Opinion: “Our Collective Responsibility to Preserve the Old Ship Church Parish House”


October 12, 2020

Submitted by: 

Marisa and Terrence Ronan, Whitney and Stephen Jiranek, Foster Aborn and Sara Holbrook, Ellen Mitchell and Charles Byrne, Jennifer Hunt

As representatives for ProHingham: PROTECT HISTORIC HINGHAM

Hingham is once again facing a potential sale and development of the historic Old Ship Church Parish House property. The historic single-family property, located in the Bachelors’ Row Local Historic District and the federally created Lincoln National Register Historic District, was listed for sale for several years. Despite being located in a single-family zoned neighborhood, it was marketed primarily to developers in order to facilitate construction of a new parish house across the street next to the historic Old Ship Church Meeting House. In October of 2019, the congregation expressed its desire to abandon the sale and voted 44-23 to take the property off the market and focus on renovation and maintenance. However, the Board of Trustees continued their efforts to sell the property, disregarding the will of its parishioners, conducting business at the expense of preserving the historic Parish House, and excluding from the decision process dissenting or questioning views from within the parish.

Hingham has always been proud of its history as one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts, with numerous carefully preserved and maintained antique homes, buildings, and green spaces. Hingham’s Historic Districts Commission was created and has worked diligently and faithfully for many decades to serve the wishes of Hingham’s citizens and voters, by the virtually unanimous vote of Town Meeting, by encouraging the preservation of priceless architectural resources located in the ten local historic districts throughout our community. It is no coincidence that Hingham has one of the country’s largest inventories of surviving antique homes and properties.

Two of these historic properties are owned by Old Ship Church: the Parish House and the Meeting House. The Church’s priority has always been the historic Meeting House. Because of its landmark status, the parish has received many national, state, and local grants to fund its preservation, in addition to donations from the residents of Hingham. The Parish House, however, does not qualify for the same level of public funding for its upkeep. Its maintenance is largely the responsibility of the parish, and despite the will of the majority of the congregation to create a plan for its renovation and maintenance, the Board of Trustees continues to maintain that they are unable to manage the fundraising related to the care of the property. Why is the only solution to sell this historic property to a developer, despite the wishes of the congregation?

The Old Ship congregation clearly expressed its wish to continue its stewardship of the beloved historic Parish House property, rejecting the need for a brand new parish house next to the Meeting House. Efforts by parishioners to engage with the planning process for renovation and maintenance have been met with resistance. A general lack of transparency during the investigative process for renovation, leading up to the introduction of the “anonymous” developer and his proposal for the Parish House and Meeting House properties, has characterized the course taken by the Board of Trustees over the past year.

There are many available resources to fund the renovation and preservation of the Parish House. Why won’t the Board work with the members of their parish, their historic district, and their neighbors to develop a plan to renovate and preserve the Parish House property? Selling the property to Atlantic Development, with its history of litigation against both respected land preservation charities and civic-focused charitable organizations, is questionable and seems inconsistent with the tenets of the Old Ship Church. Changing the zoning of this single-family neighborhood in a local and federal historic district to accommodate the development of two historic properties would create a negative precedent for the destruction of Hingham’s historic districts. Resources for renovation and preservation funding include, but are not limited to, the neighborhood community, Hingham’s Community Preservation Committee, a capital campaign, in-kind donations, as well as private donors who have expressed interest in donating significant funding to save the existing Parish House. Neighbors of the Parish House remain committed and willing to partner with the Old Ship Church community to do the work and raise the funds to restore and maintain the existing Parish House so that it may continue to serve the needs of the parishioners and community while preserving its historic integrity and architectural beauty within the historic neighborhood.

Our hope is that the Church’s pledge of stewardship and the democratic process based in conscience will prevail. We ask the Board of Trustees to engage in transparent, productive dialogue with parishioners, neighbors, and community members. We hope that the Church will decide to access the many resources available to preserve the Parish House and the integrity of its historic property and neighborhood. We ask this in the spirit of openness and fellowship within our historic district.

Thank you.

Marisa and Terrence Ronan

Whitney and Stephen Jiranek

Foster Aborn and Sara Holbrook

Ellen Mitchell and Charles Byrne

Jennifer Hunt

As representatives for ProHingham: PROTECT HISTORIC HINGHAM

2 thoughts on “Opinion: “Our Collective Responsibility to Preserve the Old Ship Church Parish House””

  1. It is helpful to remember that because the house currently used as the Old Ship Parish House is in an historic district—as is the case with all historic districts in Hingham, renovation or development of any kind is subject to certain restrictions to maintain the character of the district. This is managed through the town’s hard-working Historic Districts Commission (mentioned in the Opinion piece.) But that does not rule out development. The HDC has a process and it begins by studying an actual proposal that is submitted. If the Old Ship congregation (of which I am a member) votes to move forward with a potential sale of the Parish House, and a proposal is then submitted to the HDC as well as the other appropriate Town bodies, it seems appropriate to let this process work.

  2. As a 17 year member of the old ship church, currently serving on the building committee and a past member of the board, please allow me to refute the LIES in this article with the FACTS:

    1. In Oct. 2019 there were no buyers for the property, so we took it off the market.
    2. The board always acts at the direction of the church members with complete transparency.
    3. Atlantic development has a good reputation.
    4. There will be no “destruction” or degradation of the historic district or this house.

    Here are a few more facts:
    – These few wealthy neighbors are worried about their property values and perhaps some extra traffic on main street. Do you think a few small homes/townhouses/condos in the back woods and restored house will degrade or enhance downtown Hingham?
    – Part of the property sale is a portion of the back lot will be purchased by the town of Hingham to expand the Lincoln st. apartments. There is a long waiting list for this great resource for our low income elder community in Hingham. Perhaps the wealthy bachelor row neighbors don’t want anyone who is not wealthy around their beloved antique mansions?
    – There has been no offer of financial help or fundraising from this group to restore the parish house. We would have accepted any offers of help, but this is just another LIE.

    Thank you for allowing me to present the TRUTH.
    Robert Baynes


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