by Gioia Kuss and Clare O’Reilly
The history of Wright Park is similar to the story of Vermont’s land use pattern, beginning with dense forests, then progressing to intensive agriculture use, then to re-growth of forest and dense shrub cover. The mixed land cover presently in the park reflects its agricultural past and historical influences. Although no evidence exists of Abenaki presence, it has been speculated that Abenaki Native Americans inhabited this area, and may have used the current Wright Park land. However, historical documentation does show that the land was used for agriculture for a significant period of time.
The current Wright Park parcel is relatively the same shape and size as it was when Joseph Battell purchased 138 acres of the land, then known as the “Colonel Sumner Farm,” from Lewis Threadway in 1882 (Town Land Records v. 27 p. 131). The area was geographically defined in the deed as follows:
It being the portion of the Col. Sumner Farm, so called; situated on the West side of the Rutland Rail Road and bounded on the North by the South line of the Town of New Haven; East by the Rutland Rail Road; South by lands of James Burns and West by Otter Creek, containing one hundred thirty eight and one half acres of land…
Comparing this description to the actual location and size of the park indicates that the parcel has remained relatively unchanged.
Colonel Sumner Farm
The Colonel Sumner Farm was located in the northwestern corner of the Town of Middlebury, extending between Otter Creek and Route 7. It was owned by Col. William Sumner, who fought in the war of 1812. The first dated occupance of the homestead is 1786, and the farm was occupied by the Sumner family until its sale in 1882 to Joseph Battell (Sheldon Museum Archives).
Battell purchased an additional 6 ½ acres adjacent to the “Colonel Sumner Farm” from William Cota in 1907 to expand the parcel (v.27 p.131). Upon his death in 1916, Joseph Battell left a substantial portion of his real estate to Middlebury College, including the current Wright Park land (v. 38 p. 225-235, 236-239). Middlebury College sold the land in 1917 to Erwin Piper for agricultural use. The Estate of Piper sold 148 acres of the land and farm equipment to Jane C. Nichols, wife of E. Nelson Nichols, in 1941 (v. 47 p. 225). The Nichols’ sold their total land acquisition of 354 acres in Middlebury, Weybridge and Cornwall to Louis Bergevin in 1955, including the exisiting Wright Park area (v. 54 p. 172).
The Bergevin family used the land as a pasture for their dairy farm, although there was no structure on the site. Louis Bergevin sold the approximately 150 acre parcel to D. William Pratt in 1971 (vol. 68 p. 641). Pratt then transferred the land in 1979 to its final owner, Willard Jackson, in three separate parcels (vol. 89 p. 283, 286, 289).
Jackson, in turn, donated the land to the Town of Middlebury in three parcels between 1980 and 1982. The first parcel was 14.6 acres near the town resource park, without accompanying stipulations for use. This allowed the town to sell the land, and use the profit from the sale to develop the park (vol. 90 p. 527). The town later sold the land to the Interfaith Housing Corporation in 1991 for the development of the affordable housing complex known as Pine Meadow Apartments (v. 137 p. 175). The second and third donated parcels were given by Jackson in 1981 and 1982 respectively, creating the 150 acre contiguous park (v. 94 p. 429, v. 100 p. 166). The Board of Selectman at the time of the donation questioned the purpose and usefulness of this donation; however, the donation was still made to the town.
The second stipulation of the deed for all lands acquired by Jackson from Pratt and subsequently donated to the town states:
The above described parcel shall be used by the Town of
Middlebury for recreational and park purposes only. The Town may
construct buildings on said parcel as accessory uses and to further
the recreational and park purposes of this grant (v. 91, p.233).
This stipulation set the precedent for use of the land by the Town and future users. The deed also included an easement for road access and parking (v. 91 p. 233). Jackson also retained the oil, gas and mineral rights for 50 years after the donation was made, so to protect the natural resources.
Wright Park was dedicated in 1982 in the name of Charles Wright, a friend and Middlebury College classmate of Jackson’s and outdoor enthusiast (cite article). Current use of the park follows the stipulation of the deed, and MALT finds continued preservation of the park according to the donor’s wishes to be a high priority.
Will Jackson donated this property to the Town to provide rustic recreation experiences for residents in proximity to the village. While he allowed for the possibility of a westerly Route 7 bypass crossing the property and the water treatment pipe crossing the land, his wishes were that it be kept undeveloped. His desire to maintain several of the viewsheds on the property as well as managing the property for a diversity of species, especially those of birds will be considered in this plan.
Wright Park Trails (Easy access point, Bike and Jog Stroller accessible)
Many variations and a total network of approximately 3.8 miles. Begin either at the Belden Dam area north of the park or at the southem entrance off of Seymour St. in Middlebury. The land that now comprises Wright Park was given to the town of Middlebury in 1982 by Willard T Jackson in honor of his Middlebury College classmate Charles R. Wright. Consisting of about 150 acres, there are three main trails running north/south through the park. The White Circle trail runs next to Otter Creek and past a small bay near a thirty foot cliff, and past a marsh. The White Triangle trail runs along the eastern boundary near railroad tracks, and the TAM/White Square trail goes tnrough the central part of the park. There are several other cross trails that connect to these main trails and form loops. Detailed maps are posted at the north and south entrances for your reference.
For the complete 2004 Wright Park Management Plan, click here. ( 897kb in a .pdf)