BEACON FALLS — Take a trip to Matthies Park. Smell the pines, see the landscape, dip a toe in the water. Then sit on the cement bridge that faces the small island in the middle of the pond with a house perched on it. This house, now weathered, with chipped green paint and trees blocking most of the exterior, once belonged to Bernard H. Matthies — the man who could predict the future of the small town.
Matthies donated 325 acres of land to the town of Beacon Falls in July of 1972. With this donation, he set a few very specific rules. The land would only be used for recreational and educational purposes.
In his letter to the town, he said, “I believe it is a perfect location for a future school and campus to be built. … I hope in connection with the school that access for entrance to and from the school will be separate from the park and recreation areas.” Hence, the split driveway on Back Rimmon Road: the north drive leading to Woodland Regional High School, the south leading to Matthies Park.
Matthies, in addition to the educational requirement, noted that the land shall not be developed within 500 feet of the pond and no hunting shall be allowed on the land nor motor vehicles shall be allowed in the water.
With this mandate, Beacon Falls developed the Parks and Recreation Commission to oversee Matthies Park as well as the other recreation areas in the town. Fast-forward 40 years and the commission is having a difficult time keeping the whole park in shape.
Joe Rodorigo, chairman of the commission, has been working for the past eight years to restore Matthies Park, including the island and house. But the island and house have not gotten much attention in the last few years — much to Rodorigo’s dismay.
“We do what we can with the money allotted,” he said. “But that’s not much to work with. We had to address the settling ponds first.”
Since Carrington Pond is a man-made structure, water needs to actively flow in and out at all times. The two settling ponds bring in that water, while filtering out much of the debris. The settling ponds needed stone work done. The rest of Rodorigo’s budget is split among the other recreational facilities in Beacon Falls and maintaining the rest of Matthies Park. But the island is not usually included in that allocation.
At about the same time Rodorigo began to restore the settling ponds, the town brought an arborist to the house on the island. Pine trees covered the majority of the exterior, which prevented air flow and sunlight from getting to the house. That year, the canopy was raised and the dead trees were chopped — giving the house room to breathe and be seen again. Restoration beyond this point, however, does not seem likely.
“We don’t have winters like we used to,” said Rodorigo. “We were lucky to be able to drive [construction equipment] over the ice that year.”
Since motor vehicles are prohibited on the pond, crossing the ice in the winter is the best option the commission sees. However, recent winters have not given a stable enough cold to cross the ice.
“We should attempt to maintain this property,” said Rodorigo. Unfortunately, restoring the island and the mainland is too far out of the budget.
“It’s difficult to accept volunteers,” he said, despite many groups offering. The house was made with asbestos tiles and lead paint, two substances that are now known to be extremely harmful.
“The intention is to preserve the house for future generations as money and time are allowed,” he said. “We’re going to use the resources as best as we can.”
The other problem with outside funding is the property itself. Technically, Matthies Park is private property, which prevents the commission from applying for state and federal restoration grants. Last year, Rodorigo applied to put Matthies Park on the Historic Registry — a list that would allow the commission to apply for a historic preservation grant.
The commission has not heard back from the state yet.
“If it were up to me, I’d write the check [to preserve the house and property] today,” he said.