Historic Chappaquiddick Farm Preserved in Unique Partnership


The preservation of a historic farmstead, a new partnership between two respected conservation organizations and affordable housing were all tied together in a single package this week when the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank and the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust announced that they will join forces to buy the Chappaquiddick property formerly owned by Ruth Marshall and the late Robert Marshall.

The purchase marks the first-ever joint venture between the preservation trust and the land bank.

"I hope we can see more of this - I think that in many ways the trust and the land bank are natural partners, and it is a pleasure working with them," said Chris Scott, executive director of the preservation trust.

The total purchase price is $2,225,000; the property includes 43 acres and a farmhouse. The property is owned by Ruth Marshall, with Bob Fynbo and Bruce Woodger as trustees.

The land bank will pay the Marshall family $2,197,675, and the trust will pay $52,325 for one acre and the farmhouse (a proration of the total price). The land bank will place an agricultural preservation restriction on all the land save the one-acre building envelope and the farmhouse. The trust will remove most of the sprawling farm buildings and a portion of the house, and will then restore the center portion of the house to its original character. The center portion of the house is a half Cape that is believed to date to the early 1700s. Research is still under way on the history of the house, but the presence of gunstock posts helps to date the house, according to Mr. Scott.

"It's a disappearing building type - we are concerned that these old farmsteads are very much endangered," he said.

Once the house is restored, the trust plans to find a tenant who will agree to live in the house and raise a small flock of chickens or perrform some similar, low-key agricultural activity. Mr. Scott said the trust will look for a tenant who wants to sell eggs or flowers, and the rent on the house will be below the market rate.

The land bank plans to restore much of the land to its original grassland condition, which will expose the house in its rural roadside setting. The property includes rolling grassland and

woodland, a stand of beech trees

and two small ponds.

The Marshall property is directly across the road from Brine's Pond Preserve, which is also owned by the land bank.

"The land itself is pastoral and very quiet. It fits ideally into the cross-Chappy trail. It's the sort of property we know and it reminds me of walking along the Mohawk Trail," said land bank executive director James Lengyel.

"Bob and Ruth loved Chappy and this is pretty much the heirs' way of being able to pay tribute to that," said Mr. Fynbo, a Chappaquiddick resident who is a trustee and Marshall heir. "We were originally approached by the Chappy open space committee, which got the ball rolling on this - they were instrumental in getting the talks started. Every house Bob [Marshall] built, he did it with a bent toward conservation, he only built what was enough for the site - so this fits with that, too," Mr. Fynbo added.

A closing is planned for early June.

The announcement about the sale agreement on the Marshall property was one of a trio of property purchases by the land bank this week - all of them on Chappaquiddick. On Wednesday the land bank closed on a $999,000 purchase of 37 acres of wooded land on the south side of the Chappaquiddick Road, abutting the Brine's Pond Preserve. The sellers are Andreanna Bettencourt, Rebecca Day and William Brine.

The land bank also signed an agreement to buy seven acres south of the Chappaquiddick Road from Richard Ezequelle for $285,000. The Ezequelle land will be linked to other land bank property through a trail easement over land retained by the Bettencourt family.

All told, the three transactions spell the conservation of 87 acres for a total price of $3.53 million.

The land bank is a public agency that buys conservation land using funds from a two per cent transaction fee on most real estate transactions. The preservation trust is a private nonprofit whose mission is centered on preserving historic buildings for active use. Among other things, the trust owns the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs, Alley's General Store in West Tisbury and the Dr. Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown.

Mr. Scott and Mr. Lengyel said the land bank and the preservation trust have discussed joint ventures before, and when the Marshall property project came along, it was a marriage that worked.

"We are not in the business of maintaining large acreages," Mr. Scott said. "And we are not in the business of maintaining houses," Mr. Lengyel said. "The land bank saw the land and knew we wanted it; the land bank saw the house and knew we didn't want it," he added.

Mr. Scott said one key criterion for the trust is that the building must have historic significance, and he said the Marshall farmhouse is a perfect fit. He said in today's real estate market, the buyer who wants 43 acres does not typically want to keep an old farmhouse. "These farmhouses were built for efficiency - they were easy to heat, they were located close to the road, the owners didn't build more space than they needed," he said.

"We worked to do this in a low-key way," Mr. Scott added. "The idea was, wouldn't it be nice to be on Chappy and be able to stop and get a dozen eggs?"

Mr. Lengyel concluded: "The whole thing just nestles together."

Mr. Scott said Bruce Fowle, an architect who lives in Manhattan and on Chappaquiddick, is assisting with the architectural portion of the renovation at no charge.

Because of the configuration of the Marshall property, the land bank will now also own the entrance to North Neck Road.

The Bettencourt-Day-Brine property is located south of the old Whale Jaw Farm on Chappy and was used in recent years as a hunting preserve, creating an interesting landscape of tree canopy and open understory. The property also includes an old sand and stump pit.

The three property purchases bring the total holdings by the land bank on Chappaquiddick to 380 acres in five separate properties, at a total cost of $11.4 million. Brine's Pond, purchased in 1988, was the first land bank property on Chappy.

Mr. Lengyel said an unspoiled natural landscape and a solid conservation ethic among landowners have combined to make Chappaquiddick a natural fit for the land bank.

"Chappaquiddick is a very compatible environment for the land bank - the land is beautiful, the sellers are conservation-minded, and there is an open space committee there that is always looking for property to conserve. It's hard to find a place on Martha's Vineyard where everything coalesces so nicely," he said.