Checking in with the Case Estates – The Clubhouse
Known alternately as the Clubhouse and the Red Schoolhouse, the square red building at 133 Wellesley Street has a wonderful history of education, camaraderie and horticulture in Weston. Before it becomes known simply as part of “Parcel 4” and sold off per town vote, let’s take a quick look at its amazing history. With luck and the right future owner, perhaps it will thrive again.
The Owl recently published a “Her-Story” about Marian Case, who created Hillcrest Farms, and then Hillcrest Gardens, now known as Case Estates where this Clubhouse sits. It didn’t always sit in its current location–in 1910, Ms. Case bought a partially-constructed house, moved it across the street, and outfitted it as a clubhouse where area boys learned and socialized over 30ish summers while working the farm as “Hillcrest Boys”.
As Ms. Case wrote in her 1911 Green Book: “Hillcrest is an experimental farm where we wish to work up the scientific side of agriculture as well as to employ the boys of the town through their long summer vacation. In order that we may keep in touch with the best work that is being done in agriculture, and also interest the boys in nature, we have had lectures through the summer by specialists; on butterflies, on bees . . . on apples. . . on grapes . . . and on birds. . . . These lectures were given in a little club house on the farm which has two large rooms, the upper one being furnished with folding chairs, a stereopticon curtain—the reflectoscope we have not yet bought but have hired a lantern as we needed it through the summer. We have also in this room or hall a platform, a blackboard and the bird charts.” – From Historical Society Bulletin “Special Case Estates Issue, Fall 2006.”
The clubhouse is from a different time, when nature was right outside. The Hillcrest boys worked and learned about agriculture, irrigation and nature–perhaps it could be a wilder form of Land’s Sake’s summer camps, except probably no one signed liability waivers.
Some of the learnings are, with apologies to Ms. Case, hilarious:
“They say that every form of plant was made for a purpose and has a value in itself if we could only know how to apply it, but we found it necessary to wage a continuous warfare on the large array of vegetation known as weeds.” (A DIARY OF THE THIRD YEAR AT HILLCREST, E. Stanley Hobbs, Jr., p. 15).
Nina Danforth ran education programs and events at the Clubhouse from around 1982 to 1986, and remembers the good days there: “Louisa Case’s tiles are in the grotto, and there was always trickling water and goldfish in the earlier days, various flowering shrubs and a few huge chamaecyparus (cypress) to give grand shade to the porch. The Hosta Society cared for it in the 1980’s, and all plants were labeled so you could come see which ones you might like for your garden. The place was quite a mecca for garden education in those days, horticulture and botany both.”
Benign neglect now shows in every square foot of the garden and frontage of the Clubhouse. The old rock garden is swallowed by weeds and overgrowth, the fence bent and twisted. Old signs and new wood gather under the porch, and paint peels from the trim.
It’s not all decrepitude, however. The spring birds search under the mess for forgotten seeds. Perhaps they are drawn to this painted tile at the old fountain–these chipper birds are hopeful for a new owner who will appreciate their home.
On either side of the Clubhouse, the Case Barn and Rand House have their own struggles against time. Rotted wood is exposed on the back wall. A yew and redbud yearn for some structured pruning, some old trees battle on against the elements.
The Clubhouse, the Case Barn and the Rand House are now in the process of being separated from each other for the first time since the Case Barn was buit in 1927. The Owl is hoping for an authorized look inside the Case Barn at some point–at the moment, it seems to be a chaos of Case House throw-offs and bizarrely, antlers.
At a Select Board meeting in November 2020, Michael Harrity, former Select Board member and current Case Estates consultant, outlined the plans going forward for these buildings. They cannot be owned by the Town because any septic would push the Case Campus over into needing a waste treatment plant, which none of the residents have a financial stomach for. The Case Barn and Clubhouse would become one parcel (Parcel 4), with the expectation that some soul would renovate the house to a 5-bedroom home, and that the barn would be used for “fun” (Mr. Harrity calls it the “Party Barn”). Perhaps the “Party Barn” idea has its roots in some past history of the grand old dame. Nina Danforth remembers:
“Garden weddings were a first for Case Estates. We offered the barn with tent, parking in the field towards Ash Street. Most of the ceremonies were either in the rhododendron garden or under the flowering cherries at the summerhouse, looking out over the terraced hillside. Then the reception in the beautiful barn. We installed new lighting, bought white folding chairs, tent, fixed up the two bathrooms, etc. In winter our offices were heated, but the main entrance of the barn kept about 40 degrees so water wouldn’t freeze. There are big soapstone sinks where the Hillcrest Boys washed their fruits and vegetables.”
The Rand House will bid adieu to the other two and become its own parcel–Parcel 5–unless a buyer could be found to take on all three.
It is no secret that the Owl would like to see livestock back at the Barn. While draft horses are probably outside the purview of 2021 Weston, a municipal goat herd would be an excellent way of cutting down on costs of mowing of the extensive estate. Imagine driving down Wellesley Street and seeing the goats chomping long grasses while pollinators like butterflies and bees are floating around. A red-tailed hawks swoops over a field mouse. Cue uplifting music. Well, why not, Weston? It happens in the movies, doesn’t it?
There are many things to check off the to-do list before the parcels go to a RFP process. Historical Commission, Conservation and Planning Board will get their hearings. In the mean time, the Owl will attempt legal entry to the Case Barn for an investigation into air conditioners and antlers. If anyone has photos from their wedding at Case Barn, the Owl would also love to see them. And finally, all you goat herd owners, think about it.