Sherman >> Carol Royal hopes her Strawberry Fields will be forever.
The owner of Strawberry Fields Farm, located off Route 55 near to this town’s border with New Milford and New York State, is in the process of selling her property; a main home, a restored barn, other outbuildings, and 13 acres. The property, listed by Irit Granger of William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty, will come on the market immediately after the New Year. The price tag? Around $599,000, which seems quite modest for such an historic, and meticulously refurbished home and vital property.
Strawberry Fields Farm is not the place that Royal, a corporate designer who ran a construction business in Portland, Or., renovating homes for six years prior to moving to the East Coast, first walked into. Royal’s daughter was searching online for bargains and mentioned the farm to her mom. The property, which was in a disturbingly rundown state, was on the auction block as a foreclosure, and Royal was able to purchase it for a song.
“But what I have invested into the home and property made the purchase expensive in the long run,” says Royal, as she sits in a cozy kitchen area on a rainy, chill autumn afternoon. “But I took great pride in restoring the home and property and so many people have come to me and said they admired what I did because this is an historic home. It was built in 1775, and George Washington, while he didn’t sleep here, must have rode by on his way to meet with Rochambeau in New York because it is noted on his mapmaker’s chart of the area.” The two-story home has nine rooms in the main house with 3/4 bedrooms and four baths.
Royal, an accomplished individual who has a degree in European philosophy from the American University in Paris and a Masters in adult education from Rutgers University, began her renovation of the home in earnest starting in 2012. “You needed a hazmat suit to come in the door,” she recalled, “it was in that bad a condition. There was so much stuff to get rid of.”
But slowly, and with the help of skilled builders and artisans, the past glory of the 2,648 square-foot home was revealed once again. It is believed much of the original pieces of the home remain, such as the dark chestnut wide-planked floor, framing, and several fireplaces (one with a beehive oven) and another that is framed by a distinctive wood mantle with fine detail that may well give a clue as to the status of the original occupants. Included in the home are an addition that was built sometime in the 1950s or 1960s, and Royal herself turned other parts of the once rundown structure into living space. She also moved and renovated a barn, where she has hosted dinners, incorporating food from her garden, and also used it as a place to sell organic produce and other products.
As for turning the property back into a working farm, Royal says, “I wasn’t a farmer but I grew up on a gentleman’s farm in the Boston area. There are all kinds of online sources and reference materials available and I just learned while I went along. I decided on growing strawberries (which Granger claims are the best she has ever tasted) because I believe they were grown here when the property was a working farm years ago.” There is an apiary for the bees (honey), a chicken coop (eggs), a lean-to with kiln, a tractor barn/sugar shack (maple syrup) with evaporator on the property. Also included on the property is a 30-by-50-foot seasonal hoop house/greenhouse that is on tracks, allowing it to be easily moved, and a two-car garage. The property is bordered on two sides by the Appalachian Trail and on one side by Naromi Land Trust property.
Royal’s work at Strawberry Fields Farm was certainly a labor of love, and small touches are in evidence everywhere, such as a beautiful, curved corner mural that was uncovered when a closet was town down. She has dressed the home in period furnishings, installed new windows that present a delightful view of the property around the home, brought the original flooring to a dazzling new luster, incorporated original wood beams into the interior of the home, and landscaped the exterior of the home to give it a sedate look and feel. The barn restoration and move was a monumental task that involved the talents of Amish craftsmen, who were brought in by the contractor hired to oversee the project.
Royal’s home is known among local historians as the William Giddings House. Giddings was the great-great-grandfather of Ray and Ted Giddings, well-known Sherman residents. William Giddings settled here near the New York State line, farmed the property, and served as a captain in the Revolutionary War. He was named a deacon in the Sherman Congregational Church in 1805. According to a study of Sherman houses and barns, the Giddings clan prospered on what was then known as Giddings Street. William Giddings and his wife, Lydia, had 12 children, several of whom settled within a short distance of their parents’ farm.
David Giddings occupied the house after the death of his father and continued farming the land, with several other Giddings family members assuming ownership of the property through 1929 when it was sold to a Stephen Bentham. He in turn reportedly sold it five years later to Dorothea Ward, who added a front porch and brought the dwelling back to a “pristine” Colonial appearance. Lionel Williams bought the house in 1945 and sold it to writer Pierre L. Sichel in 1950, who raised a family here and maintained the house until 1984. Sichel loved the home and property so much that he penned a piece for the Sherman Sentinel about his family’s years at the farm.
Unfortunately, the home fell into disrepair in recent years and was taken over by the Federal Home Mortgage Company in December of 2011 when it was purchased by Royal.
“I really can’t manage such a big home and property anymore,” said the current owner when asked why she was selling. “It has been so much fun to bring it back and to farm the property and have people come to buy things. I’d like to see it remain a working farm when a new owner purchases it.”
For information about the property (after Jan. 1) contact Irit Granger at 203-803-3748, or firstname.lastname@example.org.