OPINION: The Trials Of The Old Ship Church Parish House

August 9, 2022 By Michael Weymouth 

For those town residents who are unfamiliar with the impending sale of the Old Ship Parish House to Matthew Smith, a Medfield real estate developer, the latest plan will change the face of Hingham’s lower Main Street forever. In this respect, I believe we all have a stake in Smith’s proposal.

The parish house is for sale for $2.1 million. Residents in the area had hoped a buyer would restore the house as is, as a single family house or as multiple condos. Whatever the final form, the integrity of the original building would be preserved.

Instead, Smith’s proposal is to squeeze a new structure to the right of the parish house in a space that is presently woodlands with a beautiful stand of copper beeches. While the wooded area is not a park per se, it nevertheless is a green space that borders the town center. It would be a travesty were that green space to be destroyed.

The proposal also includes another buildable lot to the left of and in front of the parish house. While the proposal does not indicate that the parish house would be torn down, it is highly unlikely that it would be preserved given its proximity to the two new lots.

I hope the Old Ship Church committee in charge of selling the parish house considers these factors as it weighs signing the developer’s proposal.

14 thoughts on “OPINION: The Trials Of The Old Ship Church Parish House”

  1. Do not accept this developer’s offer. The town of Hingham’s streetscape will be changed forever. This developer has no regard for our town, just his pocketbook.

  2. I totally agree. I’m afraid that the Parish house will be left to further decline at the expense of new housing and we will have lost forever the grandeur of that imposing landscape and building.

  3. I totally agree. This development would totally change the landscape and the imposing nature of the Parish house. The Parish house could possibly be neglected in favor of the new new profitable housing.

  4. Matthew Smith is a developer who seeks out beautiful, historic properties and sets out to destroy them. He purchased the Hannah Adams homestead in Medfield, one of the most historic properties in town, and proceeded to file plans for a subdivision that would destroy the integrity of the site and neighborhood (location of King Philip War, 1676), disturb long-dormant archaeological assets (including Native American), and pose danger to the town’s watershed. The former property owners have said they had no idea of Matthew Smith’s intentions when he bought the property, and he allegedly told them he planned to live in the house. When Smith appeared before the Medfield Planning Board, he was arrogant and nasty to its members who ultimately denied his plan to create additional house lots beyond the original proposal. A word of advice to Hingham: If you have a way to prevent Smith from moving forward, please consider exercising it.

  5. One of Hingham’s most important resources is its incredibly beautiful streetscape — an unparalleled mix of antique architectural styles and variegated rooflines set wonderfully in mature landscapes with gorgeous trees and other plantings. It’s one of the reasons Hinghamites are always walking and jogging; it’s beautiful everywhere you look, letting the soul sigh contentedly. Every time a new build is wedged into the mix, we lose a little of what is so special. This is especially true on historic Main Street, the spine of our amazing town. I understand financial imperatives. But new development on the property of the Old Ship Parish House will be an awfully high, irrecoverable price to pay for a quick cash turnaround.

  6. To those who wish to Save the Parish House (heart), please take a page out of the playbook used by the people who saved Worlds End and Turkey Hill.

  7. There are usually 2 sides to the same coin. It is easy for us – including Michael Weymouth – to have an opinion about what the Old Ship Church should do with its admittedly beautiful property. For better or worse, it’s the Old Ship Church that has determined that it cannot afford to maintain the building in good repair and has decided to sell it. That decision to sell the building is their own business and what they decide – who to sell it to, price, etc. is up to them. Compliance with our building, planning and zoning rules in Hingham is the public’s protection to keep the property in line with the character of our lovely town and we have conscientious citizens on those boards to make those decisions. And if you don’t like this particular buyer, then why don’t you buy the property and do with it as you may wish; otherwise . . . .

    • Yes. When people wanted to save Worlds End and Turkey Hill, they banded together and made it happen. People who want to save the parish house (heart), could certainly.

  8. I can’t believe Old Ship would even consider selling to Matthew Smith. Whatever the Town can do to stop it, they should.

  9. Does anyone remember the first Old Ship Parish House on the corner of Elm and Main, a large architecturally significant Colonial Revival structure that “book ended” the handsome row of buildings on lower Main St.? It was demolished in the early 1960s in the name of “progress”–a satellite bank drive-through– in spite of angry protests by the citizens of Hingham.

    “They took all the trees, and put ’em in a tree museum
    And they charged people a dollar and a half to see them
    No, no, no
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you got ’til its gone
    They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”
    Joni Mitchell

  10. Five magnificent copper beech trees that are growing on the historic Old Ship Parish House property (located at 107 Main Street in Hingham, Massachusetts) have been nominated to become part of the Massachusetts Legacy Tree Program. This nomination is based on the unique contribution of these trees to the natural and cultural heritage of our town, state, and country. The trees are of highly significant age, size, and historic value in this grove, with numerous younger copper beeches throughout. This ancient grove is a vibrant living community existing within and in communion with one of the oldest religious communities and towns in our country.

    The copper beech trees are located across the street from the Old Ship Meeting House located at 90 Main Street. Built in 1681, the Old Ship Meeting House is the oldest church structure in continuous use for public worship in the United States. The Old Ship Church Parish House (known historically as the Thomas F. Whiton House) is an architecturally significant home and was built in 1867. This section of Main Street is in the Hingham Bachelors Row – Pear Tree Hill historic district, as well as the Federal Lincoln Historic District.

    On August 2, developer Matthew Smith, Manager Dover Mills LLC, who has the Parish House under agreement for purchase, submitted an Application for Endorsement of an Approval Not Required (ANR) plan under the MA Subdivision Control Law to subdivide the historic Parish House property. This Plan would not only carve up this historic property but turn the copper beech grove into a buildable lot.

    Among the many highly concerning issues with the ANR Application is that the required signature of the President of the Board of Trustees of Old Ship Church, as the current property owner, does not match that of two previous ANR Applications filed by Smith (both of which were denied by the Planning Board in June). In addition, the signature on the most recent application was that of the former President of the Board and not the current President, as would be required since there has been a change in leadership in the interim. The discrepancy in the signatures was noted by the Community Planning Director, who brought it to the attention of the past President of the Board, and both the past and current Presidents asserted that they were unaware of the submission of the Application and that it was falsely signed. Therefore, at its meeting on August 8, the Planning Board stated that the Application was unauthorized and not eligible for review at that time. That Application has since been pulled by the developer, and the matter is being reviewed by Hingham’s legal counsel. The matter will again be addressed at the next Planning Board meeting on August 22 at 7 pm. The developer plans to submit a new ANR Application to be reviewed at that meeting.

    Meanwhile, the fate of the historic Parish House property, the magnificent copper beech trees, and the historic streetscape in our community hang in the balance. I grew up in Hingham and in the Old Ship First Parish community alongside these trees. So many of us both inside and outside of the Old Ship community are shocked at what we have watched transpire as a result of the efforts to sell the Parish House.

    As a member of Old Ship Church, I feel that dealing with this developer is akin to being led to a cliff and told that jumping off is our only option. But when I look around me, I see beautiful fields, trees, and historic houses, with a neighborhood community waiting with open arms to help. I ask -and pray- that the Old Ship congregation change its mind, cease and desist with this destructive plan – and partner with Hingham’s caring and dynamic community and institutions (public and private sector, religious and secular) to find an alternative solution to selling the property to a developer. Let’s find an alternative that will honor our treasured past while creating a bright future – a future in which we work together, honor our history, and respect nature. This collaboration and these trees, which are older than any living person in our town, will be our true legacy.

  11. If those who want to save Old Ship’s Parish are so adamant about preserving it why don’t they join together, pool their money and buy it. Old Ship is not in a financial position to maintain the town’s appearance


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