ST JOHN'S PEAK AT KENT
PAST AND PRESENT
by Paul Dooley
In the mid-1980’s, the
500-plus acre tract that eventually became the St.
John’s Peak at Kent subdivision was a wild,
seldom-visited place beyond the ends of two abandoned
town roads. It was owned by two men from Bridgeport,
Norman Parsells and Newman Marsilius, who bought it
in 1958 for $21,000 to use as a hunting and camping
retreat. I met Norm in the early 80’s when we
were both on the Board of Directors of the Housatonic
Valley Association. He would tell me about the large
tract he and his partner owned which had a hunting
cabin and old cemetery on it somewhere north of North
Spectacle Lake. He made it sound remote and it was.
He told me of once getting his Jeep stuck in a quagmire
and of having to spend the night because he was afraid
of getting lost trying to walk out in the dark.
Early in 1986, Norm asked me
what the property might bring if he and Newman were
to sell it. I guessed around $2 million, adding that
I had never ventured that far north of the lake and
wasn’t sure I could find the parcel if I did.
Norm assured me that the boundaries had all been blazed
by a logging company, but the abandoned roads were
a little iffy. (As it turned out, a boundary marking
by the logging company was not particularly accurate
– as subsequent surveys and a lawsuit would
determine.) We agreed to list it and were preparing
the paperwork when Norm passed away. Several months
went by before Newman and Mrs. Parsells put the property
on the market – right in time for the real estate
and subdivision boom that hit mid-year and lasted
well into 1987 then cratered with a number of projects
going to the banks that had financed them (which is
another story for another time).
The land that became St. John’s
Peak at Kent closed on 31 December 1986 for $1,625,000.
The buyers, John Marvin, William Davies and Roger
Frechette, were successful business and professional
men who saw a market for large, private, restricted
building lots for the second home market. They retained
a local land planner and surveyor and set about the
subdivision process. Had they known what the next
fifteen years would hold, they might well have chosen
The first issue to arise involved a survey. Newman
Marsilius and Mrs. Parcells had insisted that the
sale take place in 1986 before the new tax law took
effect in 1987. So hot was the speculative frenzy
for large subdividable parcels in 1986, the buyers
agreed to close without a survey and only crudely
marked boundaries. When they finally were able to
engage a surveyor who wasn’t busy making small
parcels out of other large pieces, they found that
there were questions about the southern boundary (questions
that later resulted in a lawsuit, the result of which
was that a tract south of the present connector road
was awarded to a local man who claimed it as part
of his father’s farm). They found, however,
additional land on the northern border of the property
in the vicinity of Old Paddock Lane, so the gross
acreage remained roughly the same.
The land form known as St. John’s Peak may or
may not be in the subdivision. The U.S. Geodetic Survey
map (Kent Quadrangle) places it just to the west of
the northern portion of the subdivision’s western
boundary. It is named, as are the dramatic ledges
across the Housatonic, for an early local family.
The more prominent natural feature on the property
is Mauwee Peak, named for Gideon Mauwee, a sachem
of the Schaghticoke Indians whose reservation is on
the west bank of the Housatonic. Gideon Mauwee’s
granddaughter, Eunice, lived to be 104 and is buried
in the reservation cemetery.
So How Did Mount
Mauwee Become Mount Maumee?
A typographical error, actually. After the developers
filed their partnership papers and Subdivision Declaration
with the Secretary of State, they discovered that
the typist had misspelled Mauwee. It was easier and
more practical to call themselves the Mount Maumee
Partnership than to redo and refile all of the subdivision
documentation. The next time you have nothing better
to read, check the Declaration and Public Offering
Statement you received at closing and you’ll
find the point at which a “w” was turned
upside down to become an “m”. But don’t
bother looking for Maumee Peak or Mount Maumee on
a map. It was and still is Mount Mauwee located just
above the mountaintop marsh that is the headwater
for Mauwee Brook.
Most people don’t know that the subdivision
contains a private cemetery which is located between
Lots 21 and 24 south of Old Homestead Lane (so named
because of the remnants of the old farmhouse and barns
across from the entrance to the cemetery). Daniel
and Martha Parcells lived on and farmed the land in
the 19th century. Martha Worden Parcells died in May
of 1890 of “accidental burning,” perhaps
in a house fire. Her gravestone reads “Mother
is at Rest.” She was joined by her husband,
Daniel, fifteen years later who was actively farming
and putting up hay at age 80. The Mount Maumee Partners
deeded the 2500 square-foot parcel to the Kent Cemetery
Association for permanent protection and stewardship.
The fence enclosing the plot was paid for by their
nephew, William, who provided for its construction
in his will.
What Took So Long?
The subdivision was formally approved in May of 1989
with a long list of notations and conditions. It was,
and still is, the largest parcel ever brought to the
Commission for subdivision approval. It was also the
most remote. Lying well north of North Spectacle Lake,
it was reachable only over abandoned town roads (Kenico,
which stopped just past the former Camp Kenico, and
Gay Road, which was an extension of Ken-Mont Road
and ended at the Bromica complex). The approved plan
called for the building of roads not only within the
subdivision but to it. And the abandoned roads had
to be accurately located before the new ones could
Once the project was approved, the developer’s
first task was to build the miles of road contemplated
by the plan – a Herculean task under the best
of circumstances. In the case of St. John’s
Peak, it became a nightmare for the developers. First,
they had to post a performance bond with the Town
and arrange a line of credit with their bank to fund
the construction. They brought in a managing partner
who engaged a road builder and drew down the line
of credit, exhausting it before the roads were completed.
At about the same time the bank failed, the letter
of credit for the performance bond turned to dust
in the Selectmen’s vault, and the road builder
left the job. Litigation ensued and eventually the
road builder was compelled to complete the job and
the bond was refinanced. But a lot of time had passed.
By 1997 the work was nearing completion, but a clock
was ticking. Connecticut statute requires that the
public improvements in a subdivision be completed
and accepted within ten years of the approval date.
The law, intended to protect the public from never-completed
infra-structure, provides that the subdivision approval
shall lapse if the roads, sidewalks, sewers, etc.
are not completed in the ten-year time frame.
One suspects that St. John’s Peak at Kent was
not the only subdivision in Connecticut facing the
expiration of its approval and that the legislature
contemplated subdividers facing expiration would submit
new applications for their projects. But in Kent it
wasn’t going to be that simple. In the mid-1990’s,
the Kent Planning and Zoning Commission adopted new
Subdivision Regulations – regulations which
significantly altered the geometry and standards for
subdivisions (length and number of lots on a cul de
sac, for example). The dilemma faced by St. John’s
Peak was that the plan that was approved in 1989 couldn’t
be approved under the new standards, even though most
of the roads had been built. Saddle Ridge south of
the village faced the same problem (we’ll write
about that experience in another piece). Eventually,
the developers and the Commission worked out a deal
that allowed the completion of the plan as originally
approved and gave the Commission some additional concessions.
But it was over ten years from approval to completion
and the formal release of all the bonds.
By then the Mount Maumee Partners
had, understandably, lost enthusiasm for the likely
long process of marketing lots. They listed the project
with us as a package, hoping to find a developer who
wanted to build out the neighborhood. Over the next
year and a half, a number stepped forward –
none had the resources to close.
the Rights of Way?
Look at a copy of the subdivision map and you’ll
see a right-of-way running north into the State Forest.
This was created to give the State access to what
was a landlocked section of Wyantenock State Forest
and was part of a trade-off with the State in which
the State agreed to drop its objections to the reopening
of Kenico/Gorham through one portion of its property
in return for access to another. The other two rights-of-way,
now owned by the Association, lead to a large parcel
owned by Aino Skinner on the western boundary of the
subdivision. These were created in the planning stages
of the subdivision when the partners were thinking
of adding some or all of the Skinner property to St.
John’s Peak. It wasn’t then for sale and
years of mounting expenses and problems cooled the
partners’ taste for expansion. Now the Skinner
property is on the market (108 acres for $795,000)
and the two rights-of-way are perhaps the most economical
way to access it.
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