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C.S. Lewis Foundation tries again to establish Northfield presence

Recorder/Paul Franz
The C.S. Lewis Foundation has offered to buy Green Pastures, a 14-room Victorian at 199 Main St. in Northfield, which is owned by Northfield Mount Hermon School. The organization wants to establish a scholars’ residence and C.S. Lewis study center.

Recorder/Paul Franz The C.S. Lewis Foundation has offered to buy Green Pastures, a 14-room Victorian at 199 Main St. in Northfield, which is owned by Northfield Mount Hermon School. The organization wants to establish a scholars’ residence and C.S. Lewis study center.

NORTHFIELD — The C.S. Lewis Foundation is again trying to make a home in Northfield.

The group, which had once hoped to occupy the former Northfield Mount Hermon School campus here, has put in an offer on Green Pastures, a 14-room Victorian at 199 Main St. also owned by the prep school.

“Our plan is to establish a scholars’ residence, and C.S. Lewis study center, just as we have in Oxford, England,” said J. Stanley Mattson, president and founder of the foundation.

Named for the famed “Chronicles of Narnia” author, the foundation, established in 1986, looks to carry on Lewis’ evangelical endeavors, with a focus on learning and the arts.

The foundation had attempted to establish the first C.S. Lewis College on the former NMH campus, but was unable to raise the $5 million it needed to cover partial first-year operating costs.

Mattson still feels that Northfield and the Pioneer Valley are the right home for a future C.S. Lewis College. Northfield in particular is special, said Mattson, because of the history it shares with 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody, the NMH founder.

Mattson said he hasn’t given up the dream of founding the college on the NMH campus, and that he has kept in contact with its current owners, the National Christian Foundation. He said their conversations have been “encouraging.”

The purchase agreement for Green Pastures gives a closing deadline of Aug. 9, but Mattson said there may be some wiggle room if a large donation is expected shortly after that date.

The needed financing will include the purchase price, as well as the first year’s operation costs. It will also include renovations. The building had been converted to office space by NMH, said Mattson, and the foundation would convert it back into a residence.

In addition to a study center and scholars’ residence, the building would house an office for the C.S. Lewis College Foundation, said Mattson.

Unlike some of the properties on and around the campus, which have fallen into disrepair, Green Pastures has been “beautifully maintained,” said Mattson.

The space would be used to host resident writers and scholars, as well as educators on sabbatical, as well as conferences and special events like evening concerts, poetry readings, and discussion groups.

This use, Mattson feels, would complement the history of NMH’s founder.

“We want to see (Green Pastures) preserved in a way that honors its long, special history,” Mattson said. “D.L. Moody wrote a lot of great hymns there, and his daughter lived there.”

Moody founded the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in 1879, which became the Northfield School for Girls before merging with Moody’s Mount Hermon School for Boys in 1971, becoming Northfield Mount Hermon. The Northfield campus was sold after NMH consolidated on its Mount Hermon campus in Gill in 2005.

Mattson and other foundation officials are hosting their annual C.S. Lewis Conference in San Diego, Calif., this weekend. Mattson said the group will be laying out its plans for Green Pastures at the conference, and actively seeking financial support.

The Northfield campus was bought by Hobby Lobby Stores in 2009, with the intent of giving it to the foundation.

The C.S. Lewis College proposed for the campus would have been a small school that would use the “great books” style of teaching, where students learn from primary sources rather than textbooks or critics’ interpretations of literature.

It would have hosted about 450 traditional students, and another 450 in a school of visual and performing arts it planned to found later. Many Northfielders felt that scale of use would have fit into the former 500-student boarding school well.

However, the foundation had a tough time raising money, and failed to meet a $5 million benchmark set by Hobby Lobby. In December of 2011, the company announced it would seek another recipient for the campus. This January, it was given to the National Christian Foundation, a hub for Christian philanthropists, which continues the search for a permanent owner.

Mattson said he hopes to secure Green Pastures, not only for his foundation, but for the town. He said he regrets the disappointment the failed plans for a college brought to the town, and doesn’t want to get Northfield’s hopes up only to have them come crashing down again.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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