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Medfield history buffs want to save old Clark Tavern

A circa 1890 view shows the Old Clark Tavern.

Medfield Historical Society

A circa 1890 view shows the Old Clark Tavern.

It has served as a dance hall, church, post office, and headquarters for the Connecticut militia during the Revolutionary War.

Now, the Old Clark Tavern and Inn in Medfield is for sale, and local history buffs say they hope a buyer can be found who will save the building rather than bulldoze it.

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“It’s one of the most historic buildings in town, and its history transcends Medfield because of the role in the Revolutionary War and its role as a tavern,” said Richard De Sorgher, a town historian and Medfield Historical Society curator.

The property’s owner said he put the house on the market, at a listing price of $450,000, in the hope that a buyer can be found who will preserve the structure. But while the town could delay demolition for up to a year, there are no permanent protections on the house, officials say.

Despite the building’s rich history, Medfield is limited in its ability to save it, said Daniel Bibel, cochairman of the town’s Historical Commission.

“You have to find someone who has a love of antique buildings and has the resources to restore it, which unfortunately is rare these days,” he said.

Built around 1740 as a tavern and inn, the Main Street structure was expanded to include an attached residence around 1773, said De Sorgher. In recent decades it has been used as a private home.

‘You have to find someone who has a love of antique buildings and has the resources to restore it, which unfortunately is rare these days.’

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Because of its location on a main route between Boston and New York, the tavern served for months as the headquarters of the Connecticut militia, which was trying to contain the British forces during their occupation of Boston.

“They actually ran up this huge bar bill,” De Sorgher said of the militia.

That bill, which has been preserved, was submitted after the war by the tavern’s owner to the state of Connecticut, which paid it in full, said De Sorgher.

There is also documentation that Nathan Hale — famous for telling the British before he was hanged that he regretted having but one life to give for his country — stayed at the inn, De Sorgher said.

Before it was Main Street, the road in front of the tavern was known as the Hartford Turnpike and the Middle Post Road, and was one of just a few major stagecoach routes between Boston and New York. Back then it took a day to get from Boston to Medfield, said De Sorgher.

To attract travelers, the tavern’s owner added a dance hall that was large by the day’s standards. It seems to have worked, since it became a popular meeting place, De Sorgher said, first for American patriots, later as the site of Catholic Masses when the Irish first started immigrating, and eventually for temperance meetings.

In the early 1800s, the building was also used as a post office, and sometimes mail would stack up while waiting for a traveler to stop in and carry it on to its destination.

“There’s great stories that after a few ales and beers, people would begin to open mail and read it,” said DeSorgher. “You’d have love letters and so forth.”

One tool for preserving the house is the town’s demolition delay bylaw, which allows the Historical Commission to stop a developer from bulldozing a significant building for one year.

“That might help, but we certainly have cases where a builder would wait us out,” said Bibel.

And there would seem to be little appetite for the town to buy the Old Clark Tavern, as it did the Dwight-Derby House in the 1990s, said David Temple, president of the Medfield Historical Society and cochairman of the Historical Commission.

“My guess is it’s a long shot,” he said.

And efforts to put designate that area of town as a historical district, which would prevent demolition, have never gained enough support from residents, said Temple.

Since the house went on the market, listing broker Martha Bohlin said, she has already had an inquiry from a developer about whether it could be torn down.

But the property’s owner, Stephen Browne, said he doesn’t want to see it demolished, and hopes Bohlin can find the “right kind of buyer.”

That concern was one of the reasons he bought the house, along with a large swath of surrounding property, a few years ago, Browne said. About 100 acres of his purchase are under conservation restriction, he said, because he wanted to prevent a large-scale development there.

But now that he has accomplished that, he’s ready to sell the tavern, which is not part of the restriction.

Browne said he’d love to see the Clark building preserved as a residence, or as a tavern or bed and breakfast, but he and his wife won’t be the ones doing it.

“We have a house already,” he said. “We don’t need another one.”

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeLisaKocian.
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