On the block: Ghost town in Connecticut

Auction for 62-acre Johnsonville parcel scheduled just days before Halloween

One of the standing structures in Johnsonville, Conn.
One of the standing structures in Johnsonville, Conn.

For $800,000, a buyer can get a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side, or even a one-bedroom home on the prestigious Sutton Place. But in East Haddam, Conn., bids will start at that price in an October auction of a 62-acre ghost town.

The parcel is known as the village of Johnsonville, an abandoned 19th century mill village located two hours from New York City. It’s an assemblage of eight contiguous parcels, according to Auction.com, which is handling the online proceeding slated to begin on Oct. 21 and close the next day. Permitted uses for the land include single-family housing, multi-family housing, retail, education and entertainment. It has previously served as a filming location for Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams” music video and, more recently, the movie “Freedom” starring Cuba Gooding Jr.

The land holds eight historical structures — several of which were later brought to the site to recreate the mill community — as well as a pond, covered bridge, wooden dam and waterfall.

Modernization brought the town’s water-powered mills to a halt, forcing the town’s population to move elsewhere – essentially rendering Johnsonville a ghost town. Beginning in the 1960s, a man named Ray Schmitt attempted to bring the village back for tourist purposes by erecting new buildings and restoring an old mansion at the site. Schmitt died in the late ’90s and the project was never completed.

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“The first time I saw the asset, it blew my mind,” said Justin Jabara, the operations manager of Meyer Jabara Hotels, a Connecticut-based owner and operator of hotel properties whose subsidiary bought the land in 2001. “This asset is unlike anything we own … it’s like a time capsule,” adding that the site has already attracted interest from non-profits interested in developing summer camps and schools, as well as wealthy individuals looking to develop private summer compounds.

Jabara predicts that the land will end up trading in the $3 million to $4 million range. It had gone on and off the market until ownership recently decided to put it all on the auction block. Penny Parker, a former broker with the Hartford-based Chozick Realty, most recently had the listing for the site with a $2.9 million ask. She could not be reached for comment.

Sources familiar with the area believe auctioning the property online could be a tough sell. Said one source, who declined to be named: “You need to bring people to see it.”