deduction and the land is incidental thing. The government wants to make sure that the tax deduction applies to land that is indeed valuable for environmental or scenic point of view. The Land Trust has to make sure that the system accepts only defensible property. The Association takes on the responsibility of its own because the Land Trust operating through the Salisbury Association had a tax exemption which it needs to protect. The land donor has a tax deduction that he/she wants: they want to make sure that that is valid. Then the third part is that once you have accepted the donation, the Land Trust has the responsibility to make sure that the land is properly maintained and managed. If it is an easement the ownership remains with the landowner, it is just that the land is under restrictions. There are certain things that cannot be done with the land to protect the conservation of it. The enforcement of that is up to the Land Trust with the cooperation of the landowner. It is a perpetual responsibility. The concept of perpetual is a bit amorphous. Perpetual could means we are 20 minutes away from impact of some nuclear catastrophe or it could mean forever, assuming it is a peaceful world. That is a significant responsibility. The Land Trust has to build its resources; it has to be able to administer. It has to have people on the Land Trust need donations to support it. All these properties have restrictions are basically for the public benefit. A fair number of them have public access. Although there is a public benefit attached, there is a cost which is significant. It needs support.

*“BM:The Salisbury Association has made a big effort over the last several years to improve and develop the standards of the main programs as a land conservation and local history organization.

“In 2017 the Salisbury Association and the Land Trust earned accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA), a national organization supported by over1100 local and regional land trusts. LTA accreditation recognizes land trusts that meet national quality standards on governance, ethics, and capability to


permanently protect important natural lands. The accreditation process took three years of effort upgrading policies, practices, records, and management plans to meet current LTA standards.

“During the same period the Salisbury Association Historical Society (SAHS) upgraded its programs by participating in the Standards and Excellence Program for Connecticut History Organizations. (STEPsCT) That 2 year effort assisted SAHS to improve and update its policies and procedures regarding local history collections, stewardship, and interpretations. The STEPsCT program is support4d by Connecticut Humanities and the Connecticut League of History Organizations.”

*Addendum to be included by Bill for this part of the interview written May 8, 2018.

JM:When we talked before you mentioned something about a committee to buy John Krom Rudd’s house, Holleywood (See Tape # 15 A/B, John Rudd)

BM:There was a proposal that Holleywood, which was in the Rudd family and the Holley family, be bought by the town. It is a historic property on an extraordinary site with frontage on the lake. The Salisbury Association has three main levels: Land Trust, Historical Society, and Civic Committee that does public events like the 4th of July at the Grove. On the history side the Salisbury Association was given the Holley-Williams House back in the early 1970s and tried to administer it as a historic house. They did so from 1970s to 2010. It was sold in 2010, but it was close in 2007. It was a huge financial drain. It focused on the Holley family which had lived in that house for many generations. The Holley family represents only a portion of Salisbury history. It was difficult to gain the necessary support financially. It was hard to get people to join and helping out with the management of the property and its programs. Finally it was talked about to dispose of it one way or another. In 2006 we created a task force to study the whole subject of what the historical activities of the Salisbury Association would be and what role the Holley-Williams house would play. It confirmed the fears and concerns, but did it in a very rational way because when you donate something to a charity, the duty of the receiver is to see that the property is administered in accordance with the donor’s wishes. The enforcer of that is the State Attorney General. We had to bring in the Attorney General’s office in, we had to get approval by the Probate Court to determine the intent of the will and how rigid that intend was.

JM:Then if you disposed of the Holley-Williams house, why would there be any interest in obtaining Holleywood, another money pit?

BM:That is what I am getting at. As we went through this process we were analyzing the duties we had in the notion to have this other layer proposed to assume another building. We dismissed the proposal. We are not going to do that.

Let me stay with the Holley-Williams House. That was a major effort. The way we resolved it was, we are not alone in this problem. There was a huge article in the New York Times about how this is happening across this country with historical homes that charities have had to discard. The societies that were holding them just had to let them go as they could not manage them financially. We arranged for an organization called Historic New England which formerly was called the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities. They shortened their name. They had a program called “Stewardship” where they would take over the property and the responsibility for protecting the property from a historical point of view, leaving it in the hands of the private owner, but overseeing their use of the property so that the historic features would be protected. We negotiated with them to donate to them a historic preservation restriction which was endowed with. We had to pay 6-8 thousand dollars to them for perpetual protection of the Holley-Williams House. Then we got the approval of the Attorney General’s Office and that of the Probate Court to dispose of the property, subject to those restrictions. They will stay regardless of who owns it in the future. It is called protection without owning so to speak. It made a lot of sense. It opened up the possibility for the historical society to consider lots of other aspects of local history. I think it has worked well.

JM:Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview before we close?

BM:Did we do all the questions?

JM:I picked the ones that I was particularly interested in.

BM:I guess I took care of the Holley-Williams House. With Holleywood, fortunately that property was sold to people who realized the historic value of it and put a lot of money into it (Donald & Helen Ross Ed.) They restored the building. That has worked out all by itself without the town getting involved. We made a proposal in our committee that there be a historic preservation restriction on it and the view shed should also be protected. To some extent that was done.

One other little thing I want to add. I along with Bob Estabrook (See tape #76 A/B, Bob Estabrook) was a perambulator. A perambulator is a historic job that was designed to make sure that fences were in good condition and that people kept their sheep on their own land. We had to inspect the boundaries of the town. We did this because we wanted to. The boundaries were mostly in the woods and valleys so it was an opportunity to go hiking. I was on it for about 20 years; Bob probably did it for 30 years. We had a lot of fun. In fact at one point a writer for the New York Times heard about it and he interviewed us. He made a very humorous story for the paper back in the 1990s. We took him around to inspect the monuments. Salisbury is the far northwest corner; we have boundaries north by the state of Massachusetts and to the west by New York State. On the south and east we are bounded by other Connecticut towns. Along the state boundaries are monuments in place: we had to check on them. Most of the monuments were put in around 1905 or 1910.The most interesting monument is the Tri-State Monument which is a trail from Mt. Riga Road in to that marker. I have a picture of a young friend standing on top of it. It is very near the highest point in the state.

JM:Thank you so much.