What’s been going on at the Burnett House/Garfield House (Or is it “Deerfoot”?) (Updated)

Above: Articulating machines at work at 84 Main Street (photo by Allan Bezanson)

It’s almost a year since I updated readers on work at the historical estate on 84 Main Street.* So, it’s time to check back in.

Last September, work was about to begin restoring the interior and exterior of the estate known as the Burnett House to some and the Garfield House to others.

At the time, the Historical Commission warned the public that old damaged trees would be coming down. But they promised that the “principal stars” would be preserved and appropriate replacement plantings made. (Click here for a reminder on those details.)

Since then, workers have been grinding away on the massive project. And Friends of Burnett-Garfield House have been closely documenting the work on Facebook.

Most of the posts are courtesy of resident Allan Bezanson. Bezanson has not only been photographing the workers, he’s clearly been talking to them about what their work entails.

Work began at the stone shop. More recently, workers have been meticulously restoring the exterior of the main Stone House. Restoration is also underway inside the house.

The most noticeable work to passersby of late was the follow through on tree removal. Recently, Bezanson sent me a photo of the tree work being done with a brief update:

Old, unhealthy trees have been recycled in preparation for new landscaping. Interior work is underway in the mansion. Exterior repairs, stripping and painting of the trim is proceeding on the Carriage House.

Below are a just a few of the pictures posted by Friends of Burnett-Garfield House of work being done over the past year. The second row is from this month:

Burnett Estate restoration begins Oct-2016 Burnett house interior stairway wainscoting stripped of paint Burnett house dental refinishing Sergio Burnett house washing stonework and new grout

Burnett Estate recycling trees Burnett Estate this week - Sept2017 Burnett Estate this week - Sept2017 Burnett Estate this week - Sept2017

You can find many more photos (plus larger ones with more details posted) by visiting their Facebook page. For instance, a comment by Bezanson on the page explains the work being done by the “articulating machines” from the photo at the top of the story:

The green machine is manned by the stoneworkers for chimmney work on the mansion. The red, with its thousand horsepower, eats old trees and spews out chips for mulch or fuel for power generation. The yellow keeps a steady feed going to Big Red.

(If you want to learn more about the tree removal you can view the video and read the story posted by Southborough Wicked Local.)

Bezanson’s update also included the statement:

The Burnett House aka Garfield House is becoming “Deerfoot.”

[Editor’s Note: Since I initially posted this story, Bezanson dug up some confirmation for me that owner Jon Delli Priscolli did present plans to the Town showing he planned to name the estate Deerfoot.]**

I haven’t been able to get confirmation on the new name – though I seem to remember mention of something similar by owner John Delli Priscoli in a past presentation. (Much of the historic nature of the estate is tied to the original owner who had it built – Joseph Burnett, the founder of Deerfoot Farms. And Deerfoot Road does line one side of the property.)

If any readers are in the loop on the official name, feel free to post a comment.

*If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the estate, you are probably somewhat new to town. In July 2015, protests began over news that the owner was selling the house to a developer who planned to demolish the historic buildings and convert it to a four house lot. Based on public interest, the owner pulled out of the deal and worked with the Town on a plan to preserve the estate. In 2016, Town Meeting voters approved purchase of a Preservation Restriction on the estate. You can find more details in past posts on the subject here.

ZBA minutes ref 84 Main to B and B called Deerfoot
(click to enlarge)

**Updated (9/14/17 12:12 pm): I received more confirmation that the owner has stated in that the future facility would be called Deerfoot in the future. See image right for more details from plans that were submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2015. (Thank you to Allan Bezanson and the ZBA’s Karen Finelli.)

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

What is the plan for Burnett house after the restoration? Is it going to be a Bed and Breakfast? Or a private residence?

David Parry
6 years ago

When I drive by the Burnett house at 84 Main St, and see the incredible amount of work involved, I wonder if most residents appreciate just how lucky we are. This project has been made possible because of public pressure to save the building, and the pure luck that the owner happens to possess several critical characteristics: generosity, great wealth, the willingness to spend a good chunk of it on a high risk venture, business acumen, development experience, and strong interest in historic objects (especially antiques) and old buildings. The current owner has such a strong interest that he was willing to have burdensome preservation restrictions imposed which will ensure the next owner is obliged to continue onward with what he has started. There can be little doubt that this project will have a significant, and lasting, impact on the reputation of our town for preservation and creation of beauty.
“Thank you’s” go to the many students who initiated this political effort, to pressure our elected officials into taking action; and to the residents, committees and “Friends of Burnett House”who have overseen the project; and above all to the owner, Mr John Delli Priscoli, who happened, by sheer luck, to be the right person, at the right time, to actually make it happen.
The important questions this project raises are:
1. WHY does it take political pressure to force our elected officials of adopt a positive vision of our future?
2. How is it possible that of our elected officials and our Town administrator are so out of sync with this Town’s well known goals — for preserving historic and open space assets? After all, they actually proposed that St Marks Golf course land be used as a future annex to our DPW complex, and similar construction uses. This is the opposite of what most residents see as a vision of our future – protecting its natural beauty.
3. How is it possible that we still have not considered and approved a vision of what our Town Center could become? Instead, we have a standard ,state-controlled, street reconstruction plan.

That leads me to wonder if most residents appreciate just how beautiful our entire town center area could become, if only we removed the ugly telephone poles from Main Street at the same time as we reconstruct the entire street from Deerfoot to the railroad —- a massive project requiring the entire street right of way to be dug up, 3 feet deep, so that a new sub-base and deep drains can be installed — an obviously a unique opportunity to remove the existing utility poles.
We need to take several actions to take advantage of this opportunity. One action is to create a “historic district”, exrtending from near Fay School to the railroad, which recognizes the amazing historic resources we now have in our downtown, where almost all buildings are historic. Thanks to our Historic Commission, this effort is now underway. Another action is to plan to remove the ugly utility poles at the same time as Main Street is being reconstructed. This has never been actively pursued by our Selectmen, Town Administrator or DPW. All their focus has been on increasing traffic volumes, regardless of the amount of new asphalt, and there has been a distinct lack of enthusiasm, and indeed negative support, for removing the poles. More recently there has been a deliberate attempt to kill the proposal through sheer delay.
• The Main Street Working Group has made a valiant effort to improve the appearance of the street reconstruction, but they have been hampered by two constraints: (1) The State will not pay for any improvement which is not strictly for traffic movement, (any “beautification” must be paid by the Town, and (2) the Selectmen have limited the Working Group’s scope of work to a review of ONLY the State funded portions. Therefore, pole removal was never a topic under review, because the State will not pay for it. How ironic and short sighted. However, in June the Selectmen did ask the Working Group their opinion of the proposal to move the poles off of Main street, and the Group’s answer was — that the Town should do everything possible to prepare for that event, NOW, because they considered the removal of the poles to be unequivocally positive, and almost inevitable in the long run. The sooner the better was their opinion. But the Board of Selectmen did not follow up, and the Group’s recommendations were discussed but not acted upon. Likewise, the Economic Development Committee agreed with the concept of pole removal, but their opinion has been ignored as well.
The problem is not just lack of vision, at the Selectmen and DPW level, but it is inertia and bureaucracy , and time. Time is fast running out, and this delay may succeed in killing the proposal and preventing the poles from being removed ….. for reasons of sheer stubbornness and unwillingness to modify the “official” State endorsed plan, which is being paid for by the State (costing around $8 million). The pole removal must be paid for by the Town, as a separate project. (Cost unknown, but far less).

There are two methods of removing utility poles. One is to place the wires underground. This is very expensive. One estimate put this at around $11 million. The other method of removing poles is to build a new route of utility poles behind the Main Street, along major roads or driveways so that the poles can be easily maintained, and so that the wires can feed the buildings fronting on Main Street from the back or side. This would BE FAR LESS EXPENSIVE THAN UNDERGROUNDING, AND WOULD COST A SMALL FRACTION of $11 million. There has been a lot of misinformation that all the poles would be in residential back yards. This is NOT the case. Some of the poles would be along the north section of the Woodward School driveway, (hidden partially by tall trees), most others would be along other streets. (See the tentative route plan in the attachment).
This alternative to undergrounding — the far less expensive scheme of a new route of off-street poles — was proposed for Southborough over three years ago, and renewed more recently 6 months ago by the downtown businesses and Main Street Association, but the proposal was basically ignored by the Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator and DPW. Not until August was Mass Electric asked by the Selectmen to study the feasibility, and, even then, the Town Administrator wrote an official letter (dated 8.1.17 to Mass Electric, informing them that “The Town does not support this project”. This may seem incredible, but it is true, despite that fact that the Board of Selectmen have not taken a vote against the proposal, and Town Meeting has not even discussed it. Furthermore, this official letter is equivalent to an invitation to Mass Electric, which has veto power over whether any new pole route will be allowed, to make an official determination that Mass Electric does not want it, and considers it infeasible or desirable for any reason whatsoever — because some Southborough officials don’t care why, and it would be convenient if it was killed by Mass Electric, so it wasn’t the fault of the Selectmen. What an unscrupulous way to do business! Mass Electric is the agency responsible for the feasibility study, for coordinating with other wire utilities that use the poles, and for implementing the scheme if it goes ahead. The town must pay Mass Electric to do the feasibility study (with a $5,000 deposit), and that study will result in a final design and an implementation cost, which has to be funded by a vote of Town Meeting, probably in March 2018.
Note, that, had the Selectmen taken action earlier, this Mass Electric study could have been undertaken years earlier, and a town Meeting vote could have been taken by now, in plenty of time to be incorporated into the official plans for the street construction. Now it is all so late that it is considered “inconvenient” and has become a “problem”, instead of what it really is — an OPPORTUNITY.
The Town Administrator has told me that he wants kill the proposal to remove the poles, as does Selectmen Kolenda. Their reasoning is that, in their personal opinion, Southborough cannot afford to pay for it. However that is a decision to be made by Town Meeting with the advice of the Town Advisory (Finance) Committee, not of the Town Administrator or Selectman Kolenda. Sit should be noted that selectmen Shea and Braccio have stated that the issue is important enough to deserve a vote at Town Meeting. The problem is that the delays orchestrated by other town officials, intentionally, and their lack of support, make a Town Meeting vote almost academic at this late stage.
All along we have been warning that time is of the essence, and that any delay can kill the proposal. Now it is probably too late, because of the slow review by Mass Electric and the sheer momentum of the Main Street Reconstruction Project, which starts in March 2018 and lasts for two years. One of the things that the contractor may want to do, early on, is to move the existing poles to their new locations a few feet away. Of course, that alone (because of the cost of moving the poles a second time, to an entirely new location off the street, as described below), would kill the proposal.
The current plan calls for the utility poles along Main Street to be moved just a few feet and inches in order to conform to the new alignment of the street, which is slightly different, therefore requiring the poles to be slightly moved. The cost of this minor movement of poles is over one million dollars, to be paid for 50:50 by the State Highway Dept and by Mass Electric. What a colossal waste of State funds. We could have saved the agencies this money. Instead of moving the poles a few feet within the street, we could have installed new poles several hundred feet away, out of the historic street, and once that was completed we could have REmoved the old poles within the street, forever. .
So what are we going to see, when our Main Street has been reconstructed? We are going to see a brand new street, with a very big intersection at Rt 85, but, ironically, with all the old poles moved a few feet! What an UNdesirable vision! I can guarantee that residents will be shocked and upset at missing this opportunity.

I have been asked repeatedly by Mr Kolenda for a specific example of a town where they have NOT done the expensive undergrounding, but have instead done what we are proposing — the far less expensive solution — providing a new route of new poles and wires, and connecting the buildings from behind. He has stated that he doubts such an example exists. Well, I now have that example, and you will be surprised because you are all aware of it, except that you are probably unaware of the method used.
It is the town of Hudson. Hudson did NOT chose to pursue undergrounding, because of the extremely high cost. Instead, they built a new row of poles along parallel streets, and fed the Main St buildings from their back side. Please go take a look. This is EXACTLY what we have proposed for Southborough.
Hudson did install new wires under their sidwalks along, but they are the small wires in conduit (small pipes), feeding the new street lamps, which are on low poles, allowing for banners and flags. That conduit can be paid for 100 % by the State. But not even this has been officially voted by our Selectmen, due to lack of focus. It should have been included in our bid documents.
You might ask: What has happened to Hudson as a result of their carefully planned removal of utility poles? The answer hits you in the face, because it is so obvious. Once the ugly poles were removed, the beautiful old buildings were more visible. The town center has undergone a rapid economic transformation, with many new businesses located along the Main street section which has no poles and wires. The reputation of the entire town has benefitted, and as a result property values have risen in a very wide area. The same goes for other towns which have removed poles, such as Franklin, Holden and Shrewsbury (although all 3 of those towns used the more expensive undergrounding solution).
We are about to miss our own golden opportunity, which will not be revisited in our lifetimes. Once the Main Street Reconstruction Project has been completed, then the town will not be allowed, by law, to alter the roadway at all, for five years — 2025.
The needs of our downtown businesses and this unique opportunity to restore beauty to our entire downtown area, from Fay School to the railroad, is being squandered. Only political action which is highly focused can change our course.
What an irony. ONE beautiful mansion restored and beautified, for one million dollars of town money and far more in private funds. I wonder what Mr Jon Delli Priscoli thinks of the tall, ugly poles along Main St, right in front of his beautiful mansion , because they are so much more visible now that the trees have been cut down. Note that the proposal could be modified to get rid of these poles as well, all the way to Deerfoot rd.
But the far larger area of the entire town center is about to be carved up for a new street, and its character diminished. That is the legacy we will be leaving. Decades hence, historians will wonder why “we” could have been so stupid. Who is responsible ? There is no doubt at all. It is some of our Selectmen, our Town Administrator and DPW Superintendent.
But who exactly is the “we” ? It is just some of our elected and appointed officials, who have an iron grip on this project – the DPW, the Town Administrator, and the Chair of the Board of selectmen.
Please join us in demanding positive action by our other officials, and a retraction of the Town Administrator’s letter to Mass Electric stating that Southborough does not favor this proposal for pole removal. Maybe we need another student led group to take up this cause, like they took up the cause of saving the Burnett Mansion.
Please look at the ATTACHMENT for the proposed draft layout of the new poles located off of Main St.


  • © 2024 MySouthborough.com — All rights reserved.