Article by Sebastian LaMontagne
“You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl” says Thelma Nye Pilgrim as we walk across the open field behind her homestead in Plainfield.
Thelma has lived in Springfield Massachusetts, Hartford and Wallingford in Connecticut, and even Florida over the years. But there was a part of her that always belonged here, where she grew up.
Thelma has been giving me a tour of her scenic property. And I can see why she loves this place so much. The fields and forest here have a pleasant languidness to them. The only sound is the singing of birds, the buzz of insects, and a gentle wind rustling the leaves on the trees.
Thelma recently gifted the Franklin Land Trust 86 acres. Her connection to this land runs deep. Thelma’s family history traces back to Benjamin Nye, who arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1635 on the ship Abigail. She grew up here, where her parents cultivated potatoes and harvested wood for heating. “I’d say it was just about 1900 when my father [Clayton Nye] moved in to this place” says Thelma “When we redid the house I found in the old plaster a heart, and it said C.M. Nye 10 10 07, and I figured it was October 10th 1907. And he would have been about 16 or 17.”
Thelma says the family cobbled together various sources of revenue, and always had multiple plates spinning.
“We had a small family farm and a little raw milk route around town. Eighteen to twenty quarts a day. I’d help daddy out. The Dyers up in the center took about four quarts a day. Let me tell you, a lot of people then didn’t have money. You did what you could.”
In 1987, Thelma and her late husband, James, purchased the farm from her parents, nurturing it over the years. The property is a quintessential New England style homestead. It boasts diverse landscapes, including forests, fields, and a meandering stream. Old woods roads and landings along Bluff Street are remnants of her father’s tree harvesting in the late 1970s. The unnamed tributary that runs through the property flows into Mill Brook, a designated cold-water fisheries resource. This stream is flanked by wetlands that burst to life with spring ephemerals and other herbaceous species. Beavers have also made their presence felt in the southern portion of the stream.
The property’s ecological significance extends to its role in the broader conservation landscape. The property is in a region of significant conserved lands including Audubon’s West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary to the northwest and several APRs to the east and north.
As a girl, Thelma loved the wildlife here. There is a large beaver pond on the property, and Thelma used to feed the beavers slices of apple. She never hand fed them, she knew better than that, but they would come right up out of the water to eat the apples off the grass. “Once I went up to see dad milking the cows, and he said ‘I want to show you something but I don’t want you to get scared or anything because there’s no need to be.’ So he pointed to this tiny thing up on the rafters hanging there. And it was a little bat!”
Thelma pauses for a moment, thinking. “I think I saw one the other night, it was too late for it to be a bird. But you know, there’s not as much wildlife here as there used
to be. So I want to save whatever I can, and give them at least a little opportunity to continue.”
Keep an eye on this website for the official opening of the new Conservation Area in the spring of 2024, when the property will be made accessible to the public for passive recreational activities, such as hiking and birdwatching.
By donating this land, which has been a part of her life since childhood, Thelma is sharing something truly special with the community, the chance to experience the beauty and tranquility that she has found here.