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Southborough Teens Protest Demolition Of Historic Mansion

By Ken MacLeod, WBZ-TV
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SOUTHBOROUGH (CBS) – At first glance, their sign-waving enthusiasm is easy to mistake for a group of high school cheerleaders trying to recruit passing traffic for a charity car wash.

But the game for these Southborough teens – led by 14-year-old Bridget Brady – is saving the 165-year-old stone mansion on the corner behind them.

“I just decided it was time to stand up for what I believe in – and do something about it,” she says.

Teens protest demolition of Burnett House in Southborough. (WBZ-TV)

Teens protest demolition of Burnett House in Southborough. (WBZ-TV)

The mansion was built in in 1850 by Joseph Burnett – who made his fortune in vanilla extract – and raised a dozen children in the house while becoming one of the town’s biggest benefactors.

“The family really is a lot of the history of this town,” says Southborough Town Planner Jennifer Burney. “So the loss of that property will be very sad for residents.”

But Friday, it will be sold for 1.5 million dollars to a Westborough developer who will tear it down and build four homes on the five acre lot.

It’s right around the corner from longtime resident Betsy Crowley. “It’s a historic property,” she says. “Once it’s gone there’s no replacing it.”

Thing is, Southborough has no historic district and no demolition bylaw – meaning the town can’t block a private land owner from knocking the a house down – even if it has historic significance.

Enter Bridget and her friends with their energetic and educational protest out front – hoping to recruit help and stir an 11th hour grassroots fervor.

After the Burnett family owned the place for almost 100 years, they sold it to the family of assassinated American President James Garfield.

“The founders of our town lived here,” says Bridget Brady. “Big people lived here. The idea of destroying it got to me a lot.”

Burnett House in Southborough (WBZ-TV)

Burnett House in Southborough (WBZ-TV)

It’s not like developer Bob Moss is making no concessions. He’s turning the carriage house and barn into one of the four homes, inviting town folk to salvage stuff from the mansion, and re-using the slate roof tiles.

He plans to live in one of the new cottages. But he argues the whopper renovation cost and placement of the mansion – smack dab in the middle of the property – make saving it not feasible.

“There’s always something we can do,” says a hopeful Bridget. “We can always show our spirit – no matter what happens.”

The teens have also taken their message to Facebook and Instagram – while the town attorney explores other options — and the clock ticks.

Because as things stand now, the house will be gone by summer’s end.

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