NORTHBOROUGH – The purpose of the “Reincarnated Antiques” series is to highlight antique properties in Northborough that have found creative and successful reuses.
With the demolition of antique properties in Northborough a regular unfortunate occurrence, this series recognizes owners who have an appreciation for historic buildings and have found alternative uses for them. Today’s property is 71-73 Church Street at the corner of Church and Pleasant streets. It was originally built as a religious Meeting House, then used as a boarding school, and today it is a private residence.
The building was completed in 1832 as the Evangelical Congregational Meeting House on land donated by Asa Fay. This congregation split from the First Church Unitarian congregation because of a difference in doctrine. The Evangelical Congregationalist followed a more conservative doctrine than the First Church Unitarian doctrine. The first minister of the church was also a Fay, the Reverend Samuel Fay.
The building had about 40 pews plus a pulpit, a gallery and, eventually, a bell. After 16 years, the structure was too small for the growing congregation so a new meeting house was built in downtown Northborough, which is now the Trinity Church. The original meeting house became a private home for Lewis Fay, a son of Asa Fay.
In 1882 the property was sold to Edward H. Allen. He converted the building into his college preparatory boarding school for boys. It catered to boys ages 10 to 18 with a four-year course of study in sciences and classical literature. By 1885, the school had 17 students. Gordon Allen, Edward’s youngest son, said most of the boys at the school came from Boston, but one was from Philadelphia, another from Milwaukee and one actually from South America. Edward Allen closed his school in 1889 to become principal of a school in New York. The sturdy structure has since been a private residence.
Recent residents were members of the Kathleen and Richard Pierce family. Kathleen and Richard owned it with their seven children for 25 years, beginning in 1973. This was followed by their daughter Valerie and son in-law William Dagle, who owned it with their five children until 2019. Thanks to Kathleen for supplying the information on the property and her families’ experiences.
According to Kathleen, there are plenty of original touches left from the building’s early days. Exterior walls are six inches thick with deep windowsills that are perfect for holding prayer books and hymnals. Small filler blocks are set into the living room floor to cover holes left when the pews were removed. Beamed ceilings and wonderful two-foot-wide pine floor boards remain. There are remnants of three bedrooms on the third floor which seem to be just the right size for housing several students. Built-in corner shelves, presumably to hold wash bowls or oil lamps for the Allen School students, are still there. Pages torn from old textbooks are glued to the wall in one of the closets.
On the fascinating third floor, old hoops for skirts, pegged leather shoes and old letters were found. Knowing that Lewis Allen died in the house rather spooked the Pierce children and grandchildren as their imaginations turned every creak and groan in the old place into visits from his ghost. Kathleen relished sitting on the side porch or in the attic, dreaming of past lives and events that make up its 187-year existence. As she said, “May this proud structure continue to bring the same pleasures for many more years to future lovers of Northborough history.”
Thank you to all the owners of this property who have preserved a piece of the town’s history for the community.