Miss Muriel Church moved to Chester with her mother and father in 1914 at the age of eleven. Miss Church became a school teacher in Town, never married, and felt a great bond with all the residents of Chester, even those she had never met. She often referred to Town residents as her family. After living through Chester’s building boom and with no direct heirs to inherit her farm, Miss Church wanted to ensure the protection of her beloved Spring Hill Farm from future subdivision. Eighty-two years after moving to Chester, she decided to donate her entire 400-acre farm, land, farmhouse, barn, and outbuildings to the Town of Chester with the only condition that it remain a working farm and open-space for the Town residents to enjoy.
The Selectmen in office at the time (1996) greatly supported the donation and agreed to reimburse all attorney fees incurred by Miss Church as necessary to allow the donation to proceed. The donation would protect the farm’s scenic beauty and open spaces, and slow the pace of development in Town which would help defer future taxes to the residents. At the signing of the documents, Miss Church said to the Selectmen that she did not want the farm to become a burden to the Town and her wish was for it to be self-sustaining. The Selectmen assured Miss Church that her property would never be a burden, would be well cared for by the Town, and that any cost to the Town or its residents would be minor compared to the significant annual tax savings resulting from the protection of the land from development. The circa 1850’s barn located at the farm also has the historical distinction of being the last barn in Chester to be built through the old tradition of a community “Barn Raising.”
Prior to her death in December of 2001, Miss Church set up a Board of Trustees to oversee the Farm’s activities and a Trust Fund to help defray its daily operational cost. The operations themselves are self-sustaining through the Trust, rental payments, land leases, profit sharing, and the sale of farm-produced products. Tenants of the farmhouse maintain the property as a working farm, make improvements, complete equipment maintenance, and perform minor building/fence repairs. The buildings and property belong to the Town, not the Trust; it was agreed upon in 1996 that the Town would be responsible for building maintenance and the Trust would be responsible for its day-to-day operational cost.
The Selectmen and Miss Church’s actions in 1996 have resulted in savings to the taxpayers of well over $250,000 each year (>$3.5 million over the past 14 years) from the burden on the taxpayers from additional educational and infrastructure costs that would have been incurred if the land had been allowed to be developed. Miss Church’s gift to the Town and her desire to give something back to those she felt were her family should be cherished and embraced. During the 2014 Town Meeting, voters overwhelmingly supported the Warrant Article asking that the Town incur all maintenance costs for the buildings located at Spring Hill Farm.
Property Use – The property has many walking and horse trails for all to enjoy, and we encourage residents to do so. Hunting and fishing are allowed throughout both the Towle Road and Lane Road parcels. Those looking for a quiet place often use the secluded woods, streams, beaver dams, ponds, and fields to enjoy nature’s beauty and solitude. We welcome schools, 4H Groups, Boy & Girl Scouts, etc. to utilize the property for their activities and projects. We are hopeful for the return of horse drawn wagon and sleigh rides. The tapping of maple trees is also allowed with prior Town permission; however, the tenant is currently tapping the maple trees on the property. Trapping is allowed as necessary with prior permission by the Town.
Note: The Trustees would like to remind residents that ATVs and snowmobiles are not allowed to operate on the property, including the trails, except for maintenance purposes. The property remains a working farm so please use discretion when utilizing resources and when near the buildings and pastures. No night hunting is allowed.
Spring Hill Farm Trustees
Chuck Myette, Chairman and Conservation Commission Representative
Richard LeBlanc, Treasurer
Cass Buckley, Selectmen Representative
SHF Minutes 2.15.2017 – Still in draft form
SHF Minutes 1.18.2017 – Still in draft form
SHF Minutes 8.17.2016 – No Meeting
SHF Minutes 7.20.2016 – Still in draft form