Why Hillcrest Barn Matters

Hillcrest Barn (R) in September 2020

For residents who have lived here for longer than the Owl, you have perhaps lived through Case Estates being owned by Harvard (1944-2017) and perhaps even voted for buying it at Town Meeting. Perhaps you were a babe while Marian Case herself ran the show in Hillcrest Gardens (1909-1944). Having arrived after the purchase (actually before the transfer, but after the clean-up issues, etc), the Owl has few of the fervent feelings for the costs of it and the work to get it. To me, I can only appreciate the foresight of the town in buying this amazing large parcel of open space land 15 miles from Boston.

In summary, it took years to make the land and building “ours” and now it will take further years to figure out what to do with it. The Owl may have flown south before it’s all resolved. It is the Owl’s fervent hope that a group is soon created as Friends of Case Estates to plan, guide, and care for this open space treasure. Please invite me to the table.

During a recent week, the Owl joined the Garden Club on a tour of Legacy Trail, the plantings, and the history of Case Estates. Led by Nina Danforth, the group was invited also to tour the Hillcrest Barn (also known as the Case Barn) at 135 Wellesley Street, a building that the Owl has long sought to visit. The barn is always locked but under the careful oversight of Weston Grounds staff. Unfortunately, it alsocurrently contains piles of discards from the Case House renovation (antler anyone?), DPW storage, and undoubtedly more than a few treasures (I loved the harnesses in an upstairs room).

Hillcrest Barn in winter

Regardless of the flotsam and jetsam, the building interior is gorgeous–the rooms, attic and cellar all have stories to tell. It would be a shame to lose this town treasure to private hands–though it seems inevitable. Unfortunately, the town cannot retain ownership because there is simply no more space in the waste treatment on the Case Campus. Keeping the three buildings (Rand House, the Schoolhouse, and the Case Barn) would throw the town over into a multi-million project. It is the Owl’s understanding that the town has no more stomach for large projects. Too bad.

So before the town moves forward to sell these three buildings, the Owl will tell you what we will lose. By the way, there are historical protections on all three, so they cannot actually be demolished.

History:

The Barn was built by Marian Case (no, not literally, she had people for that) during the summer of 1927. It was designed by a local Weston architect (shop local!) named Samuel W. Mead, and constructed by William Kellar. There were several advances in design that are notable–cold rooms for storage of fruits and vegetables, and facilities for storage of manure. (Historical Society Bulletin XIX, October 1982)

Ms. Case loved her horses and had a gift for naming them. Pictured below are most likely “Try” and “Win” but she had others named “Pluck” and “Nancy”. They all got to live in the most beautiful barn of its generation (we’re not going to take on Iron Horse, because we are not stupid). The horse stalls had electric lights and steam heat.

The first floor of the Barn had cow and horse stalls, a packing room for washing and packing fruits and vegetables, and an office. The second floor was for hay storage and the cellar for the storage of farm equipment and manure pits. There was a feed room, tool room and harness room. At one time, there was a greenhouse out the back (credit: From Farm Town to Suburb by Pamela Fox).

Tour Time!

Heading in the side door with Garden Club – yay!

The Owl promises to upgrade her camera or at least her iphone for a next visit–these photos will not do it justice. Also, as a completely subjective chiding, I would really really love it if Weston could not use this beautiful place to store air conditioners. It’s a barn, but so much more.

By the way, if you are on a phone or tablet, these photos may not load properly. Please find a desktop.

The cellars are cool and creepy, and I can’t figure out why those aren’t used for storage rather than the pretty upstairs. Ah well, maybe it has to do with mice, since there was at least one dead one waiting for us (no photo, sorry).

The hayloft was also cool. I’d like to do story-telling workshops up there and roll barrels around:

Two second floor “offices” are connected by an upper breezeway. How the horse harnesses got up there, I don’t know. Tricky horses.

And now you’ve seen the Hillcrest Barn as I’ve seen it. It’s old, it’s beautiful, it will need someone who cares to buy it and love it. I suggest a nice homebrewer who also has goats and/or some big old horses that can just pose around. Yes, Land’s Sake was approached about the barn and was not interested due to the costs that will be involved in its renovation. The Owl holds out great hope that a savior will swoop in to save it. Sadly, blogging has not brought in Kardashian levels of funding for the Owl just yet so I’m out. But I will tell you why it matters: it’s in the heart of Weston, it has a wonderful “her-story” behind it of Marian Case, and it has an interior (minus the Case House schmutz) that takes your breath away.

Ed. Note: a previous version of this post stated that there were residents who voted against the purchase of Case Estates. The Owl was corrected: the vote at Town Meeting was unanimous in favor of buying the property.

4 comments

  • The Owl was lucky to get to roost in that beautiful barn! One factual correction: the vote to acquire Case Estates was unanimous, so no one voted against it.

  • What a treasure! Thanks so much for writing this post. Hopefully, someone (brewery, anyone?) will buy it to give it purpose and care again….And if push comes to shove, I might have to launch a GoFundMe so that it can be preserved 🙂

  • A shame it costs so much to renovate old buildings. I’m glad we did the Old Library and Fiske Law Office, and are soon to complete the Josiah Smith Tavern. Total costs were around $20M. (BTW, the last remaining Mass Central train depot is in Weston and is slowing returning to the soil. Another fun project.)

Leave a Reply