Historic Homes Lost & Who Lived There
Who Burned Down the Freeman Farm House?
An Unsolved Sandwich Mystery (Part 3)
By Kaethe O’Keefe Maguire
In part 2 we learned about the Freeman Farm over the generations through 1950 when efforts tp preserve the historic farm by Sandwich Preservations continued. These tenacious, history loving residents certainly gave it their all.
The list of Sandwich residents who tried so hard to save the remaining farm acres, the home and unique double barn are many, but I would like to recognize some of these preservation-minded people. Some have passed on, but some are still living.
Primarily, Russell Lovell, Sandwich town historian, wrote letter after letter to authorities and reached out to Freeman family members in an effort to save the home. Sen Paul Tsongas was involved in trying to save the structures.
Paul White, then a member of the Sandwich Historic District committee and recently moved from his home on 6A and David Allen formerly of East Sandwich, tried to buy the structures and have them moved. They were met with obstacle after obstacle in this quest.
Lovell tried to have the home listed on the National Register of Historic Places but was rebuffed. Canal Electric, now owning the 11 acres on which the home and barn stood, was against naming the structures to the National Register of course.
The Freeman Barn, actually two barns, was the only building to survive as it was moved to 8 River Street, Sandwich before the fire.
The infamous James Watts, then secretary of the Interior, dismantled the Heritage Conservation and Recreational Services which included the Register of National Places, and administered the National Preservation Act of 1966. Thankfully, this was reversed by President Carter.
White was eventually able to save and move the long double barn and it rests today at 8 River St abutting the marsh in the yard of then owner Ruth Kelly. Paul White had been able to buy the barn and won the approval of the Sandwich Historic District Committee to move it. The barn is long and unusual and is actually two barns joined together. The barn is balloon framing whereas the home was post and beam construction.
Also showing great effort was George Sutton who wore many hats in Sandwich including serving on the Sandwich Historic District Committee. Sutton wanted to create a Friends of the Freeman Farm nonprofit trust. Bourne had led by example in 1979 by preserving the endangered and now restored Briggs House, now called the Briggs McDermott House and home of the Historical Society of Bourne. Sutton also enlisted Senator ed Kennedy’s help.
Barbara Gill, who would become our next Archivist after Russell Lovell in 1988, and a member of the Sandwich Historical Commission, typed letter after letter to officials. Nancy Titcomb of Titcomb’s Book Store, who had saved the Deacon Eldred house and founded the Thornton Burgess Society was involved. Architect Milton Swartz and Auction House co-owner Janet Johnson, worked with town people also. Johnson offered $15,000 to begin a nonprofit organization to be centered at the home. Richard Connor, then head of the Sandwich Library, and some library trustees offered a portion of the library land for the buildings. This was a grass roots attempt by many key Sandwich citizens who cared about their history.
By 1979 the home had been vandalized and robbed twice not only of furniture but windows, old woodwork, doors and piles of documents kept for years and years by the family. Obviously, this was the work of professionals.
Knowing the Canal Electric really had no interest in the house and barn, White and Allen went before the Historic District committee to request that they move the structures. On the 28th of October in 1980 the Historic District Committee denied a request. This denial was repeated on December 2, 1980. The rather short-sighted excuse was that they didn’t want the structures removed from their original setting. White countered that the coal conveyor shoot would be 40 feet away from the home!
Canal Electric admitted they had bought the 11.5 acres for the purpose of bringing coal to the power plant. If ever there was a messy conundrum, this was it. Jonathan Leonard, from an old Sandwich family, said that essentially the Canal Electric was forcing the structures off the site but in turn they were denied the right to move them.
Talk about being between a rock and a hard place! Leonard wanted like so many others, to move the buildings in order to save them.
Efforts went on for years. Very little if any support for saving the Freeman farm came from the elected Sandwich Officials. Milton Smith, Vice President of the Canal Electric and a Sandwich resident also refused all offers to move the structures. (Gerald Anderson was President). And of course, the Historic District Committee didn’t want the structures moved.
Canal Electric wanted to surround the buildings with a chain link fence which surely would have been refused by the Historic District Committee.
Sadly, most of the scattered descendants did not show interest. The Freeman’s did not have a family Association like the Nye’s, who have a very active Association. There were exceptions to the lack of family involvement.
Warren Gray Freeman, who was not directly connected to the family, but a resident of 7 Captain Greaves Road in East Sandwich had a writing campaign to try to save the farm buildings. He wrote repeatedly to the Select Board and received no answers.
Warren’s Freemans came over from England in the 1700’s and settled in Maine. As luck would have it, his grandfather was for years the caretaker of the Freeman Farm when the Clark’s and Carpenters used it as a summer residence and so Warren spent summers on the farm with his grandfather. The house had no electricity and no central heat, but Warren had only happy memories of spending summers there.
So you decide. Who do you think set the arson fire that destroyed the Freeman Family home?
While the town lost such a valuable historical asset due to arson, it will remain a mystery with many theories as to who or why the Freeman Farm home was destroyed.
What’s your theory?