Medfield's Historic District Commission and Historical Commission are again discussing the possibility of an East Main Street Historic District that would include, at least, the Peak House (1711), Clark Tavern (1740) and Eliakim Morse House (1750) because the histories of all three structures are linked.
“About 10 years ago, maybe 2003, we started to explore the concept but we got a lot of opposition,” said Historic District Commission chairman Michael Taylor.
He said one of the homeowners was opposed to the idea in the past but, “we’ve been working behind the scenes trying to get that landowner to be supportive of the district.”
Town historian Richard DeSorgher said some people stereotype and think a “historic district” designation means they might lose control of their private property.
“The Medfield one [historic district designation] is very, very different,” he said. “They hear ‘historic district’ and think, ‘The town is going to tell me how to run my house...’ That’s not what the Medfield one is all about.”
According to Historic District educational materials (pdf attached), the purpose of a historic district is to preserve and protect the distinctive characteristics of buildings and places significant to the Commonwealth and to Medfield, to maintain and improve the settings of those buildings and places, to assure that new construction is compatible with existing buildings in the district, and to maintain the integrity not only of individual structures but also of entire streetscapes.
The Guidelines for Changes within Medfield Local Historic Districts (pdf attached) state that, “Historic districts do not prevent changes from occurring, nor do they prevent new construction. The intent is to make changes and additions harmonious, and prevent the intrusion of incongruous elements that might distract from the aesthetic and historic values of the district. The purpose of any local historic district is not to halt growth, but to allow for thoughtful consideration of change.”
Historical Commission member John Day said the time may now be right for a designation that could protect the character of the town, particularly after the recent response to a proposed 96-unit affordable housing complex off West Street where some residents said the town is at the mercy of developers because of lack of planning.
“I think there’s a general understanding that the character of the town is changing,” Day said. “The number of tear-downs has risen rapidly. There is an understanding that there is a character to protect.”
Of the people who have moved to town in recent years, “They know the value of a character-filled town.”
Currently, there are four historic districts in Medfield including:
- John Metcalf Historic District, consisting of about 23 homes along west Main Street starting from the intersection of Route 27 and Route 109 and the Charles River
- Hospital Farm Historic District, consisting of 33 buildings at the Medfield State Hospital
- Clark-Kingsbury Farm Historic District, consisting of one home overlooking the grist mill pond on Route 27
- Town Center Historic District, consisting of roughly 18 buildings in the center of town along North Street and Main Street
An East Main Street Historic District would protect three more properties that are important to the history of Medfield.
According to the History of Medfield on the town’s website, in 1806, the Hartford and Dedham Turnpike was established and its stage coaches stopped at Clark's Tavern, next door to the Peak House. The stage route through Medfield was known as the Middle Post Road, but the Upper Post Road through Sudbury was preferred by travelers because it provided better taverns.
In an article for a local newspaper, DeSorgher said that Nathan Hale, who was sent by General George Washington to spy on the British in New York City but was then captured and hanged (and famously said “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”), stayed at the Clark Tavern.
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 and ran up a during the process.
Then President George Washington returned to New York City along the Middle Road and through Medfield after his visit to Boston. While there is no actual record of his stopping at the Clark Tavern, Desorgher wrote, "there is almost certainty he could have stopped in the popular tavern for a change of horses, to stretch his legs or grab a bite to eat or something to drink."