The 7 1/2 acre property, located at 66 Brook Road, abutting almost 600 acres of the Joe English Conservation land, was purchased by the Town of Amherst from Eleanor Bacon in July, 1997. The purchase was approved by the voters at the 1997 Town Meeting, upon recommendation by the Conservation Commission. The purchase was funded with money from the ACC, a Bean grant of $30,000, and donations, both large and small, from groups, organizations, and private individuals in town.
Looking down Brook Road, toward the house and sawyer’s cabin in 1948
Chuck Bacon had purchased the property in 1948. Chuck continued the property name, Peabody Mill, after the historic mill whose foundations can still be seen on the property. He was a history teacher at schools in both Connecticut and Maine during his career, and his research of the property history was completed in 1981.According to Chuck, the land had its genesis as private property when Samuel Lamson, one of the first two settlers of Amherst and progenitor of the Mont Vernon family, drew it as Lot 101 in the third division of lots on Feb. 8, 1748/49. The first sawmill was erected on the property in 1809. The sawyer’s cottage, its main room still stands as the small Red House near the pond, was erected in 1845. The small attic in the Red House was the bedroom for the four children of the last sawyer’s family. The Bacons obtained old turn-of-the-century pictures from one of those children. Some of these pictures are here today. Charles Peabody acquired the property and mill in 1888 and it is his name that stuck. The mill ceased operation about 1920.Leonard Reid, a bachelor, acquired the property in 1924 and lived in the sawyer’s cottage until his death in the 1940’s. Chuck writes, “He was on state welfare and loved sardines. He just tossed the empties out the door, and as he aged, his throw weakened. I’m told he used to drive around well sloshed in his horse and buggy, and neighbors who noticed him in that condition would just turn the horse around and the animal would take him home.”
The Peabody Sawmill when in operation
For many years Joe English Reservation served as a venue for educational and other outdoor activities, but only since the acquisition of the Bacon house and lot have its educational functions begun to be formalized. In that year (1997) the Peabody Mill Environmental Center was established as an arm of the Amherst Conservation Commission. Probably its most visible activity was the annual Hartshorn Summer Camp, at which hundreds of Amherst children have broadened their understanding of, and interest in, the waters, woodlands and wildlife around them.
In 2001 PMEC became a Town Department with its own budget, Director and Advisory Board. In 2008, the Peabody Mill Environmental Center became part of the Amherst Recreation Department.
The need for expanded facilities, apparent from the beginning, is being met by new construction that has expanded the available space to about 6000 square feet. The addition opened in 2008 and has allowed consolidation of teaching activities that had previously been dispersed among several makeshift spaces outside the building.
Next time you are looking for a place to escape the hectic noisy world and unwind, we invite you to come sit by the pond at the Peabody Mill Environmental Center and listen to the birds and the babbling brook. The tranquility will recharge your batteries!!