The Dorrie O’Brien House & Gardens

Town of Southeast – 2 acres.

The Dorrie O’Brien House is the headquarters of PCLT.  Inside, the business of the land trust – board meetings, committee meetings, phone calls, research, filing and more- is conducted by our all-volunteer staff.  Outside, the natural world beckons.   The Birdwood Preserve and just behind it the Cedar Swamp Preserve are just to the east, and the Paul Fitchen Preserve is a little west.  These preserves are grouped as the Peach Lake Natural Area.  Directly behind the house is the entrance to the Lindera Loop Handicapped Accessible Trail (Putnam’s first).

The House

Dorothy O’Brien was a long time resident of the community, a friend and a trustee of the organization.  She loved nature and the out-of-doors and greatly enjoyed her proximity to the Peach Lake Natural Area.  She was particularly fond of birds.  The chickadees in particular were known to come and feed from her hand as she sat outside.  Indeed, she called her property “Chickadee Haven”.  Dorrie would welcome the neighborhood children to “Chickadee Haven” and would offer nature lessons to those that were interested.

In later years, Dorrie suffered from macular degeneration but that did not keep her from protecting her property and keeping it wildlife friendly.  Dorrie passed away in 1998 and bequeathed her home to the Putnam County Land Trust with the intention of providing office space for PCLT and establishing a base of operations for the Peach Lake Natural Area which would enhance and improve the ability of PCLT to provide programs and services to the community.

The house was in need of a considerable amount of work. By examining the construction details in the house it has been determined that it was constructed around in the 1850’s.  It featured a form of structure called balloon frame construction.  Renovations began in 2001 with grading around the foundation and replacement of the sills.  Eleanor Fitchen funded these repairs.  Later renovations included a reconfiguration of the interior with installation of a central support system, and up to date electrical and plumbing systems.

The Dorrie O Brien House was officially opened on September 12, 2008 but there was still more work to do.   Repairs to the garage which is used for stewardship storage are ongoing.  Finally the driveway which now allows for full handicap accessibility to the Lindera Loop Trail was completed in 2012.  Pro bono work by Insite Engineering, a generous donation from the Estate of Eleanor Fitchen and donation made as part of the Lindera Loop trail project spearheaded by Anna Eisenstein and Krista Gabarro helped make this possible.


The Gardens

Many of the plants around the house today remain from the time of Dorrie’s stewardship of the house and property.  It is the goal of the land trust to continue the tradition begun by Dorrie of primarily using native plants and to use the gardens as demonstrations for ecologically sound design and maintenance.  No chemical fertilizers are used, no herbicides are used and other than deer deterrents, rarely are pesticides used.

The show begins in the early spring with Snowdrops, Aconites and the Cornelian Cherry tree by the driveway bursting forth with their blossoms.  Meanwhile the woods are coming alive with Skunk cabbage and Spicebush.  These are soon followed by Trout Lilies and Virginia Bluebells while the Star Magnolia puts on its show. The Daffodils emerge and the ferns start to unfurl in the woods.  The Dogwood, Amelanchier and Fothergilla near the driveway and front of the house, while not of Dorrie’s time, are native plants that bloom at this time as well.   The Blueberries are flowering and soon we will be treated to the spectacular Halesia blossoms as they as they open on the trees to the west of the house.   Soon the Tulip tree will offer its flowers.  Not to be missed is the native Sweet Bay Magnolia that perfumes the air around the house in June.  Around this time, the Winterberry blooms and these flowers will turn into red berries that along with the Spicebush and Dogwoods offer food for wildlife in the fall.  Added to the native plants over the past few years are the Itea, Leucothoe, the Oakleaf hydrangea, the PJM Rhododendron and the Ilex glabra that are the foundation plants around the house and the Hypericum with its yellow blossoms starting in July near the stone wall in the front of the house.

Plans are to install a rain garden to the east of the house to capture the rain water from the roof.

Dorrie planted several species of native trees that are not usually found in this area.  Unfortunately storms over the past few years have destroyed the Sourwood tree near the Lindera Loop Trail.  The Yellow wood tree by the driveway has been somewhat damaged but continues to end the spring show with its white blossoms in early June.