By Jane Keller Gordon, Contributing Writer
Southborough – An overwhelming majority of Southborough residents voted to acquire a preservation restriction for the Burnett-Garfield House at 84 Main Street at a well-attended Town Meeting held April 11 at the P. Brent Trottier Middle School. Those who presented arguments in favor stood and applauded Southborough’s Bridget Brady and friends — who almost two years ago at age 14 started a movement — that culminated in the vote.
Using existing Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, the town will purchase a $970,000 bond to purchase the restriction. There is an expectation that the state will contribute some amount of matching funds. The money will go to the property’s owner, Jon Delli Priscoli, who has up to four years to restore the exterior of the property. He says that he will open a bed and breakfast.
Michael Weishan, a member of the Southborough Historical Commission, spoke first in support of the articles relating to the restriction (13) and its payment (14). Weishan said, “I will discuss history, and why we should care about it.”
He outlined the impressive life of Joseph Burnett, who built the house at 84 Main Street starting in 1849.
He said that Burnett was born in Southborough in 1820. He attended the Worcester Technical College (and the Worcester College of Pharmacy). At 18, he apprenticed to an apothecary in Boston. Burnett was involved in producing ether for the first operation. He invented Burnett’s Vanilla, along with other extracts, from which he made his fortune.
Returning to Southborough in 1840, Burnett bought 800 acres and opened Deerfoot Farms. With an interest in food preservation, this large dairy operation was the first to use glass bottles for milk. The farm was well known for Deerfoot sausages, which were advertised as, “… made of little pigs and choice spices.”
With a strong connection to the Episcopal Church, Weishan said that Burnett built St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and opened the school, partly to educate some of his 12 children. He donated money to build the town hall, and donated the land on which the town library was built.
The first Boston Terrier was bred at the Burnett House.
Weishan moved onto economics, and argued that preserving the house, versus breaking the almost five acres into four lots, would save the town $62,182 per year. He looked at taxes (business and lodging), and education costs. He said, “The proposal is cost-positive to the town, will raise property values, and lower demand on school resources.”
Frederica (Freddy) Gillespie, chair of the Southborough Preservation Committee, spoke next about funding. She said, “How much will this cost me more in my annual taxes — zero.” Gillespie explained that Southborough adopted the Community Preservation surcharge by ballot in 2004. Its purpose is for open space, community housing, and historic preservation.
The discussion was opened up. Louise Barron questioned some of the numbers that Weishan presented. Others asked whether there would be a guarantee that the Burnett-Garfield House would be a bed and breakfast. There was concern about what would happen if the owner did not maintain the property and exterior of the building.
“I think that this is a worthwhile step. Don’t think of this as perfect,” John Butler said. “We have to do a job if we want to make progress.”
On the supporting side, Christa Brady, a member of the Friends of the Burnett-Garfield House, said, “Think about the people who come after us — this place has the possibility of being around for a millennia.”
A gentleman, who has been a resident of Southborough since 1944, said that he remembered the Southborough Arms, which was once the place to stay between Boston and Worcester. “The (Burnett House) is the soul of Southborough,” he commented.
Hewitt Heiserman said, “Sudbury has the Wayside Inn, Hopkinton has the start of the [Boston Marathon], and we have Joseph Burnett. I believe that we need to preserve this legacy forever.”
And with the Town Meeting vote, Southborough’s legacy is now protected.