Garfield House: Planning Board awaits advice from counsel; 14 year old rallying a protest

by beth on July 15, 2014

Post image for Garfield House: Planning Board awaits advice from counsel; 14 year old rallying a protest

Above: Plans to demolish the historic Garfield House on Main Street, between Parkerville and Deerfoot roads, could be unstoppable. But they are being met with dismay and protest. (Photo contributed by Sandy Torres)

Last night, developer Robert Moss explained to the Planning Board and public his plans for demolishing the historic Garfield House.

Early on he stated he has no interest in exploring alternatives to demolition of the historic home. The Town Planner and community members sought to change his mind. And today, a town teen is leading a protest in hopes of effecting a change (scroll down for that news).

Planning Board Chair Don Morris said he is waiting to receive a report from Town Counsel. Depending on the findings, the board will decide to reconvene by July 29th, or allow the project to proceed by default.

Moss clarified for the board that his plans for the estate are as a homeowner, not a developer. The splitting of land between him and two friends, plus creation of an additional home, are to allow him to afford living on the property.

Selectman Paul Cimino reacted to that news by urging Moss to find another beautiful spot in town to build a house on.

Moss didn’t respond to Cimino’s request or to most of the wistful wishing of others at the meeting urging the applicant explore alternatives.

Earlier in the meeting, Moss defended his choice to demolish what some characterized as the most significant historical house in town:

I realize it’s controversial, but I’m the one stepping up and putting up my hard earned money

Moss characterized the house built in 1850 by Joseph Burnett as a “white elephant”. According to Moss, the current homeowner estimated renovation costs to be between $1.2-1.5 million. 

He said that it wasn’t just the investment expense but what someone would get out of it.  He believed the 11 bedroom house with a ballroom that made sense for the Burnett family’s lifestyle doesn’t work for people today.

The applicant also claimed to have considered turning the home into three condo units. He said that the choice doesn’t make sense for Southborough. He didn’t believe buyers would spend $1 million for a condo on the property, especially to live on the third floor.

Moss told the Planning Board that he plans to seek a demolition permit within a week. At that point he will give the Historic Commission 30 days to take, free of charge, any items they want from the house (fireplaces, doors, doorknobs, etc.) He then plans to have restoration experts remove slate from the roof and stone from the building exterior and doors for reuse in the 3 English cottages to be built on the property.

He also plans to turn the Carriage House and stone church/shop into one two bedroom home that he hopes to be “a really unique, kind of cutting edge residence”. The plans include bringing the mature trees on the property back to full health and ridding the area of invasive weeds overrunning the property boundaries and impeding the public’s view of the stone walls and estate.

Moss pointed out that the home was on the market for two years before anyone bit. But the those two years took place before the purchase by Jon Delli Priscoli in 2012. Until last week, the public believed that the owners were working to renovate/restore the property. Moss says that the homeowners, operating Edaville Railroad and other properties from Carver, decided the commute wasn’t worth it.

About 8 weeks ago, Delli Priscoli contacted Moss directly to see his interest in purchasing the property. Moss signed purchase and sale within a week. Just last week, he filed his ANR (Approval Not Required) application with the Town Planner.

Planning Board member Phil Jenks explained to the audience that the ANR process wasn’t created by Southborough or the Planning Board. It is a state regulation that allows homeowners to easily proceed with plans that are already allowed. Under it, no public hearing or notification of abutters is required.

Former Selectman Donna McDaniel reminded the audience that years ago an effort to pass a demolition delay bylaw failed at Town Meeting. That bylaw would have allowed the town a few months to locate someone else to buy the home.

Among the commenters was a great granddaughter of Joseph Burnett who drove down from New Hampshire after learning about the plans and meeting that day. She was dismayed that the quick events wouldn’t allow others to work on a solution. She said she would have come down herself to lead an effort.

Many audience members thanked Moss for his decision to allow the Historic Commission to retrieve items from the house and/or preserve mature trees. But most were saddened by the plans and hoped an alternative could be found.

Today, I was urged by the mother of 14 year old Bridget Brady to share her call to arms:

Recently, I heard the news regarding two Underground Railroad homes being knocked down to build another property. It shocked me that people of Southborough were willing to allow developers to come and remove houses signifying some of the bravest undertakings in our country’s history.

The news shared with me this morning, however, completely blew me away – that one of the biggest landmarks of Southborough is going to be demolished for new construction.

People say that there is nothing we can do, but there is always a way, and our town should not give up on this dramatic problem so easy. The Burnett House, otherwise known as the Garfield House, should not be demolished because of its historical significance to Southborough. I am only 14, but I have a voice and so do you.

If you feel the way I do please come and stand in front of this beautiful house any day starting now and for whatever length of time you can. We cannot just sit on our couches and watch this happen to our town! We need to do something.

Bridget and friends will be protesting in front of the property starting at 4:00 pm this afternoon.

Update (7/16/14 7:33 am): The protest photo was shared on Facebook. I also removed “grand” from “grand ballroom” reference. I didn’t mean to write that. Moss may not have said “grand”. It’s not in my notes. So that may have just been my impression (after all – don’t ballrooms sound grand?) I don’t have time to re-watch the entire meeting to double check.

1 Kathryn K. July 15, 2014 at 4:43 PM

Just shocked! What a tragedy this will be! The Garfield house is iconic and historical. Please, everyone call or email the selectmen to voice your dismay!

2 SB Resident July 15, 2014 at 5:36 PM

I don’t know where he really lives, but it is interesting that this is the second time Mr. Moss has used the I’m going to live there tactic to ease development fears.

3 Anonymous July 16, 2014 at 8:57 AM

It also isn’t the first time he’s used the “English Cottage” terminology when he actually meant typical McMansions on too-small lots all on top of each other.

4 southsider July 16, 2014 at 4:11 PM

An interesting article from several years ago provided by SB Resident. Did the developer move there as he claimed? Did the development move forward? How did that all turn out? Such info could be telling here.

5 james garfield July 15, 2014 at 6:00 PM

I am very sorry to hear about the potential threat to 84 Main Street. I grew up in that house with my 6 siblings and it was a wonderful place to grow up. It does need attention there is no doubt but it is hardly a white elephant. As to a condo on the 3rd floor..that would be the condo I would want with the best views of the reservoir. The new owner mentions a grand ballroom. For the record there is no “grand ballroom”. There was a billiard room that we used as a playroom,television etc. Then what we called the big living room. I doubt more than 5 couples could waltz in there without bumping into each other and only then if all the furniture was removed. Hats of to you Bridget Brady and good luck! Abe Garfield

6 beth July 16, 2014 at 7:43 AM

The “grand” part of ballroom was a mistake on my part that I just fixed.

Moss may not have said “grand”. It’s not in my notes. So that may have just been my impression (after all – don’t ballrooms sound grand?) I don’t have time to re-watch the entire meeting to double check.

Now, as I’m writing this comment, I’m wondering if what sounded like “ballroom” to me could have been “billiard room”.

7 Denise Jones July 15, 2014 at 6:11 PM

This is a sad day for Southborough. There is not one day that I don’t enjoy driving by The Burnett Mansion, admiring the property of one of the town’s founders. He and his cousins have left their mark all over the town we enjoy. The St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and The Burnett Mansion had special stone brought in to build both, the original Episcopalian Church sits behind the mansion before St. Mark’s was built. The new builder certainly has the money to do the damage so he can build for himself and his friends, what a warm welcome they bring to the town.

8 Donna McDaniel July 15, 2014 at 8:23 PM

Hi Bridget,
Good for you for caring about this and your town’s history enough to take some action.

I’m wondering about the two houses you mention as on the Underground Railroad and (recently?) demolished… where are/were they? Word of those certainly didn’t get around very widely…

Donna McDaniel

9 Resident July 15, 2014 at 9:06 PM

For those concerned the question you should ask is did the current property owner have a permit to fill the wet lands and level off the natural water retension area that they filled with 6 feet of soil last week near the dearfoot frontage. Was conservation notified before they placed fill in the wet lands area? Obviously done in the dry season for good reasons

10 beth July 16, 2014 at 8:09 AM

In the meeting, Moss said that Conservation determined the wetlands there not significant.

11 beth July 16, 2014 at 8:11 AM

I should also say, I believe he said that gravel was placed under the soil.

12 Patriot July 16, 2014 at 10:43 AM

The wetland issue needs to be closely examined also.”No significant wetlands in that area” What do you call those things that are directly across Rte 30 in The McDonalds front yard? Wetlands that are so filled with Spring peepers that the sounds are deafening in the early Spring,they feed directly into the culvert that flows through the entire Garfield property on the left side toward the Reservoir ? I would call that significant wetlands and setback issues!

13 beth July 16, 2014 at 11:58 AM

To clarify, I didn’t say “in that area”. I was referring only to what Moss said about the patch that he fixed.

14 Jonas July 15, 2014 at 9:57 PM

Broken Hearts:
Take a close look at the last few paragraphs in the article from Four years ago:

The furor and shock really shouldn’t be so strong. This was a distinct possibility in 2010. It’s also worth noting that during the initial auction process not a single bid was submitted.

15 Concerned_resident July 17, 2014 at 11:07 PM

Jonas, your comment would have merit if it weren’t for the fact that 2010 marked the peak of the “Great Recession”, a period during which no banks were lending (even among themselves). failure to obtain a bid during the auction shouldn’t having a bearing on the historical value of the property then or now or the economic value of the property today.

16 KJM July 15, 2014 at 11:11 PM

This is such a travesty. Classic example of people being incredibly short-sighted and the kind of thing that people will forever look back on and wonder, “What were they thinking??” Totally selfish, greedy, and soulless, there’s no way around it.

17 Frank Crowell July 16, 2014 at 10:27 AM

I have a question KJM: Is it not greedy and selfish to think that the owners money should be used to preserve a house because some faction in town wants it preserved. The crowd here who wants the property to remain as is had their chance to organize and buy it at auction. What was stopping them?

It always all well and good to spend someone else’s money.

18 Al Hamilton July 16, 2014 at 11:27 AM

Before we call our neighbors selfish, greedy soulless slime perhaps we should walk a mile in their shoes.

Perhaps we should say thank you for paying about $100,000 in taxes over the last 4 years even though you never lived in the house.

Perhaps we should come to grips that nobody has wanted to plunk the money to buy the house and then another million+ to renovate it. It has been on the market for a long long time. The reality is that for the money involved there are more attractive properties available in town.

If you want the right to condemn the owner then knock on his door and make him a good faith offer. If you are not prepared to do that then, yes you can mourn the passing of a stately, historic, building, but I see no reason to bad mouth the owner who has probably regrets the day he/she bought this historic property. Doing so says more about the speaker than the target.

19 Judith Bailey Keneman July 16, 2014 at 1:07 PM

I have to agree. I am sick about the prospect of demolition, but cannot bad mouth the owners. We cannot know what circumstances forced them to sell to the developer, but I would have hoped, after promising renovation to the town, they would have given some notice of a fast sale with demolition in the plan. In any event, now is the time to band together with all the resources we can muster to save the house. We need to appeal to anyone or institution who may be able to help. Not very long ago, the Kidder Mansion was saved from a wrecking ball. Are we pursuing every avenue possible? We need positive action and innovative thinking.

20 Mark Fox July 17, 2014 at 8:44 AM

Although I also do not agree with this type of name calling, i do not agree with the overly simpistic counter arguments like Al Hamilton and so many others are making here.

Although it is true that the only way to stop this may be for some individual or group to make a good faith counter-offer, there is an unfortunate time and financial coordination challenge here.

You have to recognize the huge cost difference between 2 possible purchase approaches – one being the expensive renovation approach verses the much less expensive tear down and break-up and resale of the subdivided properties as Mr. Moss is doing. The latter may even turn a nice profit frankly.

The first choice has a very limited number of potential buyers due to its high cost. No doubt it takes more time to coordinate and find such a buyer or groups that would be able to make this counter-offer and would have the same goal as the Edaville RR owners over the last 2 years at least claimed to have. I believe that the number of buyers today are likely much higher than what existed during the sale attempt and auction period 2+ years ago during a much deeper part of the recession. Given a reasonable amount of time in todays market, such a buyer could likely be found. Too bad this was not given a chance by the current owners. It is quite suspicious frankly how fast this sale went down to Mr. Moss given the supposed passion that the Edaville RR owners had for renovation.

I think there are many in and around our town who have the financial capability for the second choice similar to the current new buyer. But they have not and would not step forward I believe because their morale compass prevents them from doing so. They recognize the importance of this property and that every opportunity should be given in todays market to find a proper buyer to take the right direction and to not jump in to take the easy and likely self-serving approach of tear down and subdivide.

As long as seller and someone like Mr Moss are ok with moving so quickly with the tear down approach, this unfortunately creates a real stacked deck against any effort to try to do the right thing.

But I applaud any and all efforts including those at the grass root level that get the word out and try to see if this cant be stopped somehow. There is always a chance and we must try.

21 Patriot July 15, 2014 at 11:19 PM

Under Title 5,there is a 400ft setback requirement for any septic system proposed in that location,The 200ft setback from a tributary to the Sudbury Reservoir ends at the waterfall on Deerfoot Road.Any and all septic systems MUST be 400ft from the Reservoir in that location. He cannot meet that 400ft requirement for 4 systems on that property.There is no hardship to grant a common system for that property either .No Way in that spot Bobby Boy ,I repeat, No way!

22 beth July 16, 2014 at 8:08 AM

In the meeting, he explained that the septic is already there for the 11 bedroom house. He will be putting up three 3 bedroom houses and a 2 room house = 11. They will share that septic.

23 Patriot July 16, 2014 at 10:06 AM

Regardless It is not a replacement system for renovation of an existing dwelling which would have entitled him to certain waivers.Once the existing dwelling is demolished all bets are off and he will be required to meet all requirements of the current Title 5 code. If what you have indicated he said his plans are for the Septic there are true he is sadly mistaken.The Townspeople better be all over the Board of Health with this.

24 Pat D July 16, 2014 at 11:06 AM

There is another septic system on the property, the one for 9 Parkerville Road, which will have to be avoided when Mr. Moss builds three new homes. I find it hard to believe they will all fit on the property and avoiding taking down the large trees as he proposes. The entire transaction is awful — seems to have been done sneakily and behind the townspeoples backs!!

25 Patriot July 17, 2014 at 8:47 AM

The Board of Health is under NO obligation to grant a permit for a shared system on this property.It is at their discretion based upon determinations as to what is best for the environment.We have just had the common shared system fail at the Condos on Middle road.Best practices dictate that individual systems provide the greatest environmental protections.This property is too close to the reservoir to risk any other approach.

26 Patriot July 17, 2014 at 10:47 AM

After doing a little digging,I have discovered that an 11 bedroom replacement Septic system was installed at the Garfield House no long after Mr.Delli Priscoli acquired the property,This is a true indication to me that the circumstances surrounding the property were and are part of a deceptive long term plan.Unfortunately for the owner he has been ill advised.The replacement system approvals were for an 11 bedroom single family and cannot subsequently be converted to use by multiple single family dwellings.As I previously indicated.The existing dwelling is demolished the NEW construction Title 5 guidelines kick in.The only thing that can be tied into that existing replacement system is an 11 bedroom single family.This is a convoluted scheme that has been hatched here.Unfortunately in error for Mr’s Moss,Delli Priscoli,and others,make no mistake.

27 deborah Costine July 15, 2014 at 11:25 PM

Go Bridget! I will join you whenever I am free.

28 Neetu Sehgal July 16, 2014 at 4:25 AM

This home signifies so much for the town’s history and is a true Southborough landmark. It would be a shame for these demolition plans to proceed. I only wish I had read this article yesterday so I could have stood by with Bridget and her friends. Beth, please keep us updated as to what if anything town residents can do! Thanks.

29 Cameron July 16, 2014 at 8:24 AM

An Appeal to Mr. Moss – I am sure that you are a good and decent person and your plans for the Garfield/Burnett property seem reasonable to you. You view it as improvement. However the reality is that tearing down the Garfield/Burnett house will forever change, and not for the better, the character and charm of the town. To ride through the center of town and see three modern structures instead of the Burnett house will make most of Southborough wince as they drive by. It is the equivalent of going into the North End and deciding that the Paul Revere house is old and sits on really good land for modern condos. Or to say that old boat in the harbor, the USS Constitution, should give up its berth to a large yacht. I ask you to wait – for once lost, the Burnett house is lost for forever. Do not rush to rip it down but give the people of the town a chance to mobilize and come up with a plan to save the structure. As you are well aware, by doing this so quickly and in the summer when St. Mark’s and Fay Schools are off for the summer and most town functions stop until September, you are not giving people time to react. Give the town the time to either understand there is no other way or come up with an alternative. If you don’t wait, if you rush into this, your name will become synonymous with the disregard for others in the pursuit of self interest that lead to the ruination of what is beautiful about Southborough.

30 John Kendall July 16, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Having been in the Garfield house numerous times when I was a member of the fire department, I can attest to it’s hidden beauty. They just don’t build like that anymore, and it is a part of Southborough’s history. However, the house does require modernization to make it more livable for a modern family. I can understand the costs that one would incur in restoring the building. Obviously, the heirs of Mr. and Mrs. Garfield saw the same, and tried, unsuccessfully to sell it for quite a period of time. Ultimately, it went to auction, at which time the town could have made a bid on it. It was sold at auction, and now has been resold to Mr. Moss. Unfortunately the town has no recourse, and Mr. Moss can do with HIS property as he sees fit. Personally, I think if the town had purchased this, we would be in the same boat as we are with the Choate mansion which houses the senior center….an old building which will eventually cost the town significant money to either fully modernize or raze and replace. It’s really unfortunate what will happen with the Garfield property, but it is what it is.

31 Concerned Resident July 16, 2014 at 9:18 AM

The Garfield House should be on the National Registry of historic homes and not be demolished. Has the press picked up on this article and the plans for demolition? If not, the country might be interested in the future of this treasure. What a disgrace for the town of Southborough and the lack of historic preservation for an important landmark in the area of Lexington and Concord! Shame on Mr. Moss and this town if these plans continue!

32 Lara Joyce July 16, 2014 at 9:28 AM

See you at 5:30 (I have to work) Bridget!!!

33 Judith Bailey Keneman July 16, 2014 at 9:30 AM

I grew up in Southborough on the Kidder Estate. I spent many happy hours walking along the reservoir and admiring the “Stone House” and its beautiful setting. Now, as an amateur genealogist and historian, I really appreciate the legacy of the Burnett family and their countless contributions to Southborough. Last year, I documented the Burnett Family Cemetery and spent countless hours reading old newspaper articles describing the house, the Olmstead landscaping plans, the family members and the celebrations held within its walls. This building is not a “White Elephant.” It was a magnificent home built for a very large family, suited to their lifestyle in an era that is long gone. It was then loved and cherished by the Garfield family and their many children. It is all that is left of the famed “Deerfoot Farms” and should be preserved. The Burnett family were responsible for so much that we cherish as we drive along Main Street. We must try our hardest to keep what I believe is the most historic building in Southborough. If I did not live many states away, I would be there helping in any way I could, including standing with Bridget and her friends. This is the time to prove to the people of the town, especially the children, how much respect there is for the rich history and the amazing citizens who built this town into the beautiful place that it is today. To the developer, this is just a piece of land that will bring him profit. It is so much more – it is the heart of the town’s historic heritage!

34 Paul Bourdon July 16, 2014 at 10:00 AM

While the historic character of the town has been eroding continuously since we moved here in 1999, this is certainly the most historically and architecturally significant building left in town. Burnett was a major figure in the town during the middle of the 19th century. He was a chemist from WPI who developed the process to make vanilla extract amongst other things and made a fortune from it. The small stone building on Deerfoot was the workshop for the construction of the house and then became the first Episcopal church before St. Marks was built. We are becoming the generic bedroom community.

35 Francie Chase July 16, 2014 at 11:30 AM

I’m curious to understand the cost of tearing down the mansion, saving the stone and then building new houses? That is no cheap endeavor and probably close to the cost of restoring the mansion. If Moss is looking to make a profit on property go somewhere else. Baffled and sadden by this …

36 james garfield July 16, 2014 at 1:45 PM

I find it interesting that Mr. Moss has stated that Mr. Priscoli sold him 84 Main St. because he deemed the commute to and and from Carver “not worth it”. I find this hard to believe. He didn’t think of this 2 years ago when he bought the property? The whole transaction seems to have taken place awfully quickly.

37 Al Hamilton July 17, 2014 at 8:45 AM

A willing seller and a willing buyer have no obligation anyone else. I can certainly understand the instinct not to get the town involved. Nothing but pain, delay and expense would be involved.

How would getting the town involved benefit either the seller or buyer?

While we are at it, where was the Historic Commission for the last 4 years? Why were they surprised? Did they ever reach out to the owner to offer assistance?

38 Donna McDaniel July 21, 2014 at 10:42 PM

Can’t help but answer the “where was the historic commission” question… it was nearly non-existent and unable to meet for lack of a quorum. A perfect opportunity for people who love our history to come forward and become involved.
Only recently have there been enough commission members to meet –and there are still three vacancies.Interested? There’s a volunteer form to fill out on the town’s website. Appointment is by the Selectmen. Their next meeting isn’t scheduled until August 12.

39 Christa Brady July 16, 2014 at 2:15 PM

I am the proud mother of Bridget Brady who has been trying to rally the town in a grassroots campaign to save The Garfield Mansion. When I shared the news with her two days ago about its imminent demise, my 14-year-old daughter said, “No! We can’t let that happen!” I asked her, “What would you like to do about it?” She replied, “Protest.” Two hours later she’d already written a message, communicated with friends via Instagram, and created posters.
Admittedly, neither one of us knew too much more than cursory details about this historic home’s past. We simply admired its beauty and hoped for its restoration, which we’ve come to learn had been the desire and understanding of many in Southborough. The Garfield Mansion went up for Public Auction at a very unfortunate time in our economy. When it was purchased two years ago, the buyer said he planned to “restore” The Garfield Mansion “to its original glory.” In a hand to hand sale, Mr. Delli Priscoli passed the property to Mr. Robert Moss, a devleloper from Westborough who intends to demolish our beloved Southborough landmark in order to build 3 new homes. Until a couple of days ago, the people of Southborough were unaware of this, and therefore we hadn’t any opportunity to formulate a response or to reach out to parties who might be able to offer an alternative.
I have heard many cries of dismay followed by, “Well, what can you do? It’s all about money.” As I mentioned earlier, I am a mom, so I am unable to accept that disposition. If you disagree with what should happen to The Garfield House, okay. If you simply don’t care, fine. But, if you do care, please do what you can. Write. Make telephone calls. Show up and stand with my daughter and friends.
I have told Bridget that what she’s doing may not change the outcome, but it’s very important to stand up for what she believes is right. Many of us remind our children, “Bad things happen when good people stand by and do nothing.” Please, good people of Southborough, stand up and fight. It may not change the outcome, but it’s better than sitting idly by and awaiting the sad day when an entire community lets one individual demolish a significant piece of its history. Let’s hope for the day when we can proudly say (along with Bridget,) I did something to save this special place, and it made a difference!

40 Al Hamilton July 17, 2014 at 8:59 AM

As you might guess, I don’t agree with your daughter but you should be very proud of her. Standing up for what you believe in is important.

41 Amber DeChellis July 16, 2014 at 2:22 PM

As a 17 year old resident of Southborough, this news is absolutely horrible! This house has been symbol of my home for years now! The Garfield house is a historic landmark and should be preserved as such. It can be restored if people would be willing to give donations or something, but to me, demolition is out of the question! I will be gone for two years and won’t see Southborough for a while, I give these girls all the support I can in preserving this beautiful house!

42 Publius July 16, 2014 at 4:40 PM

Maybe the town should buy it.

43 Saddened in Southboro July 16, 2014 at 5:14 PM

Cudos to you, Bridget, for recognizing the value of our history in Southboro. I have already signed your petition and hope your protest will raise some awareness and stop the perspective owner (the closing on the property isn’t until Friday) from making a mistake. And if he truly plans to live in one of the houses, he understands exactly how unpopular he’ll be. Don’t we have enough lovely large modern homes in the area? The Garfield mansion, however, is one of a kind. Please reconsider, Mr. Moss.

44 Carol July 16, 2014 at 5:49 PM

Was Historic New England ever approached about preserving this house? It is a such a gem and it is an absolute shame that it has come to this point! The beauty of this town is based on its historic structures and its open space. Many in town see that but they have to get involved to preserve those features as many others who are in control don’t appreciate those benefits of living in this town.

45 Townie July 16, 2014 at 6:06 PM

It is sad that this is going to happen. Not everything lasts forever. No one can really complain because none of you stepped to the plate to buy it and renovate it. I do how ever like the fact that parts of the house will live on as part of the newer houses he plans on building, so in my eyes, he’s repurposing the building. At least every time I drive by there I know the house lives on as part of the new ones.

I think before he demolishes the building he should allow someone to go in a take some really good pictures for historical document.

46 Jen July 16, 2014 at 11:21 PM

When the house was bought two years ago, we were told that renovations would be made. This new sale happened so quickly that it was difficult for anyone to step up to the plate with an offer.

47 A Believer July 16, 2014 at 7:19 PM

A Believer

This is truly an unfortunate turn of events for the Garfield House and our town’s history. There are and will always be beautiful new developments and developers to build in Southborough and surrounding towns but there will never be a Grand Historical Home along our Main Street like this building.
Throughout New England we are fortunate that many historical homes and buildings have been saved and preserved. Boston, Salem, Portsmouth, Newport are just a few examples of preservation and committed believers in our communities. You can’t put a price on this. Unfortunately we were all under the perception that we had a believer .. For 2 years we were presented grand plans to bring the estate and grounds back to its original architecture. To our dismay in less than a week the proposed demolition of this grand structure was presented to the town, public and prior family members. This is just one of the many reasons people are justifiably upset.
I also believe and support a property owner’s right to sell their property without public approval as long as within town/permitting guidelines. If Mr. Moss and his friends are willing to pay that price and more to develop, this is also within their right. Loss or profit is for them to determine and incur. Remember promises are not guarantees and always subject to change as we’ve come to experience.
I understand the current owners position changed resulting in his need to sell. The real question is why not give the people of Southborough an opportunity to save this historical home that he once believed was worth investing in? After 2 years of stating in the papers and presenting restoration plans to the town and state the descendants, the town and the people of this town weren’t called like Mr. Moss or given fair notice to try and save it. Why not give the people 30 days, 60 days… but less than a week? Maybe the end result would have been the same but at least we would have the opportunity.
Yes, the house was previously on the market for a long period of time. An 11 bedroom estate with over $1.5 million in renovations is not going to sell overnight. We have regular 4 bedroom colonials that can take a year to sell. We also have multi-million dollar homes with rooms bigger than the Garfield Estate that have taken a year or 2 to build.
It certainly would not be an easy task but we had a buyer two years ago and we could again. It’s amazing what resources can be pooled together when you’re fighting for a cause like this. Mr. Moss has 3 friends I’m sure we can get 100’s. Just imagine the possibilities, a Horticultural Garden and Historic House similar to the Elms Bank in Wellesley, maybe a joint collaborative between Fay and St. Marks, maybe the formation of the Friends of the Estate to solicit individual sponsors.
Mr. Delli Priscoli ,you believed in this house for the last 2 years. Give the people of Southborough the opportunity to keep this wonderful piece of history in our town.

P.S.-Thanks to the dedicated young ladies with their signs in front of the house, rain and shine the last 2 days. You’re fighting a great cause. Mrs. Garfield would have appreciated this, we certainly do !

48 Paul Bourdon July 17, 2014 at 7:27 AM

We also have the Community Preservation Act which has a mandated portion going to historic preservation which little has occurred in the past 10 years.

49 Richard July 16, 2014 at 10:00 PM

Who has alerted the WBZ, WFXT, WCVB, and WHDH to come out and do stories about this? Who has alerted preservationist societies? Who has contacted the The National Register of Historic Places? How many protesters will lie down in the streets to prevent heavy equipment from entering the property?

50 Cameron July 16, 2014 at 10:03 PM

I just wanted to let Bridget Brady (and her wonderful Mom) know that the phone calls are happening and the word is getting out. People are racking their brains to figure out what we can do to delay the destruction of this property. We support you and are so proud of your efforts. As John Kennedy said “One man (and woman) can make a difference and every man should try.”

51 Elizabeth Garfield July 16, 2014 at 10:46 PM

We love you Bridget Brady!

Yes, the new houses may have the elements of stones in the original, but the front hall with the black and white marble floor and the carved bannister on the grand stairway can never be replaced. The best part is looking up the stairwell in the front hall to the stained glass skylight in the roof. We used to think the red glass circles were rubies.

Yay Bridget for striving to save this.

Anne and Elizabeth Garfield
Washington State

52 james garfield July 17, 2014 at 11:17 AM

I second that Bridget Brady. Our mother would be very happy to know what you are doing. It was her hope and ours that who ever moved in after us would love the house as much as we did. We sold the house to someone believing that was the case but unfortunately we have been proven wrong.

James Garfield

53 Christa Brady July 17, 2014 at 7:43 PM

Beautiful! Thank you.

54 Concerned Southborough Resident July 16, 2014 at 10:51 PM

People are happy that he bought the property and he said he was going to restore the house and property, but now what makes us upset is the fact that he LIED about his intentions an is now going to BULLDOZE the house and property for his own benefit. The house is Southborough’s glory, the FIRST boston terrier EVER BRED was bred in that very house. I bet you didnt know that! Its not right what this man is doing, and he doesnt deserve the property or the privilege to live in this town, for this town is based on trust, and we cant have a man who will stab Southborough in the back for his personal benefit.

55 RB July 17, 2014 at 7:59 AM

Jon Delli Priscoli bought the house approximately 2 years ago and stated his intentions of restoring it. I suspect the return was not worth the investment once he evaluated the house and the cost to restore it. He is not the person that is proposing to demolish it. He is selling it to a developer this week, Bob Moss, who is the person that is proposing to knock down this piece of Southborough’s history.

I have posted in the past questioning “historic downtown Southborough” (what makes that part of Main Street historically significant other than the houses are old, etc.). This house and property however ARE very historically significant (in my opinion) to Southborough. Mr. Joseph Burnett and his relatives contributed so much to what makes Southborough what it is today (just read the link Beth has on another post).

Unfortunately, although the house looks beautiful from the outside, from what I understand it needs significant work (and $$$$$) to restore it to its original grander!

I agree that the house should be saved, however, unless someone with very deep pockets provides Mr. Moss with an offer that he cannot refuse, another grand piece of Southborough’s history will end up in a construction debris landfill right next to the Southborough Arms and other Fay school buildings that once graced Main Street.

56 Al Hamilton July 17, 2014 at 9:09 AM

Why don’t we just confiscate his property and then run him out of town on a rail after applying tar and feathers.

Really, he is using the property he paid for for his own benefit? Shocking! This should not be permitted, EVER!

As for the charge that the owner lied? That would imply that he made you commitment and received something in return from the party that believes he/she was lied to. I do not believe that the owner made you a commitment and I do not think that you gave the owner anything of value.

Really, it is called PRIVATE PROPERTY for a reason.

57 james garfield July 17, 2014 at 11:26 AM

I agree with your first sentence.

58 Concerned_resident July 17, 2014 at 11:20 PM


please…. we get it… we know your point of view… its valid….. now please sit down and try to resist the urge to make this a referendum on your opinion….

And please do not reply to this post….. you know…

59 Mark Kujawski July 17, 2014 at 9:12 AM

First of all, Bridget thank you for providing for all of us an example of what great citizenship is about. You created the visibility to this and it really is to be commended. When this property first came to market two years ago I was in awe of two things: the grandeur of the building which must have been incredible in its prime and secondly, of the tremendous disrepair of the property in general. There was a reason that there were no other bidders at the auction, the price tag for renovation will be enormous. But this house needs to be preserved. One other re-purposing of the building that I haven’t seen mentioned is to approach St. Mark’s and Fay and see if they would be interested in joining with the town to turn the Burnett/Garfield House into a bed-and-breakfast. Each of the bedrooms has it’s own bath and it would be perfectly suited for a sole proprietor to manage and provide convenient lodging for the many out-of-state visitors to those premier educational institutions. This is one other constructive way to re-purpose the building to justify the renovation expense.

If anyone is interested in discussing this approach, please reach out to me.

60 Al Hamilton July 17, 2014 at 9:34 AM

Ok, I know it will not be popular but let’s look at this from the property owners perspective. He has estimated that it will cost something on the order of $1,200,000 to $1,500,000 to renovate the property. (Remember that our well intentioned rules will add substantially to the cost as the property is brought up to code). So, even if the property was free would you get your money back. Here are 3 lovely homes for sale in our community in move in condition, with modern amenities that are available now, for these sums. The competition is pretty stiff.

You can buy a lot of house in our town for just the cost of renovation. Sometimes the numbers just don’t work. I suspect that is what the owner found out.

61 Mark Fox July 17, 2014 at 11:31 AM

Renovating the property would take the financial means and the passion to move ahead. This is not purely a business decision. The buyer may be out there today with the means and the drive to do it. I am not sure why some seem to be against a simplistic grass roots effort to quickly increase awareness to see if that can be acheived somehow. There may also be a chance to communicate to the new buyer how many in and around town are appalled at the thought of moving ahead with a fast sale for demolition before giving enough time to find a new buyer with the same original and trusted goal of the previous owner. Because of the grass root effort, many more people are finding out about this issue today that knew nothing of this yesterday which increases the chance the the proper action still hase a hope here.

I applaud their effort far beyond just sticking up for what they believe in.

62 Al Hamilton July 17, 2014 at 12:27 PM


I have no problem with looking for a new buyer. Perhaps if the Historical commission had taken a proactive approach with what they describe as a very important property they might have helped the owner find such a buyer.

But the grim reality is that this property has been on the market before with no takers. It sold for about 1/2 of its assessed value.. Yes, it will take someone who can see beyond the dollars and cents but in the end the numbers speak for themselves.

It is a shame we are losing an historic building but it is also a shame the way some are treating the owner.

63 Paul Cimino July 17, 2014 at 12:29 PM

Hello Al,

You and I agree on most things, and however this situation resolves itself we will continue to agree on most things going forward. But please, as someone who has defended our individual liberties as a military officer, even I say — enough of your scolding those who choose to question Mr. Moss’s intentions. People are free to express their dismay with Mr. Moss without making an offer to buy the house from him, or some other such prerequisite as you have suggested.

Yes, of course Mr. Moss has the legal right to do what he has indicated he intends to do. It’s likely that nobody can “stop” him if he is intent on proceeding. But you seem to be staking out a position that the exercise of any legal right is immune from criticism, simply because it is legal. On that we disagree.

To your point that there are other lovely properties in Town that compete for Mr. Moss’s renovation dollars, I believe the logic actually cuts the other way. Mr. Moss didn’t buy the Burnett house only to discover that it was a money pit – he bought it already knowing it was a money pit and intending to tear it down. That’s a huge difference, and it’s perfectly fair to wonder why he didn’t just buy something else? At the Planning Board meeting on Monday Mr. Moss himself said that this property wasn’t even “on his radar” when he was approached just 8 weeks ago, and that his interest here is not as a developer but simply as a homeowner who just happens to be a developer. I take him at his word. But if all he wants to do is build or buy a beautiful home in Southborough, he has plenty of terrific options that don’t involve knocking down the Burnett house. (I made this same point to Mr. Moss at the Planning Board meeting; see 2:39:40 – 2:41:40 of the Southborough Access Media replay.)

So yes, Mr. Moss has rights. And no, he has no obligation to you, me or anybody else to proceed in any particular way. But just as I have no obligation to shake your hand the next time we meet on the street, if I don’t do it I’m a jerk, and you would be right to say so.

I don’t believe that Mr. Moss has vindictive intentions here, just ill-considered ones the full effect of which he may not have completely appreciated when he first formed his plans. Speaking only for myself and not my Board, if he is willing to discuss those plans further I would welcome the dialogue.

Paul Cimino

64 Al Hamilton July 18, 2014 at 12:03 PM


I guess I see strong support for personal property rights and support for individual liberty as 2 sides of the same coin.

I understand the disappointment of those that enjoyed looking at this home for years. When it came up for auction I briefly thought about making a bid until I looked at the pictures and layout. It is a shame that it is going to the wreckers ball.

But, I don’t think it is appropriate for me to tell the current or past owners how they should spend or have spent their hard earned money. I don’t think it is appropriate for me to stick my nose that far into their personal business any more than it is for the past and current owners to stick their noses in my business.

For most of us, our home represents a significant asset, How would each of us feel if we decided to make significant change in our personal property and were publicly excoriate? Would you enjoy being called greedy? unfit to live in town? Liar? Short sighted? Selfish? Soulless?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Seems like a good rule to me.

Paul – Feel free to call me out anytime, I have a thick hide. I have said my piece on this subject.

65 Paul Cimino July 18, 2014 at 1:59 PM


Though we may disagree from time to time, I find your perspective very valuable, and your good humor even more so. Our Town is lucky to have both.


66 MC. Garfield July 17, 2014 at 9:49 AM

our whole family is saddened at the possibility of the stone house being torn down. My husband, the oldest of 7 siblings grew up there and for over 60 years 4 generations would gather for family events, weddings, funerals , holiday events.many happy, a few sad but memories we will always have with us. Playing hide and seek, we knew every inch of the house from the hidden passage to the butlers room on the 4th floor to the coal room in the basement. Going outside to sliding down the front lawn in winter to climbing trees planted by Frederick Law Olmsted to watching the swans on the reservoir, We always felt blessed to be part of this magnificent setting and only hope that another family will be as blessed as we were.

67 Christa Brady July 17, 2014 at 7:46 PM

I will share with Bridget…more fuel for her passion.

68 Saddened southboro resident July 17, 2014 at 4:30 PM

I am not sure what the correct approach is in dealing with the demolition of the Garfield House is…. but to equate new home prices with a historical artificact is a false premise. That would be like comparing the US constitution to a piece of paper… Or a Monet to a Elvis painting in a gift shop. The building has historical significance and represents the touchstone of history for our town. It might not be saved… But we should all understand what we are losing and at least have time to explore a way to save it for re-use before taking it down …in a few days. What’s the rush???

69 Paul Bourdon July 17, 2014 at 4:34 PM

One additional point: Moss said he was using the stone church/shop as a residence, I was in that building 12 years ago and it was a shell back then. There is no real foundation and chances of moving it as one piece are questionable. I have to believe he was trying to placate the crowd. Don’t be surprised if everything is leveled. It is unfortunate the town did not negotiate to buy this property when they could. This should be what the CPA was for.

70 Concerned_resident July 17, 2014 at 11:34 PM

“…. It is unfortunate the town did not negotiate to buy this property when they could. This should be what the CPA was for.”

Paul, I couldn’t agree more with you. I was so happy to see someone purchase the property at auction years ago with the stated intention to renovate the home and enjoy the unique location as their family residence. Prior to the auction, the CPA could have tried to negotiate with the seller or buyer to purchase ‘development restriction’ option to ensure the home’s future changes would meet CPA/town’s historical policies. Essentially pay ~ $100,000 to limit future tear down/modifications…..

Didn’t anybody on the CPA/historical preservation/planning board consider this scenario? Not pointing fingers, but its not too late to step up and use whatever legal avenues are available to make this ” ‘tear down’ to build McMansions” plan a pyrrhic victory (at best) for Mr. Moss.

p.s. The Title 5 septic system restrictions for that particular piece of real estate is the best approach to tie this property up in litigation for years to come…. bring it on

71 Just Curious July 18, 2014 at 10:05 AM

“…the best approach to tie this property up in litigation for years to come…. bring it on.”

Really? Is this the way Southborough should operate? I hope not.

I LOVE this building. But it is private property and it is the owner’s right to do with it as they please. Too bad we couldn’t get some private entity to buy it and preserve it by offering some kind of property tax incentive.

A prior post states that when they were in the house 12 years ago, it was a shell of a building and needed much work. That’s too bad. Sometimes buildings just are too far gone to repair.

Why in the world would we want to use CPA funds (YOUR TAX DOLLARS) to buy and then use more of your TAX DOLLARS to then maintain this building? It just doesn’t make sense.

We already have the Fayville Hall building that is full of mold on the upper floor so it is only used by the cable committee and part time by the Youth and Family Services. We have the old Fire Startion that is now used as a garage for a DPW truck and a Mass DOT pickup. (Isn’t there enough room at the DPW yard on Cordaville Rd to house ALL the DPW stuff?)

We’ve got the South Union School where 99% of the building is used by only the 3 employees of the Recreation Department. Yes, there is a new sign on the outside of the building but how often do those other groups use it?

Then we’ve got the Police Station that some consider a “historic” building. Personally, I think it is one of the ugliest buildings in town. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it looks like an early version of white aluminum siding.

Sorry for the rambling but I love this building and I will be sad to see it torn down. I hope the developer will follow through on his idea to use the stones. I hope he is also able to preserve the beautiful trees on the property.

Don’t waste TAX DOLLARS on more law suits. We’ve got a bad history of losing those law suits – think discrimination suits by the former police dispatcher and prior chief (glad they got the money they deserved – only wish the person responsible for that horrible work atmosphere had been fired and not just allowed to retire quietly.)

Let’s not forget the recent lost lawsuit against ARHS re the school funding reimbursement.

And finally, let’s save those TAX DOLLARS for the sure to come lawsuits from Barn Hollow residents after the recent town meeting vote.

72 Concerned July 17, 2014 at 10:16 PM

I am curious why the Garfield’s auctioned off all the contents a few years back?also why did they sell the house? Why didn’t they donate it to the town or restore it? The answer is they want MONEY yet they knock others- they are the ones we need to direct our anger at- they caused this mess!

73 Judith Bailey Keneman July 18, 2014 at 8:46 AM

I think before you direct your anger towards the family, you should pause a moment and think about their situation. Just because you live in a family mansion does not mean you are loaded with money. It would not be hard to envision that they used up their family funds educating all the children, keeping the house up over the years and caring for their elderly mother. Maybe none of them alone or collectively could afford to keep the house and renovate it. We do not know their family’s circumstances. I do know that cleaning out the house and putting it up for sale was heartbreaking for them. They put it on the market because they had to.
The town or any local or state organization could have bought it back in 2012. None came forward. The town could have protected it by several means that have been mentioned before. They didn’t. Everyone was happy that the new 2012 owners were going to renovate and restore. They changed their minds. The owners could have notified the town of their plan to sell. They didn’t.
It seems to me we have plenty of blame to go around and the Garfield children do not deserve any of it. To say that the death of their beloved mother caused this whole mess is ridiculous! Find somewhere else to direct your energy that will positively help the situation.

74 james garfield July 18, 2014 at 11:35 AM

To Concerned,
My family did not auction off all the contents of the house. The contents were divided amongst the children. Why did we sell the house? None of us live in the area ,our jobs and lives have taken us other places. If we wanted MONEY as you state we would have held on to the house and sold it for $1,500,000 like the person that bought it from us did. Our mother lived to be 94 and was blind at the end of her life .We kept the house so she wouldn’t have to go to a place she didn’t know. She was able ,even at 94, to navigate the house because she knew it so well. To accuse us of avarice is appalling. That we show concern about what is about to happen to the house is , I would think ,perfectly normal and any sensitive person would understand that. I cannot believe you would blame this travesty on us. When we sold the house we were assured that the new owner was going to restore it. We were very happy to think that . Obviously we were lied to and for us to show concern I do not think is that surprising . Up to this point I believe our comments have been perfectly polite. We , like other people in the town, were showing concern. Having lived there and knowing the house I don’t think that is surprising. You have accused us of selling everything for money and yet you have no idea what actually happened when we were settling the estate.I notice you don’t even give your name on your comment. How convenient when making allegations that you can’t back up. Thank you Judith Keneman for having the perspective to understand the situation. Al Hamilton has pointed out that the new owner has very right to do what he wants. I agree completely, it is his property now. However, it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about what he is going to do and it is my right to voice my opinion. And believe me we didn’t get rich from selling the house.

75 Jonas July 17, 2014 at 11:04 PM

The only Garfield who hasn’t surfaced is the orange and black Cat. Where were you folks in 2010 when the broker indicated it could very well be knocked down upon transfer?

76 Judith Bailey Keneman July 18, 2014 at 9:07 AM

Maybe they were mourning the loss of their beloved mother, packing their personal childhood belongings and heartbroken because they were losing their family’s home. If they had to sell the house because they did not have the funds to restore it or even repair or maintain it, the prospect of continuing to pay the taxes on the property was probably frightening. Like many descendants of wealthy landowners, they had to give up their estate. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t gut-wrenching and that they do not care. Now they are expressing their dismay about possible demolition, their worst nightmare, and people want to make them the target of blame and anger. This is not a good way to represent the town.

77 james garfield July 18, 2014 at 11:39 AM

To Jonas,

We didn’t have an orange and black cat.We did have a Newfoundland dog named Angus.He would surface I’m sure if he wasn’t already buried on the property.

78 Jonas July 18, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Apologies, my comment was out of line.

79 bob ackley July 18, 2014 at 6:18 AM

Mr Moss could get some more low income housing on the lot as well. Madison Place has done wonders for Southboro adding needed low income units and more students to our schools. Fortunately, Mr. Moss will just tear down the house and get 4 house lots for mini mansions……if the town does not comply with the permits……..look for some more proposed Madison Place units.

And that’s the game

80 Julian Lamb July 21, 2014 at 8:28 AM

” Fortunately, Mr. Moss will just tear down the house and get 4 house lots for mini mansions”

Yes Bob, how fortunate. I agree the best way to add more affordable housing is by building it on the remains of our most prized historic jewels. I was thinking maybe a 60-unit complex on the current site of Pilgrim church, think of the views! The community house could be sud-divided and turned into more condos and maybe even a little strip mall too. I think you really hit the nail on the head with your assessment. I mean if we don’t acquiesce to this brilliant plan, and let him subdivide the lot to build 4 mcmansions, all we can really expect in return are more massive sprawling condo complexes, which of course do wonders for Southborough, as you so adeptly put it.

And that’s a shame.

81 Mark Ford July 21, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Julian, it’s unclear from your post–you know Bob Ackley was being sarcastic, right?

82 Julian Lamb July 21, 2014 at 4:46 PM

You know I was as well?

83 Rebecca Deans-Rowe July 18, 2014 at 10:43 AM

I am somewhat astonished that former buyer did not have a good idea of the restoration costs prior to buying the house. As a real estate investor and commercial developer, I would think he would have a pretty good handle on such details prior to purchase.

I wonder what similar obstacles the new owner might encounter that could disrupt his plans to build cottages? Is it possible that this beautiful estate will be razed, only to be replaced with large and generic new homes?

84 Lee Garfield July 18, 2014 at 12:28 PM

Cudos to Bridget Brady. It is so sad that this is happening. Several houses have been saved here in Portland, Oregon by neighbors banding together. All the family was so happy when they heard that the house had been purchased by someone who wanted to take care of it and live in it.
I like the idea of a horticultural park, Olmstead had a part in the tree placement.

85 Concerned July 18, 2014 at 2:50 PM

I think it is quite telling Mr Garfield et al that you tried to sell the house at auction with your broker- as I recall at the time you did not have any conditions of sale at the auction regarding the sale and future use and this was way prior to when you folks sold it. Also I heard the broker had this house under agreement with another buyer (not the current owner since 2012) and their goal was to knock it down (per your own broker) yet you did nothing-the reality here is you wanted the MONEY just like Moss but somehow your hands are clean in your eyes but not in the community’s’ I fear.

86 james garfield July 19, 2014 at 1:34 PM

Do you really speak for the “community” ? I think not.

87 Michael Garfield July 18, 2014 at 7:53 PM

The only problem is that the house was never under agreement. I don’t recall name of the buyer in question, but he strung us along for a time continually looking for more information without ever signing anything or making an offer.

88 Elizabeth Garfield July 18, 2014 at 11:38 PM


Who is your source? How clueless.

Take a break from the Blame Game and take a stand. Do you want the house to be saved?

Have you signed the petition to Mr Moss to save the house?

I have.

89 Elizabeth Garfield July 18, 2014 at 11:53 PM

What your source mentioned probably was true and is true in any sale.
Sorry for saying it was clueless.

90 Cameron July 19, 2014 at 7:34 AM

It is not a question of who did what wrong in the past – I think everyone can agree that many things were done, or better to say, not done to protect this house. Everyone in Southborough is a little bit to blame for not paying attention sooner. But now we are faced with the actual demolition of a significantly historic home and we need to all come to our senses and not allow it to happen. Once that house is gone, it is gone forever and though Mr. Moss has the legal right to do so – he needs to ask himself if he has the moral right to remove such a significant piece of history from the town. Is it morally right to knock down this house? He can make money other places – we can never get back this amazing part of Southborough. And if he agrees to wait, to give the town time, then everyone needs to step up and help him find a solution.

91 james garfield July 19, 2014 at 12:37 PM

To Concerned,

Why are you not willing to state who you are? You accuse us of being whiners and money grubbers and yet you haven’t the guts to state who you are [ Moss?] Your information is incorrect . Enough of this. Why not blame the Burnetts for selling the house . They made money when they sold it in 1947. This is ridiculous. Tear the house down.We can’t stop it but we can be upset at the probability. If you haven’t the integrity to state who you are then stop berating us, the Garfields , for voicing our concern.

92 Judith Bailey Keneman July 22, 2014 at 8:19 PM

James. Your brother Abe and I exchanged many emails after the passing of your mother. I have tried to reach him over the past two weeks and have not heard back. Could you please tell him I was asking for him and hope he is well.

93 Abe Garfield July 23, 2014 at 8:58 AM


I am James, Abe is my nickname [short for Abram,my middle name]. You probably have my old email address. I retired a year ago. Interestingly I tried to find your email address when all this started and with no luck. Thank you for all your thoughtful perspective on this issue. My sister alerted me to your reply. I would welcome getting back in touch but obviously we can’t exchange particulars on such a public forum. Perhaps through the library?

94 Patriot July 19, 2014 at 1:23 PM

Please find the link below from DEP’s website that show the Title 5 setback zones.Once the map appears you have to zoom in on the area you are interested in.If you zoom into Southborough then to the corner of Deerfoot Rd and Main St you will see that the entire Garfield property is within the 400ft setback zone.As I stated previously,if the existing house is demolished the NEW CONSTRUCTION setbacks kick in and there cannot be ANY septic systems constructed within that 400ft zone.Again the new replacement sytem was only approved for the existing home and cannot become a shared system for NEW CONSTRUCTION.Click on link.

95 Tina Hyland July 19, 2014 at 6:39 PM

We live in the farmhouse where Joseph Burnett was born. It is a historic house for many reasons. Old houses are very expensive and need constant maintenance — not for everyone. Although I believe we are tempory guardians of an historic property, I realize that the next owner might decide to tear it down.

I hope the town can find a way to prevent the Garfield home from destruction. I support the town in developing an inventory of historic houses and working to prevent their destruction. If you do not value the past, the future has no meaning.

To the Garfield family, I am so sorry for the character assinatiion that has become a part of this discussion.

96 Christina Lamb July 20, 2014 at 12:53 AM

The problem is this house should have been protected by an historic commission or trust years ago. But with Southborough’s planning board and historic commissions un- and understaffed, and dominated by developers and realtors, no real protections could be effected. I am perhaps naive to think even developers and realtors would see the value of preserving one of Southborough’s historic centerpieces, which gives this lovely town its character and distinguishes it from McMansion-filled towns nearby.

Don’t blame the Garfields. They were lied to just as surely as we are being lied to now by Robert Moss. Cottages for him and his friends?? Riiiiiiight. He is just using that premise to circumvent the planning board process required of developers. Not to recognize that we are being scammed and lied to is plain silly. To buy such a gorgeous property and then destroy it is an abomination.

Shame on Southborough’s leaders for not raising a hue and cry before this point. And kudos to and the visionary young protesters for bringing this matter to our attention.

Mr. Moss, I hope you now understand what you propose is vile and will make you the object of contempt. Do you really want to spend the rest of your days being vilified as a destroyer of beauty? Time to back down to a plan B. Your plan A stinks.

Hey aren’t there some capable attorneys living along Main Street who can slap an injunction on this guy? Probably the best pro-bono work you’ll ever do. Please step up now!

97 Donna McDaniel July 21, 2014 at 11:12 PM

Presumably you have some proof that the planning board and historic commission are dominated by developers and realtors? But perhaps hard to find on a historic commission that sad to say didn’t have enough members to form a quorum to meet for a number of months and just recently reached the minimum to meet and now includes a firefighter, a historian and another resident (not sure of her occupation). There are still three vacancies. Time for those who are so upset about how all of this has been handled to volunteer?
Check the volunteer form on the town website and submit to Selectmen who appoint them.
As for the Planning Board we elect, I don’t recognize the realtors and developers… perhaps somewhere between the lawyers, civil engineer, city planning consultant, and the project manager?

98 M.C.GARFIELD July 20, 2014 at 8:27 AM

Just a thought…todays cape cod times article on Highfield Hall, Falmouth mass. ‘ an historic house.. “it was nearly ruined and was scheduled for a wrecking ball when a group of dedicated individuals made it their cause to save the mansion in the 1990’s. the restoration took more than 10 years, but today it gleams in it’s origional glory. Now open as a community center, Highfield offers recurring programs and special events, and the public is welcome to explore the house and gardens.

99 Al Hamilton July 20, 2014 at 11:22 AM

A Proposal To Save The Garfield House

Here is a specific proposal with actionable steps that could be done that would result in the possible salvation of the Garfield House.

1. Recognize that asking the owner to delay demolition has real and substantial hard dollar costs to the owner.

2. Offer to compensate the owner for those costs for a specific period of time (6 months?) while a new buyer who will commit to renovation is found.

My guesstimate of the hard dollar costs of a 6 month delay are: Mortgage carrying costs – $28,000; Taxes – $8000; Utilities – $2,000; rescheduling the demolition crew – $2000. That is $40,000. (This is probably light so call it $50,000.)

If each of the 1000 signatories donated $50 then the funds on this order could be raised.

This proposal treats Mr. Moss fairly and would give those that believe a buyer can be found the opportunity to find that buyer.

To do this someone or some group would have to take responsibility for organizing this endeavor and approaching Mr. Moss to see if he would be amenable to such a plan. That group would have to raise the money in short order and then find someone willing to invest the roughly 2-2.5 million in the property. (Please for all our sakes do not suggest the Town buy the building).

If someone wants to lead this effort, I will contribute my $50.

100 Rebecca Deans-Rowe July 20, 2014 at 11:41 PM


Thank you for offering some sort of solution — this is the type of brainstorming we need to do right now. I would certainly join this effort. I have a couple of questions regarding this option.

1. Assuming the property has been purchased as an investment property, would hard dollar costs you estimate be offset by any tax advantage gained from the lack of income the property generates during the delay period? I am certainly no expert on such matters, but it seems to me that this situation would be quite different than a normal home purchase intended only as a primary residence.

2. My guess is the costs of carrying the property for six months are much less concerning to the buyer than the potential profit lost by not developing it. Obviously, we could not compensate for those losses. Do you have any thoughts on how to approach this problem?

Again, many thanks for your suggestion.

101 Al Hamilton July 21, 2014 at 7:36 AM


The reality is a “cost based” approach is only one way of looking at the issue. In the end if this were to work someone would have to sit down with Mr. Moss and make a deal. I am reasonably sure there is a number that would convince him to delay for 6 months but my calculation is only a very rough guesstimate. In the end it is up to the two parties sitting at a table.

I don’t know if there are any tax benefits, I doubt it.

However, the first step is for someone or group of people to step up and make this happen. Step 2 is contact Mr. Moss and inquire if he would be interested in such a deal.

Pulling this off would be a lot of work.

102 Judith Bailey Keneman July 20, 2014 at 2:43 PM

That is a great idea! Maybe it will inspire other plans too.
My $50 is pledged.

103 Christina Lamb July 20, 2014 at 4:31 PM

Me too.

104 Cameron July 20, 2014 at 5:50 PM

Me too!

105 Nancy Kolk July 20, 2014 at 5:55 PM

I will pledge $50 to save the Garfield house. It would be wonderful if it could somehow be restored; how about This Old House?

106 james garfield July 20, 2014 at 5:56 PM

Please count me in as well.

107 Elizabeth Garfield July 20, 2014 at 11:07 PM

Count me in too.

108 rtp July 21, 2014 at 7:54 PM

It’s amazing how ‘everyone’ is so ‘involved’ now that the property has been sold – twice – and the current owner wants to raze the property – *his* property. If all of you cared
so much, why didn’t *you* buy the property when it was on the market?

2.5M to purchase – then put another 1M into it to rehab the property? Sounds like bad
business to me.

Where were all of you people when the property was for sale – for six (6) years?!?!?

The new owner is just that – the owner.

The deal is done.

Move on.

Oh, and stay out of the road waving the foolish signs. Parents of these school kids –
where are you? Teach your children to be proactive – not reactive.

109 Paul Bourdon July 22, 2014 at 8:55 AM

I’d like to personally thank the parents of those children for raising them to care about where they live and something other than money (you know, your god).

110 Just Curious July 22, 2014 at 11:43 AM


As you wrote “these school kids” are properly raising awareness to what these see as a wrong. Good for them. They are no different than the people who stand up at Town Meeting and voice an opinion.

These young children are voicing their objections in a mature manner, versus the vitriol displayed in your message.

Just my 2 cents.

111 Frank Crowell July 22, 2014 at 1:48 PM

And of course there has been no vitriol cast at the current owners what so ever.

112 Rebecca Deans-Rowe July 22, 2014 at 11:47 AM

I always puzzle at the “why didn’t you buy it if you care so much” response. Does this mean the only people allowed to care about history and architecture are the ones who can outright buy it? I fear for the future, if that is true.

Please consider two points:
-concerned citizens, even those who can’t buy 2 million dollar properties, can participate in preserving important structures; and
-perhaps the best solution for such a property is not private ownership.

I am happy to observe that the majority of people are supportive and immensely proud of these young activists. Well done, parents.

113 Al Hamilton July 22, 2014 at 3:33 PM


The flip side of that coin is “Who are you to tell me what I should nor should not do with the property I spent my hard earned money on.” There really are 2 sides to the story.

Please for the love of all that is holy do not suggest that the town buy the property. Take a look at Fayville Hall (condemned second floor). The Arts Center (aka moneypit), The Senior Center (unusable second floor). or the other municipal buildings. The grim reality is that the town has a demonstrated track record in not being able to fund the capital maintenance of the buildings we already have (and we have too many).

114 Just Curious July 22, 2014 at 4:15 PM

Actually, now that Al Hamilton has suggested it, perhaps this would be an opportunity to buy the building using CPA funds. Remember that the annual bond payment for the Beal property easement is just about over.

We could use CPA funds to buy this truly historic building and convert it into a really nice senior center. Just keep the exterior facade.

Then we could tear down the existing senior center and use that lad as expansion for the cemetery.

Why not? That is what CPA funds are supposed to be use for. Remember that e spent more than one quarter of a million dollars from CPA funds to put a few bushes on the tiny triangle of land at the intersection of Rt 85 and Southville Rd. And we justified using CPA money for that by saying it was “recreational” and “historic.”

It would only take 200 (?) citizens to call a special town meeting and vote to rescind some of the current silly CPA uses and to get a bond to buy that building using CPA funds.

If we paid $1.5 million for the property, the bond payment would cost us a LOT less than paying for the easement for the Beals property.

Just a thought. Not sure I would vote for this but it is a viable option.

115 Al Hamilton July 22, 2014 at 8:41 PM

If we pay 1.5 million for a building that is dilapidated (Lets face facts) we will have to rebuild it.

1. It will have to be brought up to ADA standards which includes some form of a lift. (Think about the $700k or so we spend on the elevator that did not work for the arts center over 10 year ago)

2. We will be subject to the public construction rules. These rules will probably double (I am not kidding) the cost of a renovation done privately. If the estimate is 1.2 to 1.5 million double that.

As yourself if this is the most important use of your tax dollars? Is it more important than funding schools? Is it more important than a public safety complex? Is it more important that taking care of the existing rotting buildings we own? Is it more important that funding the obligations we have to our retirees? Is it more important than putting the money in your own pocket.

This is a terrible idea. My $50 is still on the table for a private organization to acquire the building for just about any purpose.

116 Frank Crowell July 22, 2014 at 4:38 PM

Maybe the current owner will take a trade: Arts Center for Garfield House.

I assume Al that your $50 is still in your pocket.

117 Just Curious July 22, 2014 at 10:17 PM


There are many of us in this town who will gladly spend tax dollars for something like this. That drives you nuts, but that’s a fact.

Hey – even get the Assabett kids to help :)

Why not at least explore the idea?

It seems like a lot of people are interested in it.

118 Al Hamilton July 23, 2014 at 8:12 AM

Do you believe this is more important than funding schools? Funding our employees retirements? Paying for our new police officers and fire fighters.

What public service would you be willing to cut or forgo in order to find the roughly 3-4 million (roughly 7-10% of our budget) that will be required? Would you be willing to sell of some of the other buildings in town?

Or do you just believe we should have higher taxes.

I would like to find a way to save the building too. But if you want the town to do it have the courage to say how you are going to pay for it. Do the homework and come up with a specific plan. If you write the town accountant or admin they will tell you the balances in the CPA funds. Understand the real costs of renovation under public contracting rules.

If you suggested that we should sell Fayville Hall, the Arts Center and Cordaville Hall with CPA funds making up the rest to pay for a full renovation that would bring the Garfield House up to code I for one would give it serious consideration.

119 HLF July 22, 2014 at 8:30 AM

It was 1.5 to purchase. Your statement re: the protesters is rather harsh. In fact “reactive”. I gather your parents didn’t teach you the difference.

120 Kathryn K July 22, 2014 at 10:10 AM

As a resident, I am so proud to see these young people getting involved, and how wonderful that their parents support them. Educating our children to be active in preserving history, teaching them about the Right to Free Assembly…how great that rather than just reading about these concepts in a book, they get to experience it firsthand, no matter the outcome.

121 Anne Garfield July 22, 2014 at 5:39 PM

I’ll put in $50.00 !!
A building that makes so many people happy is worth saving.

122 beth July 22, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Those of you following this comment stream should be interested in the statement that was forwarded to me this evening. It confirms that the sale didn’t go through on Friday. And it states that the owners are hoping to work with the town and interested parties to preserve the house.

123 Just Curious July 22, 2014 at 10:19 PM


Do you have thoughts on how the price of the house went from the original sale at auction to $1.5 million? That is a huge increase.

Thank you.

Your coverage of this event made us all aware of it and directly led to the protest and uproar. It would not have happened without YOU! Thank you!

124 Judith Bailey Keneman July 22, 2014 at 8:16 PM

Thank heavens! I hope all this innovative thinking and enthusiasm will continue until a viable plan is finalized. This is a great relief for all of us who treasure the rich historic past of Southborough. I want to thank everyone who put energy into this situation, both positive and negative, to make us all aware of how close demolition is to even our most cherished landmarks.
Thank you Beth for the important role you played in keeping us all informed. I hope the communication will continue as we go into the next phase of this situation.

125 Abe Garfield July 23, 2014 at 9:01 AM

I left a reply on your comment #92.

best, Abe

126 Elizabeth Garfield July 22, 2014 at 9:37 PM

My $50 is still good to go.

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