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Town Purchases, Preserves CT Tobacco Farm Where MLK Jr. Worked


Monday, October 18, 2021   

SIMSBURY, Conn. - A northern Connecticut town now owns a former tobacco farm where Martin Luther King Jr. spent some of his teenage years.

More than 75 years ago, the 288 acre Meadowood property in Simsbury partnered with Atlanta's Morehouse College to send students to work on the farm to pay tuition. MLK later described it as an early moment where he had "an inescapable urge to serve society."

Through a ballot measure in May, Simsbury residents overwhelmingly voted to purchase and preserve the land. Already partially lost to subdivision, Simsbury First Selectman Eric Wellman said the town hopes to tell the whole history of Meadowood.

"His time in Simsbury helped inform some of the modern civil rights movement," said Wellman. "And this project makes sense whether you're interested in historic preservation or the environment, or even preserving agriculture in Connecticut."

Through grant funding and support from The Trust for Public Land and Connecticut's Historic Preservation Office, Simsbury was able to purchase the land for $2.5 million. One hundred and forty acres will be preserved as recreational open space, with 116 acres for agriculture.

Simsbury has also received a $400,000 grant to preserve and rehabilitate some of the large tobacco barns on the property. Catherine Labadia, staff archaeologist at the State Historic Preservation Office, said it's critical to preserve spaces like Meadowood that are rich with African American history.

"When you have a place like this, where you can touch the past, I think it makes you have a different sense of how the past touches us, how we connect to it," said Labadia. "Who we were, where we've been, how we've come along."

Only 2% of sites on the National Register of Historic Places focus on Black Americans. Simsbury leaders say they'll work with residents on what they'd like to see for Meadowood's future.

They also want to apply for the property to become part of the Connecticut Freedom Trail, which celebrates the state's African American legacy.

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