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Historic Watertown Farm House May be Demolished

Beacon High School officials have applied to tear down the building on Belmont Street that dates back to 1840.

A farm house dating back to 1840 may be torn down, but the Historical Society of Watertown contends it should be saved because of the role it played in the town's past.

The Historical Commission will discuss whether to allow the demolition of the Orchard House, at 917 Belmont St., which is now part of Beacon High School. 

In the written proposal, Beacon School officials said they plan to take down the building to provide more green space at the school.

The History

The school has historic significance and is a rare style in Watertown.

"This Greek Revival frame house was built around 1840 for Abijah White, local land-owner, cattle baron, abolitionist and (according to Solon Whitney’s Historical Sketches in 1893) philanthropist. The building is not only one of the oldest houses left in town but also an architecturally important example of its style," the letter from the Historical Society reads.

Abijah and Ann Maria (Howard) White both descended from members of the Boston Tea Party and were committed abolitionists. The land was settled by the Stearn Family in 1662, and remained in the family until Boston Tea Party participant Captain Phineaus Stearn passed it to his nephew Abijah White, according to the record for the property from the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Society Information System.

The couple hosted anti-slavery gatherings on their property.

The White family had a mansion on Main Street, but it was torn down in the 1960s. 

"This farm house so far, remains, more humble but no less a part of the town’s history," the Historical Society letter reads.

The Process

The Historical Commission, which is not related to the Historical Society, will discuss removing tearing down the school house, which is now part of a larger, 3,095-square-foot building. 

The school approached town officials in 2006 to see if they could take down the building, said Conservation Agent Christopher Hayward. 

"The Historical Commission had not problem with them tearing down the back of the building, but asked if they could save the front part and preserve it in perpetuity," Hayward said. 

The school did not agree to take that step, Hayward said.

The Historical Commission rules on the demolition of any building over 50 years old, Hayward said. In such cases, the Building Inspector will not issue any building permits without a demolition permit from the Historical Commission, Hayward said.

Mara July 12, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Actually the application mentions "green space" AND a building. They throw in the building as if it's an afterthought. I am most concerned with what that building would look like.
Carol Hamilton July 22, 2012 at 04:59 AM
In the mid 1950s, Orchard House was known as the Orchard Home School (for girls). I was there about 1952 to 1954 and while it was a very small boarding school, it was the happiest time of my growing up years. I know the house has probably changed inside but I can remember how it was quite clearly. I was born and raised in Massachusetts and I think it should be saved. I'm not a resident of Massachusetts any more so I know my voice is of no importance to the owners but we are too quick to throw away the old. This is history and should be saved.

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