MADISON — A strange stipulation in the will of a longtime high school teacher has perplexed the town’s library board of trustees and lately left them wondering how to best care for a 40-acre pine forest he entrusted to them almost 30 years ago.

Madison Area Memorial High School teacher George Jacobs is remembered as a man who loved trees — so much that he is said to have harvested the seeds of dozens of pine cones and planted the saplings in a 40-acre lot in East Madison.

Residents who grew up in East Madison remember running through the woods, hunting and playing in them. And when Jacobs died in 1986, he left the pine forest to the town but with the stipulation that it be cared for the Madison Library’s Board of Trustees.

No one is sure why Jacobs left the land in the care of the library.

The trustees have tended to the area, known as Jacobs Pines, for almost 30 years but lately have been discussing whether the job would best be turned over to another group.

There are a number of challenges to caring for the pine woods and making sure it is used in a way that fits Jacobs’ wishes.

“He was very specific as to what (the land) could be used for,” said Robert Roy, chairman of the Madison Library Board of Trustees. “It was put in the hands of the library trustees because I guess he figured it would be more secure. He probably didn’t want to see it get sold and developed.”

Today town officials say the land is rarely used, and given its remote location, they also aren’t sure whether anyone would use it if trails were added. But for the trustees, the question of what to do with the property has been an ongoing struggle as they also look at conservation and forest management issues.

At a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen, librarian Julie Forbus and members of the Somerset Woods Trustees presented the board with the idea of letting the Somerset Woods Trustees take over management.

Since then, both the board and the trustees have decided to table the issue, according to Roy, who said there are just too many challenges to making any kind of change for any action to be taken at the moment.

The property deed, filed in the Somerset County Registry of Deeds, specifically mentions the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of America as groups that Jacobs wanted to make the land available to.

Right now there is no access to the property and no designated parking area, Roy said. There are also no trails and the forest is overgrown with brambles, he said.

“If anybody wanted to use it, even a Boy Scout troop that wanted to go camping, there’s really no place to park,” he said.

The trustees have harvested wood twice at Jacobs Pines, but Roy said they are not experts in forest management and don’t know how best to care for the woods. The name comes from the many pine trees on the property, some of which came up naturally, while many others were planted as saplings by Jacobs.

Eric Lahti, an East Madison resident who is also on the Board of Directors of the Somerset Woods Trustees, said Jacobs and his wife were well-known in Madison. He was a teacher of industrial arts, such as woodworking and metal work, at Madison Area Memorial High School for 42 years. Florence Jacobs was a poet and writer whose work appeared in the Saturday Evening Post and in Hallmark greeting cards, according to the Maine Women Writers Collection at the University of New England.

Lahti and his father both had Jacobs as a teacher at the high school. “He was pretty much a fixture at Madison high school from the 1920s to about the 1960s,” he said.

At the time Jacobs left the land to the library, a woman named Shirley Richard was on the board and was also a colleague of Jacobs at the high school. The chairman of the trustees at the time was Joe Gill, who Lahti said may have been a friend of Jacobs.

“Beyond that, I really don’t know,” Lahti said. “It was kind of a strange, convoluted way of doing things, but I think his goal was to see that it was properly managed, and that’s how it went down.”

In addition to Jacobs Pines, George Jacobs also owned the land where a memorial to Vietnam War veterans, including East Madison native Joseph Quirion, was erected in 1968 in East Madison. That land also was left to the town in Jacobs’ will.

The memorial was moved to the site of the former Mill Pond General Store in May after concerns about its proximity to the Mill Stream and an eroding stream bank.

In 1980, Jacobs was mentioned in an article in the Bangor Daily News about a “Good Samaritan” who volunteered to clean the East Madison Cemetery. Jacobs helped the man, who was looking for a gravestone of a relative, to clear brush, cut trees, right stones and clear away debris, according to the article.

The cemetery is also where Jacobs gathered pine cones, harvested the seeds and planted them behind his house, according to Lahti.

“He told me about this. When they reached transplantable size, he went out and planted them,” he said. “When we were kids and growing up in town, we used to play out there and run around the woods. Later on we hunted out there. George was always pretty agreeable for us to be out there, as long as we didn’t damage any trees. He really loved his trees.”

Merritt Burpee, who also grew up in East Madison, remembers Jacobs driving an old homemade wooden buggy through the neighborhood.

“He would stop in the woods right outside my mother’s house and all of us kids would pile into the back of that thing, and off into the woods we’d go,” said Burpee, 66. “He was quite the naturalist. He would tell us about all the trees and things growing out there. It was quite an education. When we heard him coming, all us kids, we’d go running.”

Morning Sentinel archives show that in 2002 the Board of Selectmen agreed to take over responsibility for the land, but Town Manager Tim Curtis said the change was never put into effect.

“There is no record of the board taking any control,” he said. “I’m at a loss to say what happened after that.”

Both groups have agreed to table the issue for now, but Curtis said he thinks it is something that will come up again.

“The best-case scenario, I think, is that the selectmen will ask me to look into the possibility of some entity to manage the cutting of the woods and putting in trails,” he said. “That would probably be the best way to go, but as of right now we are probably going to wait a few months.”

 

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm