Esther Labbee donated 55 acres of her property to Joshua’s Trust in 2004 with the remaining 8 acres containing the house, barn, fields and outbuildings to be bequeathed to the Trust upon her death, which occurred in 2012 at age 84. Esther named her property, Chenes Roches (oaks rocks) for the large glacial erratic boulders and the many oak trees and especially her favorite, a huge white oak that is now a prime attraction on the preserve.
Esther was an elementary school teacher in Manchester for more than 25 years, retiring in 1984. Esther loved this property where she raised cows and other farm animals, gardened and raised fruit trees and berry bushes. She was extremely independent and resourceful, building many of the farm buildings herself. She harvested firewood on the property, driving her tractor on woods roads that some of the Chenes Roches trails now follow. She wanted the property she loved and worked to be forever protected from development in perpetuity and so granted custodianship to Joshua’s Trust.
When Esther died in 2012 the Trust sold 7 of the homestead’s 8 acres, retaining one acre to be added to the original tract for Trust access. A permanent conservation restriction was placed on those 7 acres to also forever protect them from development.
Esther was feisty and of strong opinion but was extremely self-effacing and wanted no public recognition when the Willington Conservation Commission made her the recipient of the Raymond K. Daley Environmental Action Award in 2004 for the donation and preservation of her land. Upon her death, her alma mater, the University of Maine Fort Kent, received a very generous bequest from her to be used for scholarships.
Through Esther’s generosity and the efforts of Joshua’s Trust, members of the public can now enjoy the beauty and the varied landscape of this wonderful piece of property.
The heavily-forested Chenes Roches Preserve has trails through a varied terrain of hardwood forests, stands of pines and along a hemlock-shaded stream in a steep-sided valley. A round trip of 1.8 miles will take you across several small spring-fed streams and an altitude change of about 250 feet from the parking lot to the valley stream. On the western boundary of the preserve is a fault line ridge that drops steeply to the Willimantic River Valley. See the side bar on the trail map for directions to the preserve and for parking information. There is a kiosk with trail maps at the parking lot. Please stay on the trail and respect boundaries where the trail passes near private property.
About the Property
Location: Willington, Connecticut. Adjacent to 65 Blair Road (private residence)
Donor: Esther C. Labbee
Acres: 56 acres
Stewards: Peter Andersen, Bill Goodale