Obed Baker House

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oberd-baker-4  The Baker House was built by Obed Baker for his wife Betsey Metcalf Baker in 1812. Obed, was a “teamster” who transported munitions and supplies to New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Virginia, during the 19th century wars. Betsey was a teacher and a community leader who pioneered a very successful method for making straw bonnets which lead to an industry that employed thousands. Guided by a strong sense of moral duty, Betsey often reached out to help others. During the Irish Potato Famine, Betsey collected food, clothing, and other supplies and sent them to Ireland.

Betsy Metcalf, born in Providence in 1786, married Obed Baker of West Dedham on December 6, 1807. For several years after they were married they lived in the old Timothy Baker house and then built and occupied what became known as the “Red House”. Thus, the Obed Baker House became a part of Westwood’s history circa 1810. A 1730s map of the Clapboard Trees Parish shows a single house located on the Medfield Road near the intersection of the Road to the Pond. At this intersection an 1818 map of the Clapboard Trees Parish shows two houses, clearly identified as the homes of Obed and Timothy Baker, The Baptist Meeting House, a Hearse House (old cemetery), and a new road (Nahatan Street) leading to the Meeting House (First Parish).

obed-baker5 The Obed and Betsey Baker house, known as the “Red House” was originally located on a parcel of land on High Street owned by the Baker Family. The aerial map of Westwood dating back to 1898 shows the house on its original site at 965 High Street inside the oval. The current site at 909 High Street (next to Dunkin Donuts) is marked with a picture of the house inside the box. The houses around it belong to other members of the Baker Family.

obed-baker-6   This early picture of the Red House was taken when it was on its original site at 965 High Street. Adjacent to it is the Baker Homestead at 955 High Street. The land on High Street between the current New Cemetery entrances was the site of homes occupied by various Baker family members, including Timothy, Obed, and Dexter in the 19th century.

obed-baker-7    In 1924, the Baker House was moved to 1007 High Street where new sections were added to its right side and back. The house remained at this site for 77 years.
In 2000, the town bought the house for the Westwood Affordable Housing Associates with the intention of using it for two units of affordable housing. In an effort to save the historic structure and add affordable housing, a plan was developed to move the Red House and build a new structure on its site. On June 24, 2001, the house was separated from its rear additions and moved about a half mile down High Street to the vacant land near the Baker Grove entrance to the New Cemetery. The house was sited on a new foundation at 909 High Street.

In May 2005, the Westwood Selectmen signed an agreement giving the ownership of the Obed and Betsy Baker House to the Westwood Historical Society.  This event marks the beginning of what is certain to be a very exciting experience for the Society – restoring this historical house to its 1812 appearance.  Society Co-President Bob Wood immediately began to organize the restoration project.

obed-baker-house3    In June 2005, the Board of Selectmen, authorized by a Town Meeting vote, transferred ownership of the Baker house to the Westwood Historical Society. The Society wanted to restore the house to its original appearance and create an historic resource for the town that would benefit its residents and school children. The Historical Society proudly announced its Restoration Project by erecting a sign on the front yard of the house.

obed-baker-8    The restoration work began in June. The first order of business was to secure the outside of the house, replacing the roof and chimneys (removed for the move down High Street), sealing the back of the house which was wrapped in a protective tarp after the rear addition was removed, and replacing the rotted exterior shingles. The photo taken on June 2nd shows the masons completing their work on the chimneys.

obed-baker-9    After the protective tarp was removed from the back of the house, contractors were able to assess the exterior condition. This photo taken on July 15, 2005 shows the back of the house as it was unwrapped. The missing planks leave the back of the house exposed. The first priority is to replace the planking. Once the planking is in place, the exterior renovation can proceed.

obed-baker-10    Another important step in securing the exterior of the house is the installation of a new roof. During August, the roof was replaced and a rear entrance was added to provide access to the lower level. This photo taken on August 18, 2005 shows the completion of the roof and the progress on the back entry.

obed-baker-11    With the planking in place and the insulation installed, the house is ready for new cedar shingles to be applied. This photo taken on September 27, 2005 shows the shingle application in process. New corner, rake, and frieze boards have been added and soffit and fascia installed. As our work continues this fall, we plan to paint the exterior. Of course the exterior color of the house should come as no surprise!
Thanks to John Pritchard for his photos of the restoration.

Work started at the top with the construction of two new chimneys.  Next, the old roof was stripped and a new roof applied.  The back of the house which had been open since the house was moved to its current site at 909 High Street was boarded in.  The old shingles were removed, revealing some interesting architectural details.  To everyone’s surprise, the framing patterns indicated that the house was built during two different time periods.  In fact the original house was about half size of the current structure.  A close look at the 1898 photographic map shows the Baker House in its original smaller size.

A back entrance and stairway were constructed.  New corner, rake and frieze boards were added and soffit and fascia installed.  As we go to press, we are waiting for the insulation.  After the insulation is in place, the shingles will be installed.  The progress achieved over the summer has made a remarkable change in the Obed and Betsy Baker House.  The Society’s hope is that the house will become a prominent part of the Fisher School-High Street Historic District and eventually become eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Historical Society would like to acknowledge Mario Musto of Hyde Park Masonry Supplies for his donation of bricks, blocks and cement, also Dedham Institution for Savings Awards Grant to the Society for Interior Restoration of the Baker House. Many thanks to Bob Wood and Ralph Buonopane whose project management have enabled the restoration to proceed so successfully and to John Pritchard for faithfully recording the daily progress.

Late last fall, the Historical Society enhanced the exterior of the Baker House by installing granite steps, a stepping stone pathway, and granite posts at the corners of the walkway.  This completes the exterior restoration of the building, which includes the clapboards, trim boards, roof, windows and chimneys.  To replicate the original stone foundation, we installed a veneer of granite blocks similar in design to restored homes in Deerfield, MA.

A good portion of the landscaping was completed with the planting of Valley Forge elms, flowering mock cherry trees, shrubs and a newly-seeded front lawn.

As the Historical Society prepares to tackle the interior renovation, they are very appreciative to the Dedham Institution of Savings Foundation for their recent grant.  The grant will be used to fund our project to provide handicap access and an ADA-compliant restroom at the Baker House. The Foundation has been very generous to the Society and we deeply appreciate their support of our projects.

The Historical Society continues to work on the Baker House restoration.  To date we have completed the exterior restoration of the building including the clapboards, trim boards, roof, windows and chimneys.  To replicate the original stone foundation we installed a veneer of granite blocks similar in design to restored homes in Deerfield, MA.  We planted three ‘Valley Forge” disease resistant elms that will tolerate street conditions.  In maturity they grow in an umbrella shape so that the house will remain visible from the street.  In addition the town also planted some flowering fruit trees on the right side of the house.  Now that the August dog days and Hurricane Earl are past, we will resume our landscaping.  Plans include installing front steps. a stepping stone pathway from the street to the front entrance, and granite posts at the corner of the walkway.

As you drive past the Baker House, you are sure to notice the newly-erected barn sited just behind it.  The barn was built by the Westwood Department of Public Works to house vehicles and equipment used by the Cemetery Department.  The barn’s architectural style was designed to complement the Baker House.

A feature story in the October 22 edition of the Boston Globe highlighted the Baker House and our plans to establish a center for entrepreneurship there.

The Historical Society continues to work on the Baker House restoration. To date we have completed the exterior restoration of the building, including the clapboards, trim boards, roof and chimneys.  To replicate the original stone foundation, we installed a veneer of granite blocks similar in design to restored homes in Deerfield, MA.  We planted three ‘Valley Forge’ disease resistant elms that will tolerate street conditions. In maturity, they grow in an umbrella shape so that the house will remain visible from the street. We continue to work on the restoration of the windows,  The interior work includes the restoration of the beehive oven and electrical wiring.  As the spring weather arrives, exterior landscaping work will get underway.

The Society is currently restoring the Baker House and hopes to create a living history center that will be a valuable resource to the Westwood schools and the community at large.  One aspect of the restoration is the beehive oven in the keeping room, which was the heart of the homestead.  In restoring the beehive oven, the Society plans to conduct educational programs geared toward both children and adults.  We hope to bring children to the Baker House to teach them how people prepared food during the nineteenth century and provide demonstrations of how a beehive oven works.  For adults, we hope to conduct programs focusing on preparing authentic 18 and 19th century meals using the beehive oven.

Much of the early restoration work was completed by Master’s Touch, a construction design firm in Medfield.  Doug Masters, owner and president of Masters Touch, said that members of the Westwood Historical Society are former customers.  The job went out to bid and Master’s Touch won the job.

The major elements of the restoration include the windows with custom antique replacements, new walls and new ceilings. Plexiglass cutaways were planned, so visitors could see the old layers of plaster.

As spring approaches, there is progress on restoring the Obed Baker House, or the “Red House” as it was known.  A complete set of photographs has been taken to show what the house looked like before restoration.  The paint analysis has begun.  Window restoration work will be starting soon with the original glass panes being re-glazed and the broken or missing panes being replaced with Polished restoration glass.  The sashes will be restored or duplicated.

There are many wonderful features in the house from the four original fireplaces and hearths to the old narrow staircase; from the wide plank floors and walls to the accordion split lath in the ceiling.  The restored house will be a resource for Westwood, and historic asset benefiting its residents and its school children.

Today, the Town owns the original Obed Baker House (moved from its original location at the corner of High and Pond Streets in 1924) having purchased it for use as two units of the Westwood Affordable Housing Associates (WAHA) program. WAHA received a grant from the Mass Dept. of Housing and Community Development (MDHCD) to rehabilitate the house with some historic preservation included. A representative from the Mass. Historical Commission (MHC) inspected the house and found that: “The Obed Baker House retains substantial historic features on the interior and exterior and is an extremely well preserved example of Federal Period architecture.” The MDHCD funding was withheld pending resolution of an “adverse effect” proposal on this National Register eligible property.

The Westwood Historical Society has worked with the Town and WAHA throughtout this process with Ralph Buonopane proposing that affordable housing and historic preservation goals could be achieved by moving the Obed Baker House to the land near the Baker Cemetery entrance (approx. original location) and by building a new construction Obed Baker House using the architect’s plans already procured. Consultants have confirmed that the Obed Baker House is an excellent structural condition and readily moveable. The recent Town Meeting approved purchase of the Musto property for cemetery use at this location.

The Historical Society Board is pleased that the Obed Baker House was moved on June 24th to the land at the entrance to the Baker Cemetery at the corner of Pond and High for historic preservation. The Society will continue to be involved as the original Obed Baker House is historically restored by the Town. The MHC appears to agree that these proposed actions could retain “the significant historic features of this remarkably intact property” and, thus, be a resolution their “adverse effect” finding.

Possible uses, including public access, could be office space for the Cemetery and Historical Commissions. It also is possible to include a replica barn (Obed Baker stabled “more than 20 team horses” in 1845) for cemetery use by the DPW on this land.

The Baker family history, an important part of Westwood’s history, is being preserved in our Society’s collection.

Westwood Historical Society, Inc. 830 High Street at the Fisher School

The Baker House Restoration

http://www.westwoodhistoricalsociety.com        email: westwoodhistorical@hotmail.com

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