Our preservation plan
The historic significance of the Sarah and Peter Clayes House
The house on Salem End Road (Framingham, MA) was built on the property that was settled in 1693 by Peter and Sarah Clayes, who had fled the witch hysteria that had terrorized Salem Village the year before. It is one of the most important historic houses in Framingham, as it was built on the site settled by some of the original incorporators of the Town, and it holds within its very walls vital lessons in architecture, history, social movements, even American legal practices.
The Salem witch hysteria has captivated the curiosity, fear and wonderment of the American people for generations. What is it about the story that inspires such disparate phenomena as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible on the one hand and the lion’s share of Salem’s tourism industry on the other? Perhaps it is our fascination with scapegoating and “group think,” or a natural interest in our cultural roots, or the very visceral fear of the unknown. Whatever it is, it is something we want to learn from, to preserve, and to understand.
The story of the witch hysteria was a deeply personal one for the families that were affected. Sarah and Peter Clayes — the builders of the house in Framingham — were some of those innocent people. Known in Salem as Cloyce, Sarah, along with her sisters Rebecca Nurse and Mary Esty and hundreds of others, had been accused and jailed for witchcraft. It is unknown why Sarah escaped the noose while her sisters were not so lucky. Whether she escaped or was set free from jail is not certain – but we do know that she and her husband Peter, along with members of her extended family, settled in an area 40 miles away, in the early part of the following year.
Their new home was in a region known as “Danforth’s Farms,” so named because it was owned by Thomas Danforth, Deputy Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony under Governor Simon Bradstreet. Danforth was, in fact, one of the magistrates who oversaw Sarah’s pre-trial examination in April of 1692.
We don’t know for sure the true connection between Danforth and Sarah and Peter Clayes. But what we do know is that Peter and Sarah, along with their brethren Towne, Barton, Bridges and Nurse, were among the first residents of a town newly-incorporated in the year 1700 as Framingham (after “Framlingham,” Danforth’s home in Suffolk, England); indeed, these surnames can be found in many early local government records as elected officials and leaders.
Saving the Sarah and Peter Clayes House
For over ten years, the Sarah Clayes House Trust has worked tirelessly to preserve this enormously important property. The house has been uninhabited since the 1990s, as it was caught up in the previous owners’ divorce, the securitization of failed mortgages, and the housing crisis of the new century. For years we couldn’t even find out which banked owned the property, as the mortgage was passed from bank to bank, a miniscule part of massive bundled securities. But finally, after years of chasing the mortgage, we discovered which financial organization owned the property, and after many more years of negotiating with the bank, we received a donation of the house to our project in December 2015.
Throughout these years, we also accomplished a great deal. We built a website and created an e-newsletter that now reaches close to 300 people, all of whom have asked to be included in our efforts. We created partnerships with the Foundation for Metrowest and then the Land Conservation Advocacy Trust, who agreed to serve as our fiscal sponsors so that we can accept tax-deductible gifts to our project. We have raised over $25,000 in small gifts from hundreds of people, mostly in the $50-100 range. In 2006 we nominated the property for PreservationMASS’ Top Ten Most Endangered Massachusetts Properties, and it was accepted. In 2008 we worked with the local Historic District Commission to name the house a single-property historic district. In 2011 we organized a neighborhood clean-up of the outside of the property, and over forty people helped us clear out invasive brush that was slowly eroding the house foundation. We have also boarded up the windows and installed signage to detract vandals. We are currently working with the Massachusetts Historical Commission to secure National Register designation for the house. Our progress has been written about in The Boston Globe and Metrowest Daily News.
Our overall goal is to preserve one of the most historically significant properties in metrowest Boston, thereby protecting and sharing the important stories that the house represents.
We envision a center of education and community, a place where people can gather to learn about not only Sarah’s personal story, but also the larger context: New England Colonial history, Framingham’s beginnings, the Salem witch trial hysteria, social justice, etc. As the property is in a quiet, residential area, the house will not be a large tourist attraction; rather, visitors can tour the house by appointment. We will also develop a library — both on-line and in the house — with materials relating to the property, early Colonial history, etc. We will work with the local public schools to develop hands-on activities for learning, such as creating a garden of crops that would be grown in the 17th century. We will partner with The Framingham History Center to develop programming at the house that will focus on, for example, the connections between Salem and Framingham.
At the same time, we plan to develop income from the property by establishing a bed & breakfast and renting the two original bedrooms on the second floor of the house. In addition, a conference room space will be built on the existing garage footprint, and this space can also be rented out for meetings or other gatherings.
The cost of the preservation, according to a local architect we have hired, will be $1.3 million. This includes restoration of both the interior and exterior of the front and oldest block of the house. The remaining extensions of the house — which were built much later and deemed of minimal historic priority in the Bill Finch report — will be razed and rebuilt to match the look of the front part. We plan to use the restoration itself as an educational tool, holding sessions where participants can learn from the inside out how historic preservation is done.
The Clayes House has been in such disrepair and uninhabited for so very long that many people have thought it was lost. Hundreds of people have come to us over the past decade, wanting to help but not having the means to make significant financial donations. We could have given up on this project at countless junctures during the years, when we hit yet another wall with another bank, when we couldn’t fundraise in earnest because we didn’t own the property, or when the amount of work required just seemed too daunting. But every time things looked desperate, we remembered Sarah’s story and how imperative it is to save this house from the wrecking ball. We’ve lost too many of our historic structures already, and each time we’ve lost another piece of our past. We were rewarded for our diligence when we learned that the bank won the foreclosure auction in October 2015, freeing the house to donate to us. And now we are able to fundraise in earnest, preserving so many vital stories in the meantime.
For more information about the house’s historic significance, see the Bill Finch report here.