Tabor Academy will demolish historic house

Oct 10, 2019

Following years of consideration in an attempt to preserve the historic building, Tabor Academy has announced its intention to demolish the home at 192 Front Street known as the Tenbrook House.

The house was designed by famous architect H.H. Richardson and started a trend of using gambrel roofs again. It is also the smallest house that Richardson designed. 

According to research compiled by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the home was built in 1881 for the Reverend Percy Browne, who was born in Dublin before immigrating to the United States. Browne graduated from Kenyon College and was the rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Roxbury for thirty years, from 1871 to 1901. 

The house was built following an unusual bet: Browne bet Richardson that he could not design a small house for $2,500. Browne lost.

Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, a contemporary architectural critic, wrote of the house that it “is so appropriate to its surroundings that it seems to have grown out of them by some process of nature, and it is equally appropriate to its purpose. It explains itself at once as a gentleman’s summer home, but with a simplicity which does not put the humblest village neighbor out of countenance.”

Before Tabor Academy, the house had another notable tenant: President Grover Cleveland and his wife, Frances. The pair rented the home during the summer of 1889, perhaps to relax following Cleveland’s failed re-election bid in the fall of 1888. He was re-elected as president in 1893.

Tabor bought the house and its land in 2008 to consolidate its campus. The building was in “extremely poor condition at acquisition,” according to Head of School John Quirk.

Since then, Tabor has been exploring what to do with the house. Most recently, it served as faculty housing. The Academy also worked with the Sippican Historical Society to try to move the building to another lot, then restore it.

“At one point, the school developed preliminary plans to incorporate some part of a renovation of Tenbrook House into what eventually became a free-standing dormitory nearby,” Quirk said, “This idea was set aside, however, when it became clear that a disproportionate part of the cost would be tied up in the renovation portion of the project, as opposed to the dormitory space that was to be the focus of the building.”

Tabor Academy said it is currently in the permitting process to take the building down. It does not have a set date for demolition, said the project could be completed by winter.

“I know some members of the town will be sad to see the building go, especially as Mrs. Tenbrook and her family were such valued members of the community,” Quirk said, on the demolition “I am saddened by this, too, and aware that the loss of Tenbrook House will feel for many like the loss of a friend along Front Street. That said…other options are severely limited, and it feels appropriate to make this difficult decision … before further deterioration of the structure makes the building truly unsafe,” said Quirk.

Judy Rosbe, treasurer of the Sippican Historical Society, said she had the chance to tour the house, and found it “quite run down.”

She said that Quirk was very accommodating in working with the Historical Society.

“He kindly offered to work with the Sippican Historical Society, when we suggested that we buy the building for a nominal sum and move it to another lot in town, and then renovate it,” Rosbe said. “However after pursuing this for several months with many people, we were unable to find a person who wanted to relocate and renovate the historical building. We talked to many, many people.”