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Watertown's Orchard House Named One of the State's Most Endangered Historic Resources

The 1830s farm house is under threat of demolition if the owners, The Walker School, cannot find a way to pay to preserve the building on Belmont Street.

The following information was provided by Preservation Massachusetts:

The property at 917 Belmont Street in Watertown has been named one of Massachusetts’ “Most Endangered Historic Resources”. Since 1993, this list is compiled annually by Preservation Massachusetts, the state’s historic preservation advocacy organization.

Known as Orchard House, this large and graceful Greek Revival home was constructed in 1840. It was situated on what was originally at potato farm but developed into a cattle farm by one of Watertown’s most prominent citizens, Abijah White. The home has rich historical ties to notable people associated with the Revolution, Abolition and Temperance movements, art, literature and education.

The home was converted to use as a school for girls in the early 20th century, and in 2006 was purchased by the Walker Home and School as its high school. A plan to demolish a portion of the house and attach a gym did not advance and the property has been essentially vacant since then.

to demolish the entire house for green space and put educational trailers on the property, though not on the site of the demolished house. The local Historic Commission invoked a demolition delay, which ends in July, 2013, but the school has said the building’s outcome is inevitable. [Editor's Note: ]

Jim Igoe, President of Preservation Massachusetts feels strongly about the future of the Orchard House. “Orchard House's listing as an endangered resource allows the passionate and strong support around the building's preservation to be elevated to a statewide level in the hope of a positive resolution. It is very apparent that this resource is held dearly in Watertown's heart for both its rich history and architectural character.”

Marilynne Roach of the Watertown Historical Society states: “Abijah White’s high style Greek Revival farmhouse, Orchard House, at 917 Belmont St. has defined its corner since 1832, a significant architectural example of the area’s no longer common rural past, and of the educational, artistic, and social justice accomplishments of the family that built it. Its ties to the Anti-slavery movement alone prove its importance not just to Watertown and to Massachusetts, but to our Nation as a whole, a historic resource that can speak to us all.”

There are many in the community who want to see the property saved and work collaboratively with the owner to find a viable way to preserve and reuse this extremely historic house. Many see the time afforded by the delay as a way to have meaningful engagement with the owners, explore preservation options and educate about the incredible history that would be lost if Orchard House is demolished.

Durgin Garage in Brookline was also listed.

The other endangered resources for 2012 are: Fitchburg City Hall, Mechanic’s Hall (Princeton), Ware Methodist Episcopal Church, Elm Hill Farm (Brookfield), North Brookfield Town House, Quinsigamond Firehouse (Worcester), Plymouth Theatre – The Palladium (Worcester), the Charles Bowker House (Worcester), and Herbert M. Farr Residence (Holyoke).

The 2012 Massachusetts Most Endangered Historic Resources list will be publicly recognized at the annual “Believe in Preservation” event, hosted this year at Tuckerman Hall in Worcester on Nov. 8. For more event details, and more information on the Massachusetts Most Endangered program, visit www.preservationmass.org or call 617-723-3383.

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