The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank has agreed to purchase one of Chilmark's quintessential homesteads - the Hollis Burton Engley home off Middle Road.
Preserving the nine-acre property has been a goal for the regional land bank and its Chilmark advisory board for years; it includes a homestead dating to 1720, rolling open fields and lush wetlands. The Tiasquam River runs through the property. There are few parcels of land on the Island with so much to offer.
The land bank plan to purchase the property was announced after Chilmark selectmen came out of an executive session Tuesday night. Selectmen had met with land bank executive director James Lengyel, members of the land bank commission, the town's community preservation fund members and the housing committee. Selectmen approved putting two articles on their Oct. 21 special town meeting warrant which will call on voters to approve the purchase of the house and renovate it.
When Hollis Burton Engley, 86, died on Sept. 29, 1999, he left a substantial collection of books and research documents. For years he made a significant contribution to the Vineyard community on a number of environmental and conservation fronts from ticks to Island natural history. His books were made into a special library at the former extension service office in Oak Bluffs.
The land bank is in the process of entering into an agreement with the 14 heirs to purchase the land for $1.5 million in February. Chilmark voters need to agree later this month to have the town purchase the house and three acres for $200,000.
Executive secretary Tim Carroll said once the purchase is complete, the land bank will control two acres with an agricultural preservation restriction. He said a second warrant article on the town meeting warrant calls for spending up to $200,000 to renovate and restore the 18th-century house. "The house will be used for general municipal use, but there is discussion about making it housing in some way," he said.
"It is a very pretty place in its simplicity," said Pam Goff, former Chilmark selectman, land bank commissioner from Chilmark and the current chairman of the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank Commission. "We all think of Burton when we walk through there; it is remindful of his simple life and living," she said.
It is also historic. The house is listed on the town's master plan as a historic site, the 10th-oldest structure in Chilmark. According to that document, the west half of the house is original, circa 1720. Later the east half came from Chappaquonsett. It was a pilot's home and for a time belonged to the whaling captain Benjamin Manter 2nd.
The land is strategic. Mr. Lengyel said it is especially appealing in that it abuts land already protected and in conservation. Brookside Farm is next door with 36 acres of land in an agricultural preservation restriction. "In addition it abuts 41 acres that belong to Sheriff's Meadow Foundation," said Mr. Lengyel. "It nestles very nicely into the existing conservation fabric of the Island."
Mr. Lengyel said he remembers conversations about the property going back to 1998. "It came up primarily because it was a part of a cross-town trail system. Sheriff's Meadow Foundation owns property abutting the land and the King's Highway. There is an agreement to site a trail across Sheriff's Meadow. There will be a direct link between the King's Highway and Middle Road. The property will make an exceptionally scenic hike. Walkers will pass by a pre-Revolutionary house out to Middle Road."
Mr. Lengyel said, "The next challenge will be to try to connect a walk from Middle Road to Waskosim's Rock Sanctuary."
Mr. Lengyel has his own memories of Mr. Engley. "He used to drop by the land bank all the time. He liked to talk about ticks and the natural history of the Island. He had a great love for the Vineyard and it is thrilling to think we can help to preserve his house."
If Chilmark voters do not agree to purchase the house, Mr. Lengyel said, the land bank will still go ahead with the purchase.
This is not the first time that the land bank has entered into a purchase that included a house. Earlier this year, the agency purchased a house belonging to the late Ruth Marshall. The Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust acquired the house and the land bank acquired the land.