Brunswick officials are narrowing in on the purchase of a $504,000 parcel of land that has been sought by the town for decades.

The 42.5-acres are on the banks of the Androscoggin River and is part of the former Merrymeeting Park, also known as the Ormsby family property, according to town documents.

The land would be for public use and the price was set through an independent appraisal.

Last week, the town council unanimously decided to set an Aug. 2 purchase and sale ratification date. Town Manager John Eldridge said if everything works out, the sale will close by December.

On Tuesday, the town received preliminary approval for a grant through the Land for Maine’s Future program that will cover 50% of the cost. Officials hope to cover the remaining amount through other grants and fundraising efforts.

An additional $20,000 was also pledged towards the project from the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

If acquired, the property would not be accessible by vehicle, only by water or through the bicycle path along Route 1. The land sits about 1 mile from the east end of the path and 1.6 miles from the west end.

“This was a piece of property that was identified years ago as a priority, didn’t look for many years like it was going to happened,” Eldridge said. “We have now reached the point where we have the opportunity to acquire this parcel.”

According to Jerry Bley, a land use consultant representing the Ormsby family, there are 11 land owners involved in the sale, which, according to Town Councilor Steve Walker, was one of the challenges leading up to an agreement of sale.

Council documents said that while informal conversations with the Ormsby family have been going on for years, the conversation became more serious recently when representatives of the family expressed a willingness to sell.

“Merrymeeting Park has been owned by the Ormsby family for close to a century … as family members get spread out far and wide the family decided it was time to sell,” Bley said. “They didn’t want to see the land developed, they were committed to seeing its natural and historical resources preserved for others to enjoy so they came together with the Town of Brunswick to make that happen.”

Bley asked that the public remember the property remains private until the sale is final.

CONSERVATION AND PUBLIC ACCESS

According to Brunswick Parks and Recreation Director Tom Farrell, expanding public access to the shoreline in Brunswick, specifically at this location, has been a long-term, high priority goal for the town.

Brunswick has roughly 66 miles of coastline and 12 miles of river shoreline. While Farrell did not have an exact number, he said a “very small percentage” of it was public access. The new parcel would add roughly 3,500 linear feet of public river shoreline.

A flyer for the Merrymeeting Park that first opened in 1898. Courtesy of Chris Gutscher

Despite the property being inaccessible by car, Farrell said he does not think that will be an issue.

“It’s aesthetically one of the premier locations in town,” said Farrell. “It’s not necessarily going to be a deterrent for people to go to this piece of property because they have to go there on foot or bicycle.”

Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust Executive Director Angela Twitchell said that the parcel will offer a natural, scenic area for people to stop along the bike-path.

“It’s one of those parcels that has been a high priority, because the public has said it’s a priority for a long time,” Twitchell said.

According to Walker, the shoreline of the parcel is fresh-water intertidal, which is an unusual habitat type in Maine. The land itself also holds several notable habitats.

“It has a lot of rare plants associated with it,” Walker said, also noting the mature woodland in the area. “There’s a large, central cattail marsh that will serve for marsh migration with sea level rise in the future.”

Walker added that the Land for Maine’s Future grant included the Driscoll Islands, which are located right off the coast of the property, and as a result, those islands will also now be permanently conserved.

HISTORY OF THE LAND

While the parcel has activity that can be traced back to prehistoric times, according to Brunswick resident Chris Gutscher, who has long researched the history of the area, the first modern record of the land dates to 1747.

During that year, Gutscher said, there is record of Native Americans shooting at a canoe piloted by white settlers and the survivors swam to the shore of the parcel.

About a century later, in 1847, the land was purchased by John Campbell Humphreys, where he built two large steam sawmills and operated an active shipyard there from 1848 to 1864.

In 1898, according to Gutscher, Amos Fitzgerald, built the 165-acre trolley park, named “Merrymeeting Park,” which encompasses the parcel and ran for about 10 years. The park included an amphitheater, a zoo, refreshment stands and diving horses.

“The major attraction was this big casino,” Gutsher said, noting that it was not a gambling or drinking casino. “The casino was three and a half, four stories high. One went there for private parties, for dances.”

In 1929, local businessman Earl Ormsby Sr. bought the property which included the parcel, where it remained a residential, family property ever since.

The Merrymeeting Park Casino. Courtesy of Chris Gutscher


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