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Ten Most Endangered Historic Resources
PreservatiON MASS annually spotlights the Ten Most Endangered Historic Resources in the Commonwealth to focus attention on and rally support for imperiled historic buildings and landscapes. Through a media campaign, the program headlines historic places threatened by neglect, deterioration, insufficient funding, inappropriate development, insensitive public policy or vandalism. Local organizations and individuals concerned about the potential loss of these significant resources nominate sites from their community. Due to the hard work and diligence of concerned community members using the Endangered designation as an advocacy tool, fewer than fifteen of the more than one hundred thirty sites listed to date have been lost. Through the hard work of preservation-minded groups and individuals, we hope that the 2003 Endangered Resources will become preservation success stories!
Wright-Holden Farm, Acton
One of the earliest houses in East Acton, the c. 1830 “Middlesex Federal” style WrightHolden Farm sits prominently on Route 2 and is the last farmstead in Acton to retain so much open space surrounding it. The farmhouse has been vacant for 20 years, although part of the open space is used by the community for soccer fields and Boy Scout ceremonies.
Photo: Peter Grover, Acton Historical Commission
The current owner, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (MDOC), has no immediate plans for the house and performs little in the way of maintenance. Many concerned individuals have contacted the Acton Historical Commission regarding the state of the house and their wish to see it restored and adaptively reused, however little can be done while the MDOC retains control of the property.
Photo: Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor
Blackstone Canal, Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor
The Blackstone Canal is an engineered structure and landscape extending forty-five miles from Worcester to Providence, RI. The Massachusetts canal route travels throughthe communities of Blackstone, Millville, Uxbridge, Northbridge, Grafton, Sutton, Millbury and Worcester. The Canal operated from 1828 to 1848, during which time it played a significant role in advancing the Industrial Revolution through innovative transportation technology. The industrial villages came to see themselves as connected by the river and canal.
Because some segments of the Canal are intact and well-preserved, there’s a general misconception by the public that the entire resource is protected. Much of the Canal is located on private property, which is being developed without regard to the resource. Nature and time continue to erode canal walls and wash out sections of the towpath. The public sections of the Canal are subject to erosion from dirt bike tires. Suburbanization occurring adjacent to the Canalthreatens the integrity and continuity of the early 19th century landscape.
Historic Granite Landings, Charles River Esplanade, Boston
Built in the 1930s, Commissioners, Dartmouth Street and Gloucester Street Granite Landings are architectural anchors of this National Register-listed riverside park. Boston landscape architect ArthurShurcliff, best known for his work at Colonial Williamsburg, designed the Granite Landings as part of the 1930s widening of the Charles River Esplanade. The Granite Landings serve as overlooks, formal landings for small boats, and popular gathering spots for park visitors.
Photo: The Esplanade Association
After decades of neglect, the Granite Landings are collapsing into the river. Environmental conditions, especially freeze and thaw cycles, mortar loss, inappropriate repairs, organic growth and extensive use, have all contributed to the damage. A 1999 Metropolitan District Commission assessment report identified urgent repairs neededwithin one to two years. Since that study was issued, nothing has been done to stabilize or repair the structures and additional damage has occurred. There is strong and widespread support for preserving the Granite Landings from preservation and conservation groups across the Commonwealth.
Historic Breweries of Mission Hill, Roxbury
The 1886 Eblana-Alley Brewery, the 1892-1913 Highland Spring Brewery, and the 1876-1886 Vienna Brewery are located along the former Stony Brook corridor in Roxbury’s Mission Hill neighborhood. At the height of the local brewing industry in the late 19th century, the Stony Brook corridor was a regional center of industrial production. The remnants of the three breweries, as well as four additional brewery complexes in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, were recommended as a potential thematic National Register Historic District by the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) in 1985. In 1988 the BLC issued an official eligibility opinion finding the Vienna Brewery eligible for the National Register and also designated the complex a Boston Landmark. The three breweries face similar threats, including neglect, inappropriate rehabilitation, and pending sales without preservation restrictions or clear plans for redevelopment.While there is no immediate threat of demolition for any of the structures, all are in a similarly tenuous position by reason of being largely vacant or for sale. The plight of the breweries drew the attention of the Friends of Historic Mission Hill, a neighborhood preservation advocacy group, who submitted the property nomination.
Photo: Elaine Stiles
Toll Keeper’s House, The Toll Keepers House, built c. 1800, is one of Chelsea
Photo: David Meyers
the oldest surviving houses in Chelsea and a survivor of the 1908 fire that destroyed half the city. Local historians believe this house to be associated with the first bridge erected to serve the trade, commerce, and transportation needs of the North Shore. The property is divided into two lots, the line between which runs through the middle of the building. The site was significantly altered with the construction of the Tobin Bridge in 1949. It is listed on the National Register as part of the Chelsea Square Historic District.
The house is up for sale and being offered as two separate lots. The tight location below the Tobin bridge, the poor condition of the property, and the high asking price for each lot have many in the community fearful that the property will be sold to a developer for short money, who would then demolish it and replace it with a new structure. The Chelsea City Manager, City Council, Planning and Community Development Office, Historical Commission and Historical Society all support the effort to preserve the Toll Keeper’s House.
Immaculate Conception Church, Holyoke
Immaculate Conception Church, located in the Flats section of Holyoke along one of the many canals, was an important parish for many French-speaking immigrants. Built during the 1930s in the French Gothic style, the church is reminiscent of New York City’s renowned Church of St. Vincent Ferrer, considered one of the most beautiful public buildings in the United States. The first pastor of this church, Reverend Julian Ginet, was originally from France, where he’d studied architecture, and he was the church’s main designer.
Photo: Sarah DiSano
Built to house over 1000 people, over the years the parish has dwindled to a population of about 400. According to the June 22, 2003 Immaculate Conception Church bulletin, “It is believed that we can build a smaller church holding about 350 to 400 people and costing about one and a half million dollars. A smaller church would involve much less maintenance costs.” According to the Diocese of Springfield, a final decision has not yet been made as to the fate of this church. The Holyoke Historical Commission and many other concerned community leaders and citizens strongly oppose demolishing this building.
Westinghouse “Victorian” Crook Street Lamps, Lenox
The c. 1900 Victorian Crook Street Lamps were produced and sited in Lenox by George Westinghouse and his Massachusetts Electric Company. Local legend claims that the street lamps were erected for Mrs. Westinghouse, who disliked traveling in the dark. The 1913 Town of Lenox Annual Report states that 105 street lamps were installed at a cost of $3,675, with the town’s expenses being offset by a donation from Mr. Westinghouse. By 1916, fortyfour additional street lamps had been installed. In 1990, twenty street lamps remained standing. By 2003, only eleven street lamps were still standing, three of which have no electricity or are partially damaged and missing parts. Over the years, Mass Electric has removed many of the Westinghouse lamps and replaced them with modern aluminum light poles. The Lenox Historical Commission and many concerned citizens have united to study the street lamps, as they strongly believe they contribute to Lenox’s character and should be restored.
Photo: David Meyers
Schell Memorial Bridge, Northfield
The Schell Memorial Bridge is a 515-foot long steel cantilever truss bridge donated to the town by one of its leading citizens, Francis R. Schell, who hoped to obtain easy access from his chateau in downtown Northfield to the East Northfield Railroad Station. Schell Bridge is the Photo: Tony Jewell third oldest of five Pennsylvania Truss Bridges and was designed by Edward S. Shaw, an important bridge engineerin Massachusetts from 1873 to 1919. Up until its closing in 1985, theSchell Bridge provided the town with easy transportation between the two sides of the village, which is divided by the Connecticut River. Lack of funding for maintenance and rehabilitation are ongoing threats to the Schell Bridge. According to the nomination, the Town has never had sufficient funding to maintain the bridge and by 1985 it was too far gone from a structural strength point of view and was closed. Mass Highway devised a plan to repair the bridge, but the Town could not justify the costs of assuming responsibility for maintaining the rehabilitated structure. In 1992, with no group willing to take on the responsibility of the bridge, the decision was made to tear it down. Demolition bids were made and contracts awarded in 1999, however economic issues continued to plague the structure. The Northfield community recognizes the bridge’s historic importance and many would like to see it restored, albeit at a reasonable cost.
Sea Call Farm, Orleans
Sea Call Farm occupies 6.35 acres of land with a view of the Town Cove. It is the only remaining ensemble of intact farmland with farm buildings in Orleans. The land was purchased in 1921 by William Fiske, who built the farmhouse between 1912 and 1922. Up until the property was purchased for conservation land by the Town of Orleans in 1987, it was owned and continuously lived Photo: The Sea Call Supporters in by members of the Fiske family. Some members of the Orleans Conservation Commission feel that the farm buildings (including the house, greenhouse and garage) should be demolished because they are expensive to maintain. The nominees feel there is a lack of understanding within the Conservation Commission with regards to how the historic importance of the farm buildings relates to the value of the property as open space. The Sea Call Supporters have raised $32,000 for abatementof lead paint and asbestos present on all of the buildings, and at Orleans Town Meeting, an additional $29,000 was approved for those purposes. However, the cost of abating these materials may exceed the total amount raised. Both the Orleans Historical Commission and Historical Society consistently support preserving the farm complex as a window to Orleans’ past.
The Nichewaug Inn, Petersham
For the better part of 200 years there has been a tavern, inn or hotel on this Photo: Friends of the Nichewaug Inn site on the Petersham Common. The 1899 Shingle Style Nichewaug Inn was built as a summer resort by prominent Petersham citizen, James W. Brooks, after a 1897 fire destroyed a previous inn located on the site. The Inn was a popular summer getaway for nearly 50 years. In 1951 the Inn was acquired by the Sisters of Maria Assumpta and converted into a parochial school for girls. A 55,000 square foot brick building was added to the rear for classrooms and student housing. The Sisters closed the school during the 1970s, but used the building as a retreat until its eventual sale to private interests in the 1980s. The property has sat vacant and unused for 20 years, changing ownership several times during that period, until it was purchased by its current owner in 1992. In 1992 the Town supported plans to develop the property as a restaurant and inn and granted the necessary variances. However the project did not go forward and the property has been offered for sale ever since. The threat of arson is a primary concern for the community, which has a volunteer fire department with minimal equipment. A local concerned citizens group, Friends of the Nichewaug Inn, has been formed to promote this important historic resource.
Pierce Organ Factory, Reading
Built in 1847, the Pierce Organ Pipe Factory manufactured thousands of metal and wood pipes for musical organs throughout America over the factory’s nine decades of operation. With its skilled workers, Samuel Pierce’s factory became the seed for turning Reading into a major center for organ industries. This two-story, timber-frame, Greek Revival-Italianate structure largely retains its original characteristics, such as corner pilasters and six-over-six wood windows.
Photo: Clayton Jones
When Pierce died in 1895 his manager took over the factory, but the business went into decline during the Depression, when the advent of talking movies reduced demand for theater organs. The building is currently used for storage. In 2001 it was threatened with demolition to make way for the construction of townhouses on the site, but the Reading Historical Commission was able to temporarily delay the action. Overall deterioration has resulted from years of neglect, and there is a serious threat of loss due to fire. The Reading Historical Commission voted in June 2002 to seek new ways to preserve the structure and the Planning Department is investigating the possibility of reusing the property as affordable housing. Cooperation between planning, historical and zoning boards is strong. The property was officially put up for sale in 2003.
Edmund Fowle House, Watertown
The Edmund Fowle House, the second oldest surviving house in Watertown, is believed to have been built in the early 1740s by John Bond, and was originally located on Mt. Auburn Street. The property was purchased by Edmund Fowle in 1747 and was occupied by the Fowle family for 150 years. In 1776 the Treaty of Watertown was signed in this house—this was the first treaty signed between the newly formed United Photo: Historical Society of Watertown States and a foreign power (the delegates of the St. John’s and Mi’kmaq Tribes of Native Americans.) In 1871 Charles Brigham purchased the house, moved it to its present Marshall Street address, and converted it into a two family residence. In 1922 the Historical Society of Watertown purchased the home and undertook an exterior restoration. Due to a lack of funding and weather damage, the Fowle House is in fragile condition. If preservation of the house is not undertaken within the next year, original fabric will soon be lost. The house is currently closed to the public, due to building code violations and the immanent danger of ceiling collapse on the first floor. Three preservation studies were conducted on the house, all of which confirmed the house’s historical significance and the need for preservation and restoration. The Watertown Town Council and Historical Commission support the preserving the house, however the Town has been unable to allocate any funding towards the restoration project.
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