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Historical Restoration of the Jacob Cushman House: A Win-Win for Medfield and Montrose

Sarah Lepsevich '17, Investigations Editor

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Since 2006, the year Montrose School bought its current property, there have been many discussions between the school and the Medfield Historical Society regarding what to do with the Jacob Cushman House.

The North Street house is one of the most historic buildings in Medfield. According to the Medfield Patch: “Jacob Cushman was born in 1813 in Attleboro but at age eight came to live in Medfield with his uncle, from whom he learned to be a wheelwright. He opened his own business in 1834 and formed a carriage manufacturing business with Joseph Baker in 1851. Cushman was a local philanthropist, very active in the Baptist church and the temperance movement.” Because of his commitment to the town, the house provides a much revered symbol of Medfield’s past.

When Montrose obtained the Medfield campus property in 2008, the town became very interested in what the school’s plans were for the building. Montrose School’s Business Manager, Mr. Flaherty described the building: “It was in a pretty good state of disrepair. There hadn’t been any heat in the building for a number of years; and, inside, all of the plaster was coming down, the paint was peeling, and it really was a mess. Outside, the clapboards and the siding was all peeling paint and really broken windows, it was really in tough shape and the porch was starting to fall in.” At the time of purchase, the school was focused on creating an environment to educate the young minds of its students. The shared location of the building made the property a very small priority for the expanding school.

Yet, it quickly became evident how important the restoration of this property was to the Medfield Historical Commission. Mr. Flaherty said: “When I arrived here in June of 2008 the people from the historical commission strongly encouraged us to fix the building. Here they have a significant historical building on one of their major roads and the thing is literally falling down. We certainly appreciated their concern; but, since the building was located on the Northeast corner of our property and had no immediate use to the school, we decided that we did not have the money to rebuild it, It would have been very expensive, maybe even half a million dollars. Everything that the school does and when they invest money is for the improvement of the education, the facilities, the culture for the girls. The rehabilitation of the Cushman House never came up to that priority. We had the historical commision strongly encouraging us to fix it, but we just didn’t have the money to do it.”

 

For years, discussions over the interest of the building took place between Montrose School and the town of Medfield; however, these discussions always stopped at the financial impasse. The town of Medfield wanted the building repaired for architectural lure and to enhance the downtown area; however, Montrose School could not afford the costs associated with restoring the historical building. “It never was nasty or anything else, we just had two different priorities,” added Mr. Flaherty.

David F. Temple, President of the Medfield Historical Society and Co-chair of the Medfield Historical Commission, agreed: “No, it was not Montrose’s responsibility to fix the house. Montrose’s responsibility is to use their resources to educate girls with good ability and help them develop their character and intellectual virtues, and as far as I can tell, Montrose does an excellent job at it. The historical commission, part of Medfield’s town government, tried for years to persuade Montrose to take steps to stabilize the Cushman House, but Montrose didn’t have money available to do the job right. Eventually I brought the school and Bob Borrelli [Medfield developer] together at the bargaining table, and the two parties made a deal.”

As described by Mr. Temple the, “long dilapidated Jacob Cushman house” was finally going to to be repaired. Mr. Temple reported in January: “After a prolonged period of working out the details with the Montrose School, Bob Borrelli just called me to say he is finally signing a purchase and sale agreement this afternoon on the 1852 Cushman House at 67 North Street.  Bob plans to keep the basic structure as seen from the street, essentially as is, probably with different color; and he hopes it will complement his new building across the street.  He plans to rent the first floor as retail space, likely with apartments on the second floor.”

David F. Temple added: “Saving the historic Cushman House has been a frustrating six-year campaign of prodding the school, as we watched the house succumbing to demolition by neglect. I am glad that Bob saw the potential in the building and called to ask me about it over a year ago. I was able to arrange the first meetings between Bob and Montrose. Then I got out of the way, except for occasionally nudging Bob or Jack Flaherty at the school to get them back at the bargaining table. Thank you, Bob, for sticking with the project!”

One of the complications preventing a quick sale stemmed from the roadway used by Montrose families for drop-off and pick-up, which runs right along the building construction site. This required Mr. Flaherty to broker the school’s ability to preserve the entrance with the town of Medfield, while allotting Mr. Borelli efficient room to park cars. “After extensive negotiation we came to an agreement on the entrance, and we thought of a very fair price for the building — that was back in June of 2016. It took us until January of 2017 to get all of the permits and all of the work done in order for Mr. Borelli to buy the building,” said Mr. Flaherty.

Mr. Flaherty added: “We are very happy; it’s a win-win for both parties because we couldn’t afford to fix the building and the town is very happy that the building is going to be rehabbed. They will have their historical building that will look decent.”

Mr Borelli did not waste any time and began work soon after signing the contract in January 2017. The residents of Medfield and Montrose School can expect the project to be completed quite soon, with an anticipated completion date of Fall 2017.

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Historical Restoration of the Jacob Cushman House: A Win-Win for Medfield and Montrose