The house on the hill is at a crossroads, and it will apparently take a groundswell of public support to influence its salvation. The Percy Browne House was at the center of discussion when the Marion Historical Commission met on February 18 via Zoom.
The commission wants to save the house at 192 Front Street, which belongs to Tabor Academy. In 2019, the prep school by the sea had filed a demolition order to demolish the building, also known as the Tenbrook House, but changed course with a November 6, 2019, announcement of a delay. The situation has been in limbo ever since.
In order to do accomplish its goal, the commission needs to get the school, the town, and its people on the house’s side. Education on the matter will be at the center of the effort, and the Historical Commission hopes to host a Zoom meeting geared toward public awareness.
Commission Chairperson Meg Steinberg suggested a broad audience for such an event, and commission member Will Tifft said he would make sure a Zoom meeting is promoted by the Sippican Historical Society, of which he is president.
“When I sort of lit the fire the first time around this and posted things on Facebook … many responded,” said Tifft, characterizing over 50 responses along the lines of “‘This is a shame, tell me what I can do.’ Maybe they didn’t come to that meeting, but maybe they’re out there.”
Designed by architect H.H. Richardson and built in 1881, the house was purchased by Tabor Academy in 2008. The building housed faculty, but its deteriorating condition prompted the school to plan its demolition in favor of campus expansion on the 3-acre parcel behind two of the school’s newer dormitories.
Public outcry led former Headmaster John Quirk to announce a delay, albeit with the disclaimer that he remained doubtful in a viable option that could satisfy the school’s needs and be financially feasible. Tabor’s original plan to demolish the Percy Browne House and expand campus facilities had already entered the permitting process by October 2019, and the schedule called for completion in the early stages of the 2019-20 winter season.
The coronavirus pandemic played a significant role in stalling any resumption of the plan in 2020, and commission member Bryan McSweeny told the February 18 meeting that Tabor has said it will not decide the fate of the house until it has a new headmaster. That appointment is anticipated for July 1. Julie Salit is the interim headmaster.
While Sippican Historical Society is supportive of the effort to save the Percy Browne House, Tifft said its members have good relationships with Tabor. “Nobody will oppose it; everybody thinks it’s the right thing to do,” he said, suggesting a non-profit organization like Historic New England might be interested in taking the lead in promoting the effort to save the house.
Alluding to a very long and intense meeting with commission members McSweeny and Tifft reviewing Phase 1 and 2 completion reports, Steinberg suggested the commission do more building surveys in its overall effort to identify historical buildings in Marion.
The first phase of the Community Preservation Committee’s 2020 study, started on January 21, on Portuguese and Cape Verdian history in Marion, is expected to be completed by the end of February.
The commission received an offer from Laura Derderian-O’Rourke, a semi-retired attorney and journalist, to write about the Historical Commission and submit an article to area newspapers. Steinberg suggested an optimum time for such an article would be in April “when we have projects for Town Meeting.”
Steinberg reported that a Massachusetts Historical Commission intern evaluated all of the state’s 351 websites with historical commissions and ranked them low, medium, and high, based on multiple criteria, and Marion was rated among the highest of the high.
The next meeting of the Marion Historical Commission is scheduled for Thursday, March 18, at 4:30 pm.
Marion Historical Commission
By Mick Colageo