Uniquely Medfield: Clark Tavern, Historic Turning Point for Medfield?
A weekly column by Medfield Town Historian Richard DeSorgher. This week discusses the impact of the 'For Sale' sign in front of the Clark Tavern.
Medfield is clearly at a crossroad of what the future character of the town is going to be.
Sitting at 353-355 Main Street is the Clark Tavern. It dates to 1740. Many consider it the most historic house in Medfield. Certainly, it is on historic par with the Peak House and the Dwight-Derby House. Today, once again a “for sale” sign stands in front of the tavern.
Many in town breathed a great sigh of relief five years ago when it was first up for sale and they saw the “sold” sign and learned that the property had been purchased by Medfield residents Stephen and Lynn Browne. Back then, behind the house was more than seven acres of woodland. Rumors talked of a developer wanting to tear down the Clark Tavern in order to develop the back acres.
At the same time, the town was witnessing the demolition of the Historic 1817 Baker House, just two houses to the west of the Clark Tavern. The Historical Commission used its Town Meeting-given powers and issued a one-year demolition delay to try to save the Historic Baker Homestead but the developer simply waited out the year and, because East Main Street is not in an historic district, he was able to demolish it. Two new houses were then built in its place.
Many in town feared that the same fate would happen to the Clark Tavern. The loss of the Baker House was a loss in itself to Medfield but the loss of both these historic properties in that confined area would have been a serious blow to the historic character of the town, especially along that section of Main Street, the “Gateway into the Town Center.”
But with the purchase by the Brownes, many breathed a sigh of relief. Stephen Browne is a member of the Planning Board, he is a known conservationist with past ties to the Trustees of Reservation, and he and Lynn were instrumental in getting Town Meeting to save the Cronin Property on Wight and North Streets. Lynn is very active with the Norfolk Hunt Club. They both care deeply about the town, its open space and its historic character. Since their purchase, they have generously placed most of the land (except one lot for a future house) in a conservation trust, preventing any major developing in the area. This has been a great bonus for the town as the land will now remain in its natural state rather becoming an apartment complex or a housing development. But the Brownes do not need two houses and so the Clark Tavern is once again up for sale, now with only about three-quarters of an acre of land with the building.
Historic houses make up much of our character as a community, especially along East Main Street. We have been generally lucky to date that so many historic-minded people have bought many of these Main Street homes. To their credit, they have cared for and restored these houses. The town is greatly in debt to them as the character of East Main Street impacts the character of the town as a whole and impacts everyone’s property values. But East Main Street is not in an historic district and so we are vulnerable to lose our history and character with the demolition of any of those historic homes; to be replaced potentially by 40B projects or high density housing.
History of the Clark Tavern
The Clark Tavern, itself, is actually two houses attached to one another.
The westerly end of the house, being known as the old Clark Tavern, was built about 1740 by Seth Clark and kept as a tavern and inn by Seth and his son Ebenezer. Seth was the most influential of the Clarks. It was he who added to the front of the house, extending its size. Seth served as town selectmen, representative to the General Court, delegate to the Provincial Congress and assistant commissary in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
In 1773, son Ebenezer had the easterly end built, attached to the original tavern. The Clark Tavern and Inn became a popular meeting place for the town. Selectmen went there after their meetings. Townspeople gathered to discuss the latest outrage from the British government.
It was a stagecoach stop on the Hartford-Boston Turnpike, also known as the Middle Road, going from Boston down to New York City. Many a weary traveler stayed over night before continuing the long stagecoach trip. Nathan Hale, of history book fame, who was sent by General George Washington to spy on the British in New York City and who was captured and hung, stayed in the Clark Tavern. Hale’s immortal words “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” are an important part of our nation's history.
During the occupation of Boston, minutemen from Connecticut were sent up as far as Medfield to guard the turnpike in the event the British tried to break out of Boston and head for New York City. The Connecticut militia used the Clark Tavern as their headquarters. The Post Office was kept there from 1809-1818.
The hall at the rear of the house was built by Ebenezer junior, son of Ebenezer, about 1810. The hall was used by numerous groups over the years, including the Sons of Temperance. Dances were held there, enjoyed by the families in town. It was called the “most beautiful hall in the region.” At its dedication, people came from surrounding towns to take part in the festivities. Catholics held their services there, before the building of St. Edward’s Church. A wedding was also performed in the hall.
The westerly end was purchased by Warren Hartshorn in 1814, whose grandson married into the Adams family. The Adams’ lived there for many years. In 1912, Bessie Adams married Fred Laverty. It stayed in the Laverty family until its sale in 2007.
The Clark Tavern is an excellent example of an early Colonial structure and one of the oldest houses in Medfield. Its Colonial and Revolutionary War history extends its importance far beyond the borders of Medfield. Its architectural form, age and well-preserved setting are all important elements of its significance to our community. It is also up for sale.