Judd Meadow: The Land Trust’s first property
by Linda Nietlisbach
In the early 1960s, a concerned group of residents led by Ray Wiswell, came together to discuss the need to preserve Madison’s coastal wetlands that were fast disappearing. The wetlands were being paved over for parking lots, filled and developed, or dredged for marinas at a distressing pace.
On January 30th, 1964 the first meeting of the MLCT was held with nine members present and $194 in its treasury. They got right to work setting up committees, discussing publication of a newsletter and distributing a list of all tidal marshland owners. They quickly began to contact these owners by letter and outlined their plans to conserve these vital wetland areas. By June of that same year they had the first land donation in the works and were rushing to establish non-profit status.
Who was the person who so quickly agreed with the goals of the MLCT and stepped forward to donate its first parcel of wetland? Florence Judd offered the MLCT a one acre piece of the Fence Creek Marsh. At the time it was called “Judd Field.” She purchased it in 1941 in conjunction with her summer home on Middle Beach Road.
Florence was at one time considered one of the richest women in the country, the owner of mansions in three states with her own seat on the NY Stock Exchange. She was educated and well traveled and was extraordinarily independent for the times in which she lived. She was born in 1888 and came from midwestern pioneer stock. Her grandfather was killed in 1864 while working in a Nebraska wheat field by Native American warriors.
Her father in law made a fortune in barbed wire in Texas and her first husband died in Wyoming of an apparent stroke shortly after returning from a hunting trip with “Wild Bill” Cody.
Her second husband was one of the owners of North & Judd of New Britain, one of the oldest manufacturing concerns in Connecticut, which had a factory in New Haven. Presumably this is how she came to visit Madison and later purchase property here.
Her second husband is listed as having contributed $5.00 in 1918 to “Bird Lore,” the Audubon Society magazine devoted to the protection and study of birds. Perhaps she shared his interest in birds and protecting their fragile environments?
For publicity purposes, the MLCT Board members decided to have aerial photographs taken of the Fence Creek marsh, including the area donated by Mrs. Judd. Sherman Griswold, one of the original MLCT members took the photographer, William Baisden up in his plane free of charge. As soon as the Trust received the deed for the Judd property the Board members started discussing donations with other owners of the Fence Creek marshland. Willard P. Redfield soon agreed to donate his land and the MLCT was off and running.
The minutes of July 11, 1964 read: “Now if someone will give us a piece of marshland in the East River area we may find that we can get our project on the road and going somewhere.”
The Trust purchased six acres of salt marsh known as “Bread and Butter Meadow” on the East River Marshes with money from an anonymous group of donors and later twelve more acres in the same area.
This modest beginning has grown to more that 200 acres of marsh in Madison. In 1973, then MLCT President Stephen W. Hitchcock, in discussing the acquisition of a parcel of Connecticut Water Company land along the Hammonnassett River summed up the goals of the Trust eloquently. He stated, “No matter what you believe the future may bring, we have the chance right now to preserve something of the beauty of Madison for all time to come. In the year 2073 some child will walk the bank of the Hammonnassett River, touch a tree grown large from the sapling of today, and wonder who was the person who once cared for Madison.”
We are grateful for those founding members of the MLCT, Florence Gates Judd, and all the others who have given so generously in so many ways to the Madison Land Conservation Trust.