The Old Clark Tavern is at a crucial point in its long storied history. Is the current proposal by the Linnerts’ the only option for preserving this historic gem?
No, it is not.
Based on the petition initiated by Christine McCue Potts and all of the comments from attendees at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meetings, including those by the abutting neighbors, the overwhelming majority of Medfield residents want the Old Clark Tavern historically preserved. However, many of these supporters either don’t realize that the Linnerts’ proposal will significantly alter the property or they believe that the current proposal is the only or “best" option to prevent demolition of the structure. This just isn’t the case. Let’s look at the facts:
· Seth Clark built a portion of the Clark Tavern in 1741 with major additions built over the next 60-70 years
· The Clark Tavern served as a residence, inn, headquarters for the Connecticut militia, post office, and meeting hall for many years under the ownership of the Clark family. See the informative articles in The Portal by Richard DeSorgher and Cheryl O’Malley for more details.
· The recent dendrochronology testing has revealed that there are reused timbers in the attic and basement that date back to 1677 and that these reused timbers were likely from Benjamin Clark’s original house on the property that was burned during the King Philip's War.
· The current proposal will demolish at least 61 walls or portions of walls and at least 45 doors including a whole section of the structure on the east side of the building so that a state-of-the-art kitchen can be built.
· The proposal will convert the structure into a restaurant with a state-of-the-art kitchen, new bathrooms, elevator, grease trap, and new rooflines, and will fill in the contours of the site and pave it over with a very large parking lot covering much of the 0.9 acres of land that the property rests on.
· There is NO lodging function in the latest version of the proposal. Thus, it will not function as an inn. It will only be a restaurant with little historical parallel to the former function of the tavern or its use as a residence for its entire history.
· Thus, the project is more than a cosmetic renovation, and includes significant demolition of a historic property that does not return the structure to its origins as a historic inn. Those in favor of this project have failed to mention the structural changes and demolition of part of the old Clark Tavern in their writings or at the various town meetings and it is important to understand the scope of the plans.
As others have stated, the Old “Clark Tavern is one of Medfield's most important historic properties” and is worth saving. It is true that the structure has been vacant since Lorraine Laverty’s death in 2007 and was then owned by Stephen Browne prior to selling it to the Linnerts in 2013. Many argue that the Linnerts' proposal is the only option for saving this historical gem but there is another opportunity worth strong consideration:
Given the overwhelming support for the preservation of the Old Clark Tavern including over 1100 that signed the petition, the residents of Medfield should request that the town purchase the property and renovate it into a historically preserved structure with a use similar to the Peak House. Or, perhaps the Linnerts would be willing to donate the property to the town provided the town guaranteed the historical preservation of the property? Some may argue that the cost is prohibitive for the town. However, with so many supporters, a not-for-profit fund could be established through donations to assist with the cost of the renovation and it could operate much like the Fairbanks House in Dedham (http://www.fairbankshouse.org/index.html) vs. a new restaurant.
Knowing the vast history of the Old Clark Tavern, we should all be in favor of the town taking ownership of the property and renovating it back to its historic glory. This is the win-win scenario that so many residents are seeking for the Old Clark Tavern. Thus, I would hope the Linnerts, Board of Selectmen, Historical Society, Historical Commission and all others that are fighting for the preservation of this property will join together to do what is best for our town and the storied history of this magnificent property. Carpe Diem!