(Bloomberg) -- When Thomas (Terry) Fitzgerald, founder and managing partner of Longbow Capital Partners, bought a plot of land in Bridgewater, Conn., in 1993, he and his wife, Libby, were looking for a “counterpoint to our children’s life in the city,” he says. “One that would be defined by nature and all manner of outdoor activities.”
The land they settled on had been owned by the same family for more than half a century and consisted of about 200 acres and a 10,000-square-foot house.
The house itself is somewhat unusual: The property’s previous owners hired the architecture firm Perry, Shaw, and Hepburn (the designers of Colonial Williamsburg) in the late 1930s to move an 18th century saltbox tavern to the site and combine it with the existing house in what Fitzgerald calls “an architecturally sympathetic manner.” As a result, half of his house dates from the early 1800s, the other half from about 1789.
Over the years, Fitzgerald added adjacent parcels to the property, which they call Greyledge, and for a time operated a working farm; today the land totals about 319 acres and spans the Roxbury and Bridgewater town lines.
But after using the property for nearly 27 years, the Fitzgeralds are putting it on the market with the Madonna & Phillips Group of William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty for $16 million.
“We’ve purchased a place on the eastern end of Long Island, which informs how we allocate time,” he says. “Our decision to sell is a difficult one, because the property has been such an important element in our family’s life.”
When Fitzgerald first bought the property (he was at Salomon Brothers at the time), the house hadn’t been updated for years. Immediately, the family began a series of major updates and renovations.
They removed the roof; added drainage; reinforced the foundation; redid the electricity, HVAC, and other systems; and updated most of the rooms.
As they did so, though, they maintained the building’s historic character. In one of the upstairs rooms, in the wing that was once a tavern, “there are references carved into the pine panels about the date a piano was delivered,” Fitzgerald says.
Even as the family renovated the house, they’d still spend weekends on the property. “The house is of such a size where we could stay in one side and then, as construction progressed, we’d move to a different part.”
Today it has 10 bedrooms, six bathrooms, and several half-baths. There are nine working fireplaces, a dining room that seats 24, a library, and a large chef’s kitchen.
But the main house was just the beginning. “The first year I would come up every weekend, get on my tractor, and clear fields of wild roses,” Fitzgerald says. “Once we’d cleared a 10-acre field of roses and pushed them all into a huge bonfire, we had a Guy Fawkes party.”
That party led to what is probably—at least from an outsider’s perspective—the most impressive aspect of the Fitzgeralds’ stewardship of the land, namely their annual pumpkin shoot, which ran from 2001 to 2013.
The Pumpkin Catapults
After the first bonfire, “we decided it wasn’t sufficiently entertaining, so we invited people to bring handmade trebuchets [a type of catapult] to fling pumpkins into the fire,” Fitzgerald says.
The first year he invited them, five teams of friends showed up. By the 13th and final year “we had teams coming in from out of state, and probably 10 compressed-air cannons, some of which could shoot a 10-pound pumpkin three-quarters of a mile.”
Fitzgerald would build a castle with parapets and a portcullis out of sheetrock and two-by-fours, and contestants would fire at it from a nearby ridge. “It was such an energetic event,” he says, “and then at the end we would light a huge bonfire.”
It gradually morphed into a community event, where everyone from the town was invited. Fitzgerald’s family would serve burgers and roast pigs, plus beer and wine to everyone of drinking age. Over time, more than a thousand people would show up.
Eventually, things began to teeter on the edge of getting out of hand, and Fitzgerald decided to shut it down. “It was a private event, but everyone in the community knew they were invited,” he explains. “But when we started hearing that it was being advertised on the radio, that informed our decision.”
Insurance liability became a concern. “Even though we’d have nine state police officers overseeing it, one time a trebuchet hit a car—no harm done to the occupant of the car,” he says. “But at the first inkling of bad behavior, we decided it was time to pack it in.”
Even without the prospect of hurling pumpkins the length of several football fields, there was plenty to do on the property.
The family built a 1,800-square-foot pool house in 1998, which has a living/dining room, two bedrooms, and two bathrooms; they built one barn to house farm equipment (“the flag barn”) and then an additional, 8,500-square-foot barn, house, and farm office. They also extensively renovated the four-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot estate manager’s residence in 2009.
Including the purchase of the land, Fitzgerald says he put about $8 million into the property. (That doesn’t include maintenance or upkeep.)
Fitzgerald and his family started to raise Black Angus cattle. “We were making a good go of it,” he says. “We got a James Beard Award for our beef, and [former Vanity Fair Editor] Graydon Carter was serving our meat in his restaurants in New York.”
While Fitzgerald maintained a full-time finance job, he’d take his own beef to the farmers market in New Canaan. “It was fantastic,” he says. “You have to stay close to your customer. I was fully engaged in this operation. Before I had a hedge fund, I worked at Goldman, and these are both jealous positions, requiring time for your primary livelihood. But I put a lot of time in” at the farmers market, too.
In the meantime, his three sons, starting from the age of 6, were charged with running a summer farm stand.
“It forced them to understand how to take responsibility for looking after their crops and to present their vegetables to the adults who’d come to purchase them,” Fitzgerald says. “It encouraged them to be comfortable engaging with both their peers and adults.”
“It was everything that we hoped it might be in terms of an experience for our children,” he explains of his decision to wind down about five years ago. “However, we learned that the concept of ‘sustainable agriculture,’ at least in terms of running an all-natural Black Angus cattle operation in Connecticut, appears to be an oxymoron. We learned that building a best-in-class sustainable beef business required a not-insignificant second income to sustain the effort.”
The family got a solid quarter-century out of the estate, but even so, Fitzgerald is torn about the sale.
The land “is so unique,” he says. “I know many people say that about their property, and many of them are, not necessarily in a good way. But this offering is differentiated by every other property in Litchfield County by its scale, its scarcity, and its quality,” he continues. “The property offers a rare combination of near-360-degree views to the horizon, open fields, woods, and approximately 25,000 square feet of beautifully maintained homes and outbuildings.”
“The goal at this juncture,” he says, “is to find a family, or a couple, who will value the experience as much as we have.”
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