FARMINGTON — One of Farmington’s most colorful residents passed away this week.

Joel Batzell Bridges, 66, died Tuesday morning at Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison, according to facility staff.  He has been a resident there since August.

Known for his sometimes eccentric behavior that often challenged town officials, Bridges previously ran a sign business and Thoughtbridge Ministry from his 103 Bridge St. property next to Center Bridge.

“He was actually very intelligent. He had some mental health issues but he never did any harm to anyone,” Peter Beane, a neighbor, said. “He was harmless, a gadfly who loved to poke his finger in convention. He loved to create a stir.”

And, a stir it was when drivers and police responded to Bridges’ actions. Drivers, sometimes with concern for his safety, reported him in the road or hollering at vehicles while in varying states of undress or parading around the area of his property in a diaper. Batzell claimed his actions were a social experiment and part of a movie he was making.

“Joel was certainly a colorful member of our community and at times a frequent consumer of police services,” Police Chief Jack Peck said Friday. “On behalf of the Farmington Police Department our condolences go out to the family.”

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“Joel did help people,” Beane said. “He ran an informal homeless shelter.”

When town officials and the state Fire Marshal’s Office questioned the safety of the property for those staying there in 2008, Batzell, who since changed his name to Bridges, said he took in people who needed help.

Thoughtbridge is a nonprofit ministry that takes in homeless people and those “others have thrown away,” he had said. Shelter-seekers worked around the building or on his continuous yard sale to help with costs.

Town officials encouraged improvements to the property for basic life safety measures.

Health issues in recent years and funding have lent to his inability to undertake the work, Bridges had said.

Last year, Bridges was hospitalized for a few months after suffering a couple of strokes. Friends and his former wife, Nano Scott Zachary, cleaned up the property in May to make it easier for him to return home.

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Beane expressed concern Friday about the empty property where people have been seen going in this winter. It is wide open and it could be dangerous, he said.

When the town took Bridges to court in 2014 for removal of a portable sign from his property, Bridges told the judge that he cared about people and helping them.

He also said he loved to challenge the system but didn’t know of anything he had done that hurt anyone.

“My charades have been entertaining the town for 30 years,” he said.

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