Town seeks historic designation for Matthies Park

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

The Matthies house on the island at Carrington Pond inside Matthies Memorial Park in Beacon Falls is shown Aug. 24. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — An effort is underway to get Matthies Memorial Park listed on the State Register of Historic Places, a recognition that could open the door to funding opportunities to help maintain the notable park.

Selectman Michael Krenesky, who is also the town’s historian and president of the Beacon Falls Historical Society, said he’s working on a nomination to submit to the State Historic Preservation Office to consider the park for the historic register. He expects to submit the application by the end of the month.

Stacey Vairo, a circuit rider for Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, said if the preservation office approves the application, it is then voted on by the Historic Preservation Council.

Vairo, who has visited Matthies Memorial Park off Pines Bridge Road, called it a “real treasure for the community.”

“My impression of Matthies Park is that the many sluiceways, bridges and pump houses leading to the concrete lined basin make it a wonderful engineering achievement. It has an interesting history, and also appears to be a fine architectural resource,” Vairo said.

The park used to be a summer retreat for Bernard Matthies, a wealthy Seymour industrialist. Starting in the 1920s, Matthies built the park by consolidating vacation property in Beacon Falls, Oxford and Seymour, and buying land owned by Yale University, Seymour Trust and local farmers, according to a study done in 2012 by FuturePast Preservation for the Parks and Recreation Commission. The land totaled nearly 326 acres when the retreat was complete.

Matthies built a 7-acre pond, called Carrington Pond, fed by a complex system of canals, ducts and baffles, the study states. He built a half-acre island with a one-and-a-half-story frame cottage, where he spent much of his leisure time.

Matthies deeded his 326-acre summer retreat to the town for $150,000 in 1972 for educational and recreational purposes. The price was a fraction of its market value compared to a $1 million offer from a local timber company, the study states.

About 55 acres of the land eventually became the site for Woodland Regional High School, which opened in September 2001.

Krenesky said the town would be eligible for grants available to preserve historic areas if the park gets listed on the state register.

“It opens up the town to go out and solicit grants to help maintain the property,” Krenesky said.

The deed for the land stipulates that the park can only be used for Beacon Falls residents, though it is not strictly enforced. This would have to change for the town to apply for federal or state grants. The park could be open for just 12 days of the year to other residents to qualify, according to Krenesky.

“There may come a point in time to review how important that only-resident status versus being able to maintain this beautiful facility and keeping its appearance as it is,” Krenesky said.

Krenesky said there are areas of the park that need costly maintenance, including the waterways that feed the pond, the damn, the cement wall that holds up the island, and parking lot.

First Selectman Gerard Smith said right now officials are more in a maintenance-and-safety mode when it comes to the park.

“We’re maintaining the park, the walkways and the roads,” Smith said. “We’re keeping it clean for the public to enjoy.”

For now, officials are planning only minimal maintenance for the house on the island. The town has hired local contractor Douglas Bousquet, owner of Doug Nick Construction, to do the work.

Bousquet said the work will include placing plexiglass on the windows — some of which are broken — securing the doors, covering up the chimney and fixing the overhang of the house after a tree fell on the side of the chimney.

“The building is structurally sound,” said Bousquet, who grew up in town and recalled ice skating on Carrington Pond as a child as a fire burned inside the cottage’s fire place.

Bousquet said the work will be done this month. He expects it to take three to four days and cost roughly $7,400.

Beacon Falls Park Ranger Allan Banyacsky said the work is needed to help the house stand up against the elements.

“We want to preserve the house so the house will stand for many more years,” Banyacsky said.