In its ideal form, serendipity is a reciprocal gift.
Such is the case with Philip Marshall, who has found “unsought treasures” since his arrival in Granby, a move that has benefited our town as well.
Marshall is from Lake Grove, N.Y., and his wife Kara grew up in Guilford. The couple met at Yale, where Marshall studied after receiving his bachelor of science degree in plant science at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
At Yale, Marshall earned his PhD in forest ecology and is currently under contract with Yale to write a book on the history of the Yale Forests. “The book is an outgrowth of my doctoral dissertation,” he explains. “The forest director asked me to write it for students and researchers in landscape history and the history of agriculture.”
Married in 2018, the Marshalls were living in Boston where Kara worked in Eversource’s energy efficiency program when in 2020, unhappy with city living, the Marshalls began looking for a home in rural New England. “Most of my life, I have been interested in history,” Marshall says. “Kara and I share an appreciation of old houses. Her mother is a docent at the Hyland House Museum in Guilford.”
The Marshalls found their dream home on Zillow and fell in love with it immediately. After Kara negotiated a transfer to Eversource’s Connecticut office, they purchased the property and moved in the middle of Covid. “Granby turned out to be a wonderful place for us to land in the middle of a pandemic,” Marshall says.
The Nathaniel Holcomb III house, also known as the Isaac Porter House, on Bushy Hill Road came with five acres of land that is contiguous with the 75-acre Clark Farm at Bushy Hill. “The house is dated by Mark Williams of the Salmon Brook Historical Society (SBHS) to 1720 and is reputed to be the oldest property in Granby, although some dispute that claim because of architectural details that could place it closer to 1790,” Marshall says. The South side of the house bears a plaque naming it to the National Register of Historic Places.
The property came with a barn built in the 1820s where Marshall has set up a woodworking area. Avid gardeners, Philip and Kara are thinking of welcoming some goats and sheep into their care. “Kara is into knitting and would like to spin wool into yarn,” Marshall says. “We have the contacts, the barn and the acreage, so it’s on our to-do list.”
Owning an historic property in Granby, Marshall says, prompted his joining the SBHS. By the spring of 2022, he was elected to the board of directors. Through fellow board member Dave Roberts, who is also chairman of the conservation commission, he learned that the Granby Grange was in desperate need of new members. “Kara is a member of the conservation commission, so Dave knew both of us,” Marshall says.
The Marshalls joined the Grange in early 2023, and Philip was immediately voted overseer (vice president) and Kara secretary. Last October Philip was elected master (president) of the Grange. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” he admits. “The Grange sits at the intersection of two of my great passions, agriculture and history. Though little known by most people here now, the Grange is an old Granby institution, founded in 1875.
“Other than the Congregational Church, I expect it’s probably the oldest community organization in Granby. It was a hugely important community organization in the 1930s and 1940s, in that long-ago era before television and the Internet, hosting dinners and dances and musical performances, but Granby has changed and is no longer the isolated rural place it once was.”
The Marshalls have stepped up to the challenge to make the Grange relevant and useful to 21st-century Granby. Primary objectives are to increase active membership and to update the Grange Hall and offer it to the public as a rental venue. The first-floor bathroom is undergoing renovation to make it handicapped accessible, and plans to update the kitchen are underway, thanks to grant funding. “We envision the Grange becoming a center for people who are interested in gardening, beekeeping, keeping livestock and homesteading,” Philip says. For groups not requiring a kitchen, the hall should be available for rental later this year.
“Though we’re no longer a predominantly agricultural community, I see the continuing value of the Grange in bringing people together to celebrate our connection to the land,” Marshall says. “I also hope to make it a place where community members can explore possibilities and share ideas for home production of food, whether it’s gardening or canning or keeping chickens and possibly traditional fiber arts like spinning and weaving.”
Grange members hope that young adults with families will become involved with their activities. Philip has been in touch with the Granby 4-H to encourage youth participation.
While the Marshalls clearly have their hands full, they still find time for each other and for Dido, their two-year-old tabby cat, and Belinda, a springer spaniel puppy who arrived in their home just before Christmas. “Dido is named after the Queen of Carthage in the Aeneid, and Belinda was her servant,” Philip explains. “Dido was queen of the house until Belinda came. Now she spends her time in the basement.”
Once Belinda is allowed to roam the Marshalls’ expansive acreage, Dido will inevitably reclaim her throne.
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