If you drive along Route 66 in Huntington and turn onto Searle Road, then left on Cullen Hill Road, you will pass by the restored North Hall on the right. Continue on Cullen Hill as it turns into a discontinued road, and you will be surrounded by what will soon be Hilltown Land Trust’s newest Conservation Restriction land: the Norwich Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. Much of the 50 acres is maturing second growth forest of mixed hardwoods and groves of conifers. The upper portion has 10 or more acres of open ﬁelds, faithfully mowed every year. The southern boundary runs along Pond Brook for over a quarter mile. Multiple small drainages cross the site, tributaries of either Pond Brook or the East Branch of the Westﬁeld River. The Norwich Hill Sanctuary abuts a large Hull Forestland tract, which in turn abuts the Army Corps of Engineer’s lands of Knightville Dam and Reservation, greatly extending the greenway below Chesterﬁeld Gorge and increasing viable wildlife habitat. The open ﬁelds preserve a rare opening in the vast Knightville area forest.
The Sanctuary is ecologically valuable land to protect. The entire property is classiﬁed as prime forest land, as well as Biomap II supporting natural landscape, and Living Waters critical supporting watershed land. The property has a typical Hilltown history but with an unusual touch. Ruth Pardoe has chronicled some of this history:
Norwich Hill Wildlife Sanctuary
The Sanctuary was once part of a 160 acre farm, which ﬁrst appears in the records (Forbes Library) of 1799, owned by a Lyman, who built the farmhouse which still stands—though renovated many times. One of the names appearing in the deed in the 19th century was that of Moses Hannum, who leased a quarter-acre from the owners, probably to expand the Hannum Mill. The mill produced axes and was on Pond Brook where Route 66 meets Searle Road today. In 1948, Gerald Hayes bought the farm from a family named Giroux. Evidently during this time there was a ski place—the Black Panther Ski Trails—in what is now the Knightville area. One year Farmer Hayes’ livestock were in the farm’s meadows for the summer, but they escaped and traveled the ski trails to the bottom of the town where they were found and returned.
In 1968, Mr Hayes sold the farm to Ernest and Lynnea Whitten, who kept up the farm and ﬁelds but did not farm it. Later, Mr Whitten sold all but the 50 acres that is now the Norwich Hill Sanctuary. Lynnea Whitten kept the farm, but worried what would happen to it in the future. The farm’s transition to conserved land was accomplished by the owner and a committed group of friends, who were determined to keep the land from further development. This group formed a non-proﬁt corporation in 1997, taking over the ownership of the parcel and naming it the Norwich Hill Wildlife Sanctuary. They have been working with Hilltown Land Trust since then to secure the conservation restriction for permanent preservation. We expect the Conservation Restriction to be ﬁnalized in the near future.