‘History matters’: Fate of historic Williams House in Goshen uncertain

  • The parlor room leading into the dinning room of the Williams House in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Post Office boxes in the general store portion of the Williams house which contained the first Goshen post office. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Labrie kneels in the master bedroom of the Williams House and opens a hiding place that would have been under the bed used to keep valuables such as money and paper documents safe. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A pulley system in the attic that was used to lift dry goods from the general store to the attic for storage in the Williams House in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Williams House in Goshen. The left side is the original general store, post office, and tavern and the right side is the addition done by the Boltwood family for their summer home. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bob Labrie stands in the general store portion of the Williams House in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A locking mechanism for “Indian Shutters” that are on the front of the house. The shutters are made of a single piece of wood covering the windows that arrows could not penetrate. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Originally this was the tavern at the Williams House in Goshen, but over time it got turned into the tea room. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • “Indian Shutters” that are on the front of the Williams House in Goshen. The shutters are made of a single piece of wood covering the windows that arrows could not penetrate. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A locking mechanism for “Indian Shutters” that are on the front of the house. The shutters are made of a single piece of wood covering the windows that arrows could not penetrate. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shelving of the general store portion of the Williams House in Goshen. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The Williams House in Goshen. The left side is the original general store, post office, and tavern and the right side is the addition done by the Boltwood family for their summer home. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Old photos found when cleaning out the Williams House. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Some of the many antiques taken from the Williams House and put into storage. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Horse drawn carriage and sleigh found a the Williams House as it was being cleaned out. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • An old photo found when cleaning out the Williams House. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Cash ledger from the store dated 1834. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Four-wheeled carriage in the barn before removal at the Williams House in Goshen. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Books in the closet found at the Williams House as it was being cleaned out. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2021 5:21:54 PM

GOSHEN — The Williams House, a piece of freestanding history that partially dates to the 18th century, contains the town’s first post office, first general store, and features an attached still-standing ice house.

It was also the town’s first meetinghouse, and its architectural features include shutters designed to guard against Native American attacks and stones people used to climb into carriages.

But its future is uncertain. Currently, the house, which is owned by the town, is set to be auctioned off at 2 p.m. on Friday.

However, the Select Board is considering putting deed restrictions on the property prior to the sale or moving the sale into a Massachusetts General Law Chapter 30B process, both of which could restrict what can be done with the property and preserve it.

“History matters,” said Bob Labrie, a member of The Williams-Boltwood House Trust. “And we’re hoping that the Select Board agrees.”

One part of the house was built in 1779, preceding Goshen’s incorporation in 1781. That part of the house was moved to the 2 Williams Drive location in 1827, and incorporated into another part of the house, which was built in 1817. Both the Williams and Boltwood families lived there.

The Williams-Boltwood House Trust was set up to take possession of the house and turn it into a museum in 2009.

“All we’re trying to figure out is a way to make that work,” said Labrie.

However, because of issues with the title of the house due to conflicting wills, the trust was unable to get title insurance for the property, making a transfer impossible, Labrie said.

In 2011, Nancy Clifford, a representative of the heirs of the house, wrote a letter to the town saying that the heirs would stop paying real estate tax so that the town could foreclose on the property, clear the title and transfer ownership to the trust via a Chapter 30B process. Because of legal complications, however, the town was not able to take ownership until 2020.

Valuable artifacts

As for the trust, Labrie said that until recently it was constrained in its mission by the number of valuable artifacts in the house and barn, including a carriage, furniture from the 19th century and antique photographs — and a fear that those items could be stolen. More than 2,000 books from the first half of the 19th century were also on the property.

Labrie said that once the trust started asking for help in clearing out artifacts from the house in anticipation of the auction, word got out about the house’s nature. And once the artifacts were secured in storage in Deerfield, those involved with the house were able to talk about the house more freely, and a groundswell of support occurred.

“We’ve had people come forward with money,” Labrie said, although he noted that the trust does not have deep pockets.

Labrie said that at last Saturday’s annual Town Meeting, a voter asked those in attendance to stand if they supported the trust’s plan for preserving the house, and almost everyone did.

Bidding at Friday’s auction requires a $10,000 deposit.

“We don’t know who the winning bidder’s going to be,” Labrie said. “With the current real estate market you could get somebody from out of state who is simply looking at this as a property they can flip.”

The trust’s desire is to return the artifacts it removed for safekeeping to display them once the house has been renovated into a museum.

“This house has the opportunity to make history really exciting,” said Kam Oborne, a supporter of turning the house into a museum.

Labrie said that such a renovation would cost $1 million, while Norene Roberts, who serves on the Historical Commission, estimated at Wednesday’s Select Board meeting that such a renovation would cost closer to $2 million.

Labrie said, however, that he’s talked to a representative of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, who said they were willing to guide the trust in getting funds for a renovation.

Select Board discussion

The property, the impending auction, and alternatives to it, were discussed at a Wednesday night meeting of the Select Board that was called for that purpose.

The meeting featured some impassioned comments about the property, as well as a number of revelations.

“The house isn’t a liability, it’s an asset,” Joshua Lafond said.

Lafond said he recently learned about the house, and offered to volunteer his labor in restoring it, although it was later pointed out that this could be difficult if the house receives a historical designation. He also asked the Select Board to “stop the auction at all costs” and to have the issue decided at a Town Meeting.

“Once the house is gone, that’s it,” he said. “We’re not going to get it back.”

It was determined at the meeting that because Clifford was a member of The Williams-Boltwood House Trust, the trust could not bid on the property at auction — as Clifford is one of the individuals liable for its tax obligations. Similarly, because of his relationship to the trust, the town’s attorney determined that Labrie would also not be eligible to bid.

One option for the house that was discussed at the meeting was to have it sold using the Chapter 30B process, one that is favored by The Williams-Boltwood House Trust. The process would involve sealed bids in response to a request for proposals, which could have parameters that include that the house be converted into a museum. The custodianship of the property would also need to be transferred from the treasurer to the Select Board, which would require a two-thirds vote at a Town Meeting.

“The whole goal here is to keep this building as a resource for the town and for the region,” Labrie said, prior to the meeting.

Select Board members also said that it would not be legal for them to transfer the property to the trust outside of either an auction or a 30B process.

Concern was expressed that The Williams-Boltwood House Trust could not bid in the 30B process because of Clifford’s involvement, something that was asserted later in the meeting by the town’s attorney. However, Labrie said that if the trust is unable to bid, a new trust would be formed, as there is enough interest in the property in town to do so.

For his part, Select Board Member Wayne Glaser criticized the trust for not having a plan, noting that a $15,000 line item had been challenged at Saturday’s annual Town Meeting for not having one.

“There is no plan here, and we’re talking about $2 million,” he said.

Mike Rock, who serves on the trust, said after the meeting that the trust’s plan has always involved general fundraising, but it has felt that possession of the property is required for that.

Discussions with the attorney also yielded a new revelation — that the town could place deed restrictions on the property prior to auction. This news was greeted positively by many in attendance, including Labrie and Select Board Chair Angela Otis. The attorney did point out, however, that putting such restrictions on the property could lessen its sales price.

Another property that is set to be auctioned off Friday is a small strip of land that is advertised as having access to Highland Lake. However, neighbor Jonathan Parad said that the land is wetlands with vernal pools, and thus a trail cannot be constructed on it.

“The access to the lake is not an accurate statement,” Parad said.

Ultimately the Select Board did not make a decision on the fate of the house Wednesday, but it will be looking at both the prospect of deed restrictions and the Chapter 30B process at its Friday morning meeting at 8 a.m. The Select Board can also choose to remove the Williams House from Friday’s auction.

Labrie said that while the trust prefers a 30B process, he believes a deed restriction against demolishing or dismantling the building is the minimal thing that should be done.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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