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History Unfolded At The Crest Of Castle Hill

To the Editor:

I just learned the former Gretsch property, located on the crest of Castle Hill overlooking Newtown’s iconic flagpole, is the focus of a plan to develop more housing.  I also learned there is a group of dedicated people who value this property for its beauty and its historical and environmental significance.  This group, working to preserve Newtown’s Castle Hill, has my support.

I want to share why it is so important this property be preserved.  Our family lived there for 30 years as caretakers. My parents moved us there in 1961, staying until the late 80’s, caring for the land and the buildings even as the property transitioned from the Gretsches to the Bridgeport Diocese.

There is a historical importance to this property that should be honored and developed as an educational opportunity.  We know there were military exercises here for the War of 1812. We found colonial coins we were sure were dropped by the soldiers who drilled there.  We found evidence of human activity predating colonials.  Native American pottery, projectile points and tools were found in the fields and tucked away in rock outcroppings in the woods. The beautiful barn on the property also offered history lessons.  We removed newspaper insulating the pipes and were rewarded with a time capsule of WWI news and adverting that encouraged us to wonder.

There is a limitless natural beauty to this property as well, which has been enjoyed by generations of Newtown youth.  The Gretsch family generously made their property available. The Scout Cabin, located near Reservoir Road, hosted many troop campouts, for both Boy Scouts in the 60’s and Girl Scouts in the 70’s.  The Indian Guides also used that space.  4H groups planted fields of seedlings which were cut and sold a few years later as Christmas tree fundraisers for the Newtown Ambulance Corp.  Polly Brody set up a place with her young daughter to observe the broad sky, searching for migratory hawks.  This kind of use speaks to the educational value of this land.  All of these people saw this property as a perfect venue for imparting the lessons forests, fields and wildlife could offer.

Our parents encouraged us to “go outside and play” every day.  All day.  And we did.  There was always a new meadow to explore, a vernal pool to poke, and woods to enjoy.  We were rewarded.  Box turtles discovered. Translucent masses of frog eggs peered into.  The spring song of peepers. Spotted salamanders admired.  Lady slippers in bloom. Baby raccoons raised.  Butterflies caught.  Rainbows arcing over church steeples. The patience of fishing mastered.  The echo of lake ice cracking. Animal tracks in the snow. All of it inspiring curiosity and wonder and the desire to learn more.

I have many fond memories of exploring, observing and learning about the natural world because of this space.  It would be wonderful to know this space could be forever saved and made accessible for generations of curious children, nurturing families and lovers of wild spaces.

Cheryl A. Hensel

82 Wilson Street, Fairfield                      March 8, 2013

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