Land purchase allows town to preserve muster grounds

LITCHFIELD – The site of the town’s muster grounds will now be permanently preserved.

The town’s Conservation Commission bought the land last month. It is sandwiched between the Merrimack River and the Charles Bancroft Highway.

The muster grounds may be the last such historic gathering area in the state that has not yet been developed, according to Conservation Commission member Joan McKibben.

The commission bought the land for about $135,000, using money from the land conservation fund, which is fueled by the land use change tax.

Commission members contacted the owner after seeing a for-sale sign on the property.

The purchase of the 8.8 acres will help further the commission’s goal of protecting riverfront property from development, McKibben said.

The town and state now own several acres from across the fire station to the library, McKibben said.

The state is also considering building a boat launch in the area, she said.

In 1760, the colonial militia met on the land before starting out for the historic Crown Point expedition under the leadership of Col. John Goffe, according to the Conservation Commission.

The old Meeting House, which was a meeting area and church for both Merrimack and Litchfield, was also located on the property years ago. The building eventually had to be moved because of erosion along the river.

Materials from the meeting house including timber, the front doors and granite steps were used in the new Town Hall, which was built in 1851.

Although the property has become quite overgrown, the commission would like to open up an area where the muster grounds used to be, McKibben said.

The group is hoping to have a dedication ceremony next year, she said.

In addition to the historic value, the property is also used by migrating songbirds, osprey and wintering bald eagles.

The Audubon Society had supported preserving the land to protect the eagle’s habitat, according to the commission.

“It will be permanently protected from development,” McKibben said.