SOUTHBOROUGH – Southborough’s historic “Doc Stone House” at 42 Main Street may soon face demolition.
This process has promptly sparked debate as representatives of the Fay School, which owns the building, say the structure is in poor condition, needing costly renovations that the school can’t afford.
Southborough Historical Commission members have questioned this assessment, though. And outside demolition opponents in town have begun work to rally in what they say is a pivotal moment for local preservation causes.
“Fay would love to be able to keep this property and to use it, but we really feel that the financial investment that would come along with it and the extensive work that would be required is really something that we can’t do,” Fay’s Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations Diane Byrne told the Historical Commission on April 12.
House boasts lengthy history
The Doc Stone House dates back to the mid-1800s, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, having been augmented through various additions and renovations in years since its construction.
Speaking at a Southborough Historical Society event last month, society Vice President Sally Waters noted that Timothy Stone eventually bought the home in the late 1940s to serve as his home office medical practice, where he proceeded to treat generations of community members.
Stone passed away in 2016, leading to the sale of the old home the following year to Fay. Now, five years later, the school has applied for its demolition permit.
Fay meets with Historical Commission
Byrne was appearing before the Historical Commission as part of Southborough’s demolition delay process.
That bylaw, in part, sets out a timeline which can include a nine-month waiting period on demolition permits for Southborough buildings built before 1925.
Demolition opponents now plan to use that window to rally attention toward Fay’s plan and the Doc Stone House’s history.
“Our goal really is to garner public support and appeal to Fay School to sell [the house] to someone who will care for the property responsibly and restore it and care for its legacy,” Southborough resident Patti Fiore told guests at the aforementioned Historical Society presentation on April 23.
Back on April 12, Byrne said Fay, itself, had purchased the Doc Stone property with the intention of using it for either residential purposes or as office space.
Byrne said that, after purchasing the property, though, Fay learned that it was structurally unsound. She said it also has both asbestos and lead paint, which she said the school did not know about before the purchase.
Fay Board of Trustees member Brendon Giblin added that Fay revisited opportunities for the Doc Stone House on multiple occasions since its acquisition, but continued to run into issues with the building’s condition.
The school’s demolition proposal, Giblin said, now comes from “a bit of a life safety position,” striving to “create a safe environment.”
“The building, not receiving an abundance of care, is in a little bit of disrepair and there’s some danger on the inside and danger on the outside,” he said.
Contacted on April 25, Fay’s Director of Marketing and Communications Erin Sullivan offered further comment on the school’s position.
“I think it’s just important to know that Fay has not taken this issue lightly,” Sullivan said. “But after reviewing everything thoroughly, it was determined that what was proposed by Fay was the best they could do, and that to attempt to salvage the building wasn’t possible from a financial perspective and also the trustees fiduciary obligation to the school.”
Historical Commission notes concerns
As Fay has highlighted the Doc Stone House’s issues, members of the Historical Commission, on April 12, noted concerns.
Rebecca Deans-Rowe said that she was puzzled by a claim that the house’s foundation required extensive renovation because reports on the building did not indicate that dramatic foundation work would be required.
Historical Commission Chair Kevin Miller, who shared photographs taken inside and outside of the building, said that there were no visible signs of leaks or rot, and that he did not see a building that is seriously compromised.
He also said that the presence of asbestos and lead paint was not surprising in a building built before 1978.
“What surprised me in the report was how little asbestos there actually is,” Miller said. “I was quite shocked.”
‘A turning point’
Discussion continued before the Historical Commission voted 4-0 last month to grant preferential preservation status to the Doc Stone House.
That started the clock on the demolition delay bylaw’s nine month waiting period, which will lapse in November of this year. Fay could then move forward with demolition at that point if it chooses to do so.
As Fay proposes this plan, though, it is sparking a conversation that has swirled before in Southborough.
That conversation included an extensive effort to save the Burnett/Garfield stone mansion at 84 Main Street from the wrecking ball just over seven years ago.
That conversation has also, among many other things, been part of efforts to add Southborough’s Main Street Area Historic District to the National Registry of Historic Places.
Waters weighed in on this last month, discussing similarities and differences between recent preservation pushes and the new one to save the Doc Stone House.
“We had a big campaign to save [the Burnett/Garfield mansion] and we knew an awful lot about those people,” she said. “…But this is a house that belonged to average people and those are the ones that we don’t seem to preserve.”
Deans-Rowe further highlighted the current debate as a possible larger “turning point” for Southborough’s downtown area in a recent email to the Community Advocate.
“I believe it is critical that we save this property,” she said, emphasizing that she spoke as an individual and not on behalf of the Historical Commission.
“If we lose Doc Stone’s house to demolition,” she later added, “I fear many others will follow and our historic district will be gutted.”
Deans-Rowe said it was “distressing” to receive Fay’s application to demolish the Doc Stone House, reiterating calls to preserve the structure.
“Southborough has a mixed record with regard to historic preservation, with many in town valuing these assets and some who do not,” she said. “It is my sincere hope that the town can commit to preservation and take pride in its historic district.”
The full Historical Commission meeting from April 12 can be viewed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L3Eor6EYTk.