The Dziedzic Family Preserve was donated to the Barrington Land Conservation Trust in September 2023. The property is not yet open to the public as trails are now being mapped and constructed. We expect to open the trails to the public by the summer of 2024. The following story appeared first in the Barrington Times.
More than 100 years ago, Joseph Dziedzic purchased several acres of undeveloped land off Sowams Road, at a time when this part of Barrington had few houses and plenty of farmland. Joseph grew potatoes and corn there for his family. He walked his milking cow over to the Sowams property from their house on Commonwealth Avenue so she could munch on the clover that grew abundantly in the field.
A century later, Joseph’s grandchildren have transformed their childhood playground into a gift that will live on in perpetuity: The Dziedzic Family Preserve. In August, they completed the donation of a three-acre parcel of open space to the Barrington Land Conservation Trust, the organization’s largest donation of property since the acquisition of the Vendituoli Farm in 2018, which is now home to the Barrington Farm School.
“This parcel of land has significant value because it is contiguous with the Hampden Greenbelt and offers the potential for trail extensions,” says Ian Donahue, President of the Barrington Land Conservation Trust. “The Dziedzic’s worked hard to make this happen, and we are incredibly grateful.”
Every tree, rock and blade of grass resonates with memories for the Dziedzic family. The property was handed down to their father, Albert, in 1951. Albert and his wife, Josephine, built a small house on the property where they raised eight children: Albert, Joe, Mary, John, Paul, Peter, Tom and Michael.
Michael grew up to become a skilled mason who lived in Warren. In 2018 he acquired the home they all grew up in on Sowams Road, where he loved being surrounded by the fields and woods of his youth.
Michael died in 2022 at the age of 52. His seven siblings came together, led by Mary, the executor of Michael’s estate – and the only daughter – to ensure the natural area adjoining the house would remain forever wild. They subdivided the house from the rest of the property and spent nearly a year going through the steps required to donate the remaining three acres to the Land Trust.
When asked why they donated the land, Paul said it was simple. “Mary told us what to do.”
Joe echoed Paul’s sentiment. “Mary said, we can do this. This is what we’re doing. And now we’ll be able to visit this land because it’s been preserved.”
The oldest child, Albert, remembered playing in the woods when he was a very young boy. “My Mom made me wear a red hat so she could find me,” he recalled. “The ditch was only a foot wide at the time. The land on the other side of the ditch was grass and clover. Big yellow machines came to widen the ditch when I was in elementary school.”
Albert, his brothers and friends would let their imagination run wild in the woods. “We’d play cowboys or army and hide behind the trees.”
Whether walking through the woods, leaning against a tree to read a book, or playing make-believe, this wilderness area became a special place for Albert and his siblings. “I really enjoyed the solitude of the woods.”
“We would always be in the woods exploring,” said Paul. “We put old boats in the stream and floated down it in a heavy rain. We built tree forts. We put up a Tarzan swing. I remember walking behind my father with the plow, picking up potatoes. There was always something to do back there. It was freedom. I didn’t want to stay after school for organized sports. I wanted to go home.”
“I did play school sports because I wanted to get away from all my brothers,” Mary joked. She was a cheerleader and played soccer, field hockey and basketball. She recalls that Barrington was filled with fields growing up because there were so many empty lots, so there was plenty of room to practice sports.
“I absolutely loved where I grew up,” says Joe. “Same as Paul, I always wanted to go home after school. I had a pony from the age of 10 to 16 that I took care of most of the time. Her name was Sheeba. I had minibikes, a go cart. Why wouldn’t I want to go home? And my friends wanted to go home with me.”
Their father, Albert, earned modest wages as a fire fighter for Barrington. He was known for his great home-made pizza, which he learned to make from his colleagues at the fire station. The family also ate a lot of home-grown vegetables. They harvested quahogs at the shore and fished off the Warren railroad trestle. “Probably just a handline,” said Joe. “He couldn’t afford a fishing pole.” Albert also worked many side jobs to support the family. In his spare time, he built or repaired cars, trucks, jeeps, motorcycles and boats in the yard. He and the family took care of many animals including a pony, a pig, chickens, ducks and geese. Their mom, Josephine, was a loving presence and was extremely busy raising eight children. She would sometimes try to sneak off into the field with a book and a blanket.
Yet now, the couple who raised eight children in a humble house in the woods will be forever remembered through their children’s donation of the Dziedzic Family Preserve.
The Barrington Land Conservation Trust is working on a plan to create trails and make the property open to the public. If you’re interested in volunteering or helping the Land Trust to bring this project to fruition, email email@example.com.
Mary’s advice to others seeking to preserve family land through a donation to a land trust is simple: Subdivide the house from the property beforehand, and make sure the person has a will in place.
“You’d be surprised by how many people don’t have a will, even people with significant estates,” said Mary’s husband, Joe D’Arrigo. “It’s also important to hire professionals who know what they’re doing. Don’t just hire anybody – hire someone who knows how to handle land donations.”
Mary hired real estate attorney Jim Belliveau, who helped them navigate the twists and turns of subdividing their property, selling the house, and donating the remainder to the Land Trust. Mary’s daughter, Laura Fortin, played an important part as well. As a realtor, she managed the sale of the house and worked closely with the buyers’ realtor on the subdivision plan, executing the purchase and sales agreement according to Belliveau’s instructions. Real estate attorney Steve Boyajian, chair of the Land Trust’s Acquisition and Planning Committee, served as a liaison between Mary and the Town and to guide her through the donation process. It took nearly a year, but the end result was worth it.
“I get emotional when I think about it,” says Mary. “This is where we grew up. We had the freedom to be outside, which has stuck with me. I love to go to the mountains and hike. I love to rock climb. Just being outdoors gives me the sense of freedom, and that’s because of where we grew up. These days, everything’s so built up. I wanted something saved. If we could save our playground and leave it for other people to enjoy as well, I thought we should do it. It’s important to have open space in the middle of all this development and houses. Being outdoors is part of who I need to be, part of who I am.”