What’s in a name? Plenty for Scarborough farm family upset by land trust decision

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SCARBOROUGH — The Benjamin family was expecting to celebrate the sale of their homestead farm to the Scarborough Land Trust in two weeks.

But instead, some family members now openly regret the sale because the trust plans to rename their father’s property.

The land trust purchased the farm late last year. It is changing the name to Pleasant Hill Preserve, a decision the Benjamin family feels is a slight to their father’s memory.

Ed Benjamin, the youngest sibling and son of the late Jerrerd Benjamin, who died two weeks shy of his 92nd birthday in 2006, said his father would not have agreed to sell the land had he known it wouldn’t continue to have the family name.

Jerrerd Benjamin grew up on a farm in Connecticut. In 1964, when he moved to Scarborough, he began purchasing his first bits of land, and continued to do so over the next several years. He farmed the property for nearly 50 years, until shortly before his death in January 2006.

The 135-acre parcel, most recently owned by Jerrerd’s five children, is the largest piece of unencumbered land left in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, according to Kathy Mills, executive director of the Scarborough Land Trust.

The sale of the land to the trust for $2.5 million was finalized last December, and ensured that the acreage would remain undeveloped and forever conserved and accessible to the public.

“It’s really an unprecedented conservation success in Scarborough,” Mills said by phone Wednesday afternoon. “This (is) a gem of a property that we have all been so lucky to conserve.”

Mills said the trust, the family and the town benefited from the transaction: Benjamin’s legacy would always be preserved, the trust acquired a property it had worked “tirelessly” to acquire for more than 15 years, and the public would forever have access to an expansive, bucolic landscape.

The family had one primary request of the trust, she said: that it erect a plaque in their father’s honor.

“And we were happy to fulfill that request,” Mills said.

The plaque will be unveiled at a Sept. 26 dedication ceremony.

“We will be celebrating the Benjamin family, because they helped make this happen,” Mills said.

The trust that day is also planning to unveil the new name of the property, which Mills said is a way to recognize the area and the four other major farming families that thrived before the Benjamins.

“I think the (land trust) board gave this very thoughtful deliberation and chose a name they felt would be appropriate for now and in the future for many generations,” she said.

The new name is “tied to place,” she said, because the entire Pleasant Hill area “had huge farming heritage.” Four separate families farmed the property: the Robinsons, the Johnsons, the Coulthards and most recently, the Benjamins, Mills said.

Historically, when the land trust acquires a property, while it is forever conserved, it is within the board’s power to change the name, Mills noted. It did that with Broadturn Farm, which used to be Meserve Farm.

“We’re sorry the (Benjamin) family is disappointed with our choice to name to the property,” Mills said, but “this is a choice that’s fully within the land trust’s purview.”

Nonetheless, Ed Benjamin said the decision feels underhanded and disrespectful.

“I don’t think the land trust understands. When they acquire this stuff, it’s acquired for representation of the people that donated it,” Benjamin said early Wednesday morning at the farm.

“My father’s intentions were to turn it over to the land trust and have it open space forever,” and while that’s what the land trust is fulfilling, he said he knows his father wouldn’t have agreed to the sale if the family name was going to be replaced.

Benjamin and his wife, Rachel, who now live in South Portland, walked along a path toward what used to be a hay barn. The sun had just broken through the morning fog and the air was thick with heat. Benjamin’s boots were wet with dew.

“This used to be a potato field,” he said, motioning to the area to his left. “I started working here when I was 10.” For the next 16 years, he helped his father work the farm.

The parcel abuts the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and the Spurwink River. Freshwater mineral springs used to flow through part of the farm, and at one point, people would travel for many miles to get spring water, Benjamin said.

“If we had sold it to a person, we wouldn’t care (as much) about the name, but we sold it to a land trust,” he said, and it should be assumed that the name would be preserved along with the space.

He said the family members never thought it was necessary to put it in writing that the property should continue to bear their name.

“I think it’s an insult and I think the taxpayers would (think so), too,” Benjamin said, noting a $2 million bond approved by the Town Council last year helped acquire the property.

“Shouldn’t it go to the taxpayers to decide whether or not the name should be changed?” Rachel added.

“This is not what I call stewardship,” Benjamin said. “The whole family is sickened with what the land trust is doing.”

Benjamin approached a tin-roofed barn that was used to store hay.

“When a person loses a loved one and they’re in a graveyard, they go to the site to visit their loved one,” he said, wiping his eyes. “This is like visiting my father. This is the way I want to remember him.

“To me, what the land trust is doing is like disturbing a gravestone, like rubbing off a person’s name.”

*Updated Sept. 11, 2015: Jerrerd Benjamin died two weeks shy of his 92nd birthday in 2006.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

Ed Benjamin, the youngest of the late Jerrerd Benjamin’s children, is frustrated by a Scarborough Land Trust decision to change the name of his family’s property to Pleasant Hill Preserve. The trust purchased the land last December to preserve as open space.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.
  • Chew H Bird

    Sold and donated are two very different things. If the land was actually donated I can understand the frustration, but when upwards of 2 million dollars has changed hands I think being upset about a name change is simply unrealistic.

  • Pinetree North

    The land trust is being pretty foolish with this. Are they going to want further donations and help from the farming family, the friends and neighbors? As Dr. Phil would say, do you want to be right, or happy?

  • Karl Childers

    This guy has some nerve! He pocketed $500k and is upset? He must’ve been kicked in the head by a mule when he was growing up on that farm. Look at that fool, all upset with his arms crossed.

  • Darren McLellan

    If the family was so intent on it being preserved, why was it for sale on the open market for a couple of years with a sign trumpeting the “prime development opportunity”?