Threatened: Salem Witch Trial Survivor's House
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Jan. 19, 2010
A Massachusetts house built by a Salem witch trial survivor has stood empty for a decade, but a group of locals wants to save the boarded-up structure.
"It's a race," says Annie Murphy, executive director of the Framingham History Center, who organized a meeting on Jan. 14 to discuss saving the Sarah Clayes House. "[It] doesn't have much time."
Salem residents Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty were among 19 "witches" hanged on Gallows Hill, outside of Salem Village, following trials in 1692. Their sister, Sarah Clayes, was convicted of witchcraft as well, but fled to Framingham, Mass., where she and her husband built a house in 1693. Today water is infiltrating the historic structure, now the property of a bank.
"When I first saw it and walked through it, it was in bad shape, but it's in really bad shape now," says Janice Thompson, who lives in nearby Ashland, Mass., and attended the Jan. 14 meeting. "It's not only the weather but it's vandalism. ... It's just a crime to let the house go."
With the help of a lawyer, Thompson and others plan to approach the bank and perhaps form a nonprofit. They hope to raise $2 million to buy and restore the Clayes House, and then raise another $2 million to establish an endowment that would support a house museum.
Saving the Clayes House has been a challenge because it was previously owned by a couple who divorced. "Unclear title chain makes purchase and restoration extremely difficult," says Erin Kelly, assistant director of Preservation Massachusetts, which placed the Clayes House on its 2006 list of the state's most endangered historic places. "The unique history and wonderful architecture of this property are an incredible local resource."
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