HAMILTON - General George S. Patton’s legacy is as stalwart in this North Shore community as the Sherman tank guarding a park named for the World War II hero in the town center.
Patton came to live in Hamilton in 1928, on a country estate of fertile fields and horse trails running along the Ipswich River. Beatrice Ayer Patton spent the war years here while her husband raced across Africa and Europe. Willie, the white bull terrier who was Patton’s companion during the war, returned here after the general’s death in 1945.
And Patton’s family continued to live on the estate on Asbury Street, near the border with Topsfield.
Now the late general’s estate will forever be part of his adopted hometown.
At the Annual Town Meeting Saturday, 295 residents voted unanimously to accept the Patton estate as a gift to the town for public use. One resident said the Patton Homestead could become the town’s own Mount Vernon, home of George Washington.
“What we have here is a piece of history, of a family that served this country for seven generations and did a fabulous job,’’ said Forrester “Tim’’ Clark, a resident and former state legislator. “If we were to turn this gift down, we would be the laughingstock of America.’’
Clark, who said his father served in Patton’s Third Army, recalled meeting Patton as a young boy. “Hamilton was his home,’’ he said.
The property, valued at $1.9 million, includes 27 acres of land, a 21-room Colonial-style home, two horse barns with 10 stalls, a swimming pool, and a dock on the river.
Joanne Holbrook Patton, the late general’s daughter-in-law, offered the estate in gratitude for Hamilton’s long embrace of the Patton family.
“I want to tell you, Town Meeting, ‘Thank You’ from all who have lived at 650 Asbury St.,’’ said Patton, 80, who received three standing ovations throughout the meeting.
Patton is the widow of Major General George Smith Patton, the general’s son. He retired to Hamilton in 1980, after a 34-year military career that included tours in Korea and Vietnam, and started a 40-acre vegetable farm called Green Meadows, which is not included in the gift and will continue to operate next door as an organic operation.
After decades of war and military service, the Pattons seemed to enjoy life in small-town America. They grew crops, threw out the first pitch on Little League Opening Day, and registered to vote.
“We were able to come back here and take part in town affairs,’’ Joanne Patton said, to residents who filled the auditorium at the high school, whose sports teams are called the Generals.
A spirited debate over the Patton gift invoked family’s place in American history.
“This offer before us is not simply a gift of land and buildings,’’ said Stacy Carpenter, a member of a task force that considered the gift. “But they are symbolic of a deep military and national history.’’
The home, which dates to 1786, contains memorabilia, including Army helmets, books, manuals, and certificates of honor, such as the Silver Star and Purple Heart, awarded to the younger Patton. More than 100,000 artifacts, including photographs, letters, and diaries written by the two generals have been catalogued by Gordon College of Wenham.
The town is considering building athletic fields on the property, establishing public access to the Ipswich River, and leasing out the horse stables, among other recreational uses. The main house could be leased out for operation as a bed-and-breakfast or a special events center, among other possible uses.
One resident was thankful for the offer, but questioned the town’s long-term plan for the property.
“I would love to see this property come into the town [ownership],’’ resident William Dery. “But I would like to follow sound business procedures.’’
But townsfolk responded with a resounding “aye’’ when a motion was made to accept the Patton gift. “I want to thank you and your family,’’ Selectman Chairwoman Jennifer Scuteri said, before presenting Joanne Patton with a bouquet of flowers. “This gift is gracious, beautiful, and generous.’’
The room broke into applause.Kathy McCabe can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.