Brainard Homestead State Park is a state park in the town of East Lyme, Connecticut. The homestead was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Brainerd Farm and Estate in 1980. It includes four contributing buildings, two contributing sites, and one other contributing object. Fourteen acres (5.7ha) are managed by the Aspetuck Land Trust as a nature preserve with public access to pond and forested areas.
There are extensive woods surrounding the property, particularly on the east side where the main road enters the property. These trees provide habitat for white tail deer, fox squirrels, wild turkey, pileated woodpeckers, groundhogs, skunks, and raccoons. Visitors can see ospreys and bald eagles hunting along the river frontage. On occasion, moose have also been sighted in this part of northern Connecticut.
The park has facilities for swimming, picnicking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, fishing, and horseback riding. It features hiking trails leading into the heart of the woodland, and visitors may drive right up to the pond on five miles (8km) of gravel road. The park is staffed seasonally by three full-time naturalists and several part-timers. Volunteers staff the visitor center year round. The park receives significant support from the Audubon Society of Greater New England and its member organizations including the Sierra Club, the Izaak Walton League, and the Nature Conservancy. Through donations and purchases of land, these groups helped establish the park in 2001. Prior to 2000, the parcel of undeveloped land comprising the bulk of the present day park was owned by Patricia Ruggles. With assistance from the non-profit Environmental Protection Fund, title was transferred to the state on June 22, 2000, at which time it officially became Brainerd Homestead State Park.
The property was once owned by William Brainerd who settled there around 1770. He brought his wife Mary Clark Brainerd and their children from Massachusetts including Elizabeth “Betsy” Brainerd, later known as Betsy Allen. She became engaged to Joseph Dwight, son of Timothy Dwight II, at age 51. They were married on October 11, 1831, at age 63. After her husband’s death in 1837, she continued to operate the farm as a large estate until about 1860 when it began to deteriorate. In 1880, she sold it to Alfred M. Turner for $12,000 who built an addition onto one of the houses and ran cattle, sheep, and pigs here.
In 1923, he gave the property to his daughter Alice, but she died childless in 1929. When she bequeathed the property to the state upon her death, no one claimed the estate, so it went to probate. However, since she had left instructions that the property should remain intact and not be divided among her heirs, it passed to the state as a gift. It was named after her father, Thomas Brainerd, rather than her brother John Alden. From 1931-1941, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps made improvements to the site which included construction of fireplaces, roads, and parking areas.
The park offers opportunities for:
- wildlife viewing
- environmental education
Bird species observed at the park include:
- cow birds
- common loons
- owls such as barred owls
- red-tailed hawks
- screech owls
- saw-whet owls
- snowy owls
- trumpeter swans
- eastern gray squirrels
- striped skunks
Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles and amphibians include: