The Tyler Homestead (Boxford House) in West Boxford, Massachusetts, was built in 1666 and is the oldest dwelling in Boxford. It was added onto for many years until it became a substantial colonial home with a significant history of its own. Part of its rich history is tied to the infamous Salem Witch Trials, and two of its inhabitants were convicted during the trials, and it eventually became known as “Witch Hollow Farm.”
Originally a much larger farm, the property with the house and large barn, with its small pond and broad fields, had been reduced to 23 acres in size. By 1995, the surrounding township had become an attractive area for expensive modern country homes, and the Boxford property was to be sold for almost $1 million to a developer to be split into subdivision lots. Under state law, in Massachusetts a community has a 120-day option period with the right of first refusal for agricultural land at the time of its sale. The Boxford Open Land Trust, a non-profit conservation group, looked for other resources. The state would not protect it under its agricultural protection program, since it was considered a “hobby farm.” A Friends of Witch Hollow Farm tried to raise money to purchase it, but came far short of the funds needed. Ultimately, the small township didn’t have the financial resources to outbid the developer.
However, the local efforts, supplemented with extensive lobbying activities, stirred interest among other state and local agencies and organizations. In the eleventh hour, a guardian organization with extensive experience with just this kind of problem stepped forward, and the situation changed literally overnight. The Trust for Public Land is a national organization created in 1973 with the specific mission to buy threatened historic properties, sell such properties to public or private entities and put the proceeds from sales into a revolving loan fund, with which the Trust purchases more land for public use. Because the TPL can act independently of a membership or board, it is able to act quickly when needed, such as was the case with the Tyler Homestead.
After discussions between the TPL and local leaders, the Trust agreed to purchase the property in its entirety, including the house, the barn and all 23 acres. After the purchase, the house, barn and three acres had a historic covenant put on them to protect them and were then sold to a private family. The remaining acreage was purchased by the township, with half of the funds coming from the state, and with a conservation restriction placed on it to keep it as farmland, rather than being developed.
This arrangement took a significant threat to the historic homestead and turned it to advantage, since the homestead will continue to be lived in by a compatible family and the farm property will be public land used by the township as a conservation area.