Windsor official sues town over discontinued road
WINDSOR — A piece of land once notorious as the site of an 1846 murder is making news again.
Two Windsor residents, one of them the chairman of the Select Board, contend that the town is trespassing by improving and maintaining a section of road discontinued at a town meeting in 1920.
While rural residents often press towns to fix abandoned roads, the reverse is true here.
Timothy T. Crane and Patricia S. Crane, of 860 Crane Road, claim in a civil action before the Land Court in Boston that with its recent improvements to the road, the town "has attempted to oust them as the rightful owners."
The dirt road in question goes by the name Plantation Road, a designation lost to most current maps. It lies not far from the Hinsdale line, along the southwestern border of Windsor.
The Cranes' suit also names Allen Bird and Raynee M. Bird, who own land on Plantation Road and live about a half-mile to the west, at 9 Hinsdale Road.
The lawsuit is complicating the administration of town business, because Timothy Crane has to avoid discussion of the litigation during Select Board sessions.
Crane said he preferred not to comment on the suit, explaining that, because of his role in town government, he has "a whopping conflict (of interest) in this."
"I can't say anything that wouldn't start down a slippery slope," he said.
Crane has filed an official notice of a conflict of interest, according to Town Clerk Madeline Scully, which Crane confirmed.
When the litigation comes up during board meetings, Crane moves to the audience area in the town offices, Scully said.
"It is making things difficult for the other Select Board members," she said of the suit.
Dennis M. LaRochelle, the attorney representing the town, declined to comment on how Windsor is defending against the suit, which was filed Oct. 27 and assigned to Judge Gordon H. Piper.
The Land Court requires parties to jointly provide a statement detailing facts of a case and note their willingness to participate in mediation. That statement was filed Jan. 19, according to court records.
At a recent Select Board meeting, residents used the public comment period to question officials about the suit.
One question raised is whether the litigation will affect the town's bond rating, as it negotiates lending terms for the installation of a fiber-optic broadband network. Talks on that borrowing are underway, Scully said.
According to the suit, the Cranes acted after the town began plowing the discontinued section of Plantation Road in winter 2016-17. The Cranes and Birds own land on opposite sides of that road.
The Birds could not be reached for comment.
To the north, the Cranes also own land on both sides of what their suit calls Crane Road Extension. Their action alleges that the Birds are using Crane Road Extension to gain access to the discontinued section of Plantation Road "without any legal right to do so."
In 2015 and 2016, the suit says, the Birds made improvements along a section of Plantation Road — the route that residents voted to discontinue Feb. 2, 1920.
And last fall, just before the suit was filed, the town mowed and cut brush on both sides of Crane Road Extension, the suit states.
The Eagle visited the remote road. Portions of the far end of what the suit calls Crane Road Extension showed signs of repairs, including new gravel. The area stands in view of the Crane family home, located across open land on a rise to the northwest.
The work has occurred near what's known — to historians, at least — as Records Corner. The lawsuit offers a capsule history lesson, complete with a sense of how local facts grow fuzzy over time.
"The Corner is named 'Records' or 'Rickards' or 'Rickerts' because in August of 1846 a man by the name of Hosea Records was murdered at this location," the suit says.
By names alone, it's a harsh geography. Not far off lies "Nobodys Road," according to a Google map.
The Cranes' action claims that, because of the 1920 town meeting decision, the town lost its duty to care for the road, as well as any easement.
The Cranes are asking the Land Court to prohibit the town from coming onto the road in question. Their action says that the town's "trespasses and encroachments," done "intentionally and wrongfully," could cloud the legal title to the property.
Windsor sees it differently.
"The town considers it a town road and is maintaining it as a town way," Scully said.
Larry Parnass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.
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