Historical Commission working to preserve historic Southborough

Above: Rehab of the historic South Union school building is one of the projects the Historical Commission accomplished. Now it is looking into a demolition delay bylaw workshop. (Photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

Not long ago, the Historical Commission spent some time in limbo without enough members to reach a quorum.

Last fall, the addition of two new members remedied that. However, with three vacancies, the committee was still limited. The group could only meet when all four members could make a meeting. (And of course there were fewer members to split the workload.)

Thanks to the attention brought on by potential demolition of the Garfield House, that’s about to change.

Member Kate Matison informs me that the town has received applications from “several good candidates”. She expects selectmen to interview them and fill the vancancies soon.

But the committee isn’t waiting for that to continue their efforts for preserving town history. This Monday, the committee will discuss items that include:

  • the “Historic asset” at 84 Main Street,
  • a proposed MHC Demolition Delay Bylaw Workshop, and
  • a progress update on the “Historic District on Main Street”

I followed up for more information on what these items represent. Each refer to work being done with the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC).

Historic Asset – Recently, the commission toured the Garfield House. Matison, with help from Rebecca Deans Rowe, spent a day photographing the house interior and exterior to MHC archival standards. They will make these available to the public soon.

Workshop – The town’s lack of a demolition delay bylaw has been bemoaned by many as the Garfield/Burnett House faces possible tear down. Many towns in the area have a bylaw in place that provide communities a window of time to seek alternatives to demolition.

The MHC run workshop would be a step towards proposing a Warrant Article for Town Meeting. A demolition delay bylaw would need to be approved by voters.

The workshop will be open to all residents. SHC is seeking to schedule a date in the fall.

Historic District – In 1970, the SHC proposed a Main Street district which was defeated at Town Meeting. This new effort would be “a purely honorary designation with no restrictions on owners.”

The commission has been working “with the full support of many of the Main St. area residents” to spearhead a proposal to create a National Register Historic District in the Main Street area:

Before we can approach Town officials, residents and other interested parties for their opinions, the SHC has to update the information on the relevant properties surveyed in 1999 (Cultural Resources Survey), which might (but not necessarily) be included in the NRHD.

SHC has hired preservation planner Wendy Frontiero to complete this work in the Fall. Once MHC reviews Wendy’s updated property information, they will decide if the properties still qualify for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places as a district. Note it takes a majority (51%) of the interested parties to consent to a NRHD, which is a purely honorary designation with no restrictions on owners.

The meeting is open to the public. It’s scheduled for Monday, August 4, at 7:00 pm at Cordaville Hall, 9 Cordaville Road. Click here for the full agenda.

Matison also summarized for me some of the commission’s past accomplishments. In addition to the historic house plaques program launched this spring:

Past efforts by the SHC include a National Register nomination and rehabilitation of the former South Union School in 2008 and 2009, using highly-regarded preservation architect David Hart. The building is now much more energy efficient and is used for town offices.

When the Colonial Revival-style Police Station (1930, formerly Peter’s High School Annex) was threatened with demolition in 2009, the Commission was responsible for submitting an alternative plan that caused Town officials to think twice about demolition. The alternative plan showed that rehabbing the building and a modern addition was more cost effective.

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