Notable People of Wrentham
As part of Wrentham’s 350th anniversary celebration, Local Town Pages is highlighting significant people and places in the town’s history. Following is a submission we recently received.
Lionel “Luke” Schensnol
One of the founders of the Wrentham Conservation Commission, Luke Schensnol was born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1925. He and his family escaped the Soviet invasion and takeover of Lithuania in 1939, leaving home and possessions behind, and took refuge in Sharon, Massachusetts. Luke joined the Marines at 17, participating in the Guam and Okinawan campaigns during WWII. After college and beginning a teaching career, Luke, his wife Cynthia and three children, moved to Wrentham in 1959 into the large colonial on East Street near the center of town, built by Daniel Guild in the 1700s.
A group of town folk, including fishermen, hunters, hikers and birders, advocated for and succeeded in passing the formation of the Wrentham Conservation Commission at Town Meeting in May of 1962. They held their first meeting on September 19, 1962. The newly formed Commission members included Lionel Schensnol, George E. Reynolds, Charles S. Canning, Jr., and Lawrence C. Perkins; appointed fellow members Marjorie E. Taylor as Chairman, Louis A. Maguire as Vice-chairman, and Edna K. Williams as Secretary.
During that first meeting, the Conservation Commission recognized that Wrentham’s unique qualities would likely bring further development into the town. In an effort to protect the town’s natural resources and lakes, they focused on acquiring property. Luke Schensnol worked tirelessly to set aside land that would otherwise have been developed. Many of the properties were gifted or provided at bargain prices. Some of the notable parcels:
• Oxbow Meadow, 15-acres, purchased from Joseph A and Margaret L. Hunchard and Frederick C. and Lois M. Hyldberg for $1,000 in 1964.
• Craig Meadow, 10-acres, purchased in 1964 from Harry J. Webb for $350.
• Knuckup Hill, 17-acres, includes several parcels that were purchased with Conservation Funds in 1964 but included several parcels that had been obtained since 1958. This included the Sweatt Hill ski area, which Schensnol and members of the Wampanoag Ski Patrol ran until the early 1980s. The Wampanoag Ski Club hosted the Gitchie Manitou Ski Race, an Easter Bonnet Ski Parade, and in the summers, they held a clam bake and bean-hole-bean picnic at the ski hill each year.
• Crocker Pond, 122-acres. Schensnol coordinated this $20,000 purchase with the City of Attleboro in 1968 to protect the watershed of Attleboro’s water supply. The Crocker Pond site was purchased from the family of Mary P. Wells Smith, author of “The Boy Captive of Old Deerfield,” who spent her summers at the family cabin on Crocker Pond. Schensnol continued to engage with local landowners such as Frank E. and Virginia A. Dicks to donate additional parcels adjacent to the Crocker Pond area.
• Burnt Swamp, 37-acres, purchased from William and Margaret Dias in 1969.
• Joe’s Rock, 70-acres, purchased from Anna L. T. Massie and the Wentworth Massie Estate for $25,000 in 1970.
In 1986, three years after Luke Schensnol passed away, the family of Salvatore B. Simeone donated 33-acres just south of Crocker Pond to the Conservation Commission to preserve in its natural state. This created a link to other town-owned land, providing a greenway for wildlife and protecting the watershed for the town’s drinking water, well #4 off Thurston Street. The Crocker Pond area has been maintained as the Lionel Schensnol Conservation Area, with picnic tables and trails that include portions of the Warner Trail.
Schensnol coordinated with the Appalachian Mountain Club and Meade Bradner in maintaining the 14-miles of the Warner Trail in Wrentham. The Warner Trail, at that time, ran from the Blue Hills in Quincy to Diamond Hill Reservoir in Rhode Island. Because of development, it now runs from Sharon, MA to Diamond Hill Reservoir. Schensnol obtained the trail easement at the end of Warner Trail Drive in Wrentham and maintained the Warner Trail though the State Forests in Wrentham.
He also founded and was Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 131 which benefited the conservation areas through Boy Scout projects that blazed trails, built bridges, and cleaned up many of the conservation areas.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the responsibilities of the Commission increased when Massachusetts implemented the 1972 Wetlands Protection Act. The Act gave the Commission its first enforcement “teeth” to control developers and prevent wanton wetland filling and damage. Enforcement and permitting took up much of the Commission’s time when Schensnol was Chairman, as the town was “discovered” by developers once Interstate 495 was proposed and built.
September 2020 was the 60th anniversary of the Wrentham Conservation Commission’s founding. The Commission continues to advocate for the preservation of open spaces for wildlife and sportsmen. The Commission works diligently to protect our watersheds, our source of drinking water, and existing properties through the enforcement of environmental laws. A description of the properties acquired and managed by the Commission as well as background information is provided in the “Guide to Open Spaces and Conservation Land – 2020” on the town’s website at Wrentham.gov. From the Business pulldown menu, click on Conservation Commission and view Studies & Reports.
Hardcopies are free and available at Town Hall, 2nd floor.
Submitted by Darryl Luce