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Editorial: Prescott House: Preservation or Degradation?

From a commanding vista of hayfields, James Brook and a stand of ancient tamaraks, Prescott House has stood watch at the southern approach to Groton Center for 227 years. The man who built the home, Dr. Oliver Prescott, Jr. was a judge, legislator, doctor and military man. This man of Groton played an important role in one of the nation’s first challenges to Federal authority, determining whether we could govern ourselves as a nation.

The opposing views and economic interests of Oliver Prescott and another Groton man, Job Shattuck, played out right here in Groton in a violent challenge to Federal and state authority. The house where Job Shattuck lived still stands in town along with the barn on Common Street where he was captured. Social and political issues of that day, have much in common with issues in today’s politics, issues that play out on cable news channels and in our national politics.

Now, more than two centuries later, Indian Hill Music Center, current owner of the building, is thinking about demolishing it. As a prelude to possibly razing the building, IHM has offered two, early American murals in Prescott House to the Groton History Center. Groton History Center is asking for taxpayer funds to remove these murals from Prescott House and install them in the Groton Inn. If the building were to remain in tact, there would be no need to remove the murals.

You can dress it up any way you want: Ripping the J.D. Poor murals from the Prescott House and installing them in the new Groton Inn is not historic preservation; it’s historic degradation. Their removal is a wedge, a wedge easing the way for possibly razing the building. To ask Groton taxpayers to fund this project is plain wrong and a misuse of CPC funds.

Just as Town Meeting voted to fund the Boynton Meadows Housing Project on an ill-considered CPC recommendation - eventually losing more than $400,000 of taxpayer funds - we should learn from our mistake and avoid a similar miscalculation here.

Before voting to degrade the building by removing these artworks from their context, and before Indian Hill Music has more private discussions about razing the building, we all need to slow down, take a deep breath, step back, and take time to consider the impact of such a decision and how to move forward in a logical and deliberate manner to preserve the building.

Prescott House is a precious, historical asset, giving context to both the town’s and nation’s history. Once torn down, there is no bringing the building back. It will be gone forever. Prescott House has stood at 170 Old Ayer Road for more than two centuries, what’s another year or two needed to figure out the best way to preserve it?

Our generation has a responsibility to preserve town historical assets for future generations. These buildings give physical context to our history. They provide physical immediacy to our nation’s story, our heritage, how we lived, how we solved problems, how we persevered. They are a measure of where we came from, where we find ourselves now, how we have changed and how we might further change to make ‘a more perfect union.’ Without the past as gauge, it is harder to find our way forward to a better future.

In some other parts of the world, cultural objects are being destroyed in the name of religious ideology and intolerance. Let’s not let our own inability to see the ‘big picture’ by fearing to speak about a historical asset that happens to be located on private property. Let it not make us party to the destruction of our own town’s history. If we don’t have some imagination and courage, we may sit idly by while part of our history is destroyed.

Once the threat of removing these murals has been halted, we urge town government to seek public discussions with Indian Hill Music on the fate of the building and to see how the town can seek to preserve and protect the building.

We believe that once Indian Hill Music understands the building’s importance, they may no longer see it as a liability but as an incredible asset, a draw for the public and an expansion of their mission. To us, it seems clear that this building, when properly understood, could be an additional attraction for the surrounding communities to visit Indian Hill Music Center to learn about our history, to contemplate a better future.

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