Gill Historical Commission looks to ensure Severance House preservation


Staff Writer

Published: 02-01-2023 5:40 PM

GILL — The Historical Commission is pushing to preserve Northfield Mount Hermon School’s Severance House as the school considers demolition as one of the long-term options for the 19th-century residence.

In a letter penned by Historical Commission member Pamela Shoemaker, the board expressed concern about “various reports that NMH intends to demolish the historic residence.” In an email to the Greenfield Recorder, NMH Director of Communications and Marketing Natalie Georges clarified that the school is “considering various long-term options” relative to the house’s future. Both the commission and the school have expressed a willingness to continue conversations and a decision on the building’s future is not expected to be made “for some time,” according to Georges.

According to the Historical Commission, an 1858 map of Gill shows Severance House “was crafted decades earlier” than NMH as the residence of farmer Charles Severance. Later, “a number of faculty” took residence in the house, including Charles O. Bruce, Gill’s longest-serving Selectboard member. The last faculty occupants were moved to updated housing at the core of campus last fall due to a need for “significant repair work,” Georges explained.

Georges wrote that the school intends to “consider all feasible options for Severance House” as it mulls the building’s future. Preservation costs represent the school’s greatest obstacle, she noted.

“Restoring the home to school standards likely exceeds the cost of a new home,” Georges wrote. “Given the high cost of restoration or even repurposing, demolition is also an option under consideration. At this point, our only plan for the home is to keep it secure until we determine the right path forward, and given other campus needs, we do not expect to take action on this question for some time.”

“It is understandable that lack of care and maintenance have created a situation where preservation will be costly,” the commission’s letter reads. “At the same time, we hope that the school has taken time to research the various avenues by which this building can be repaired and preserved so it stands usefully for many more decades.”

Georges maintained that Severance House could potentially be repurposed as office space, guest lodging or otherwise, “with significant modifications.”

“Photography, salvaging of vintage parts and possible flipping by interested residents offer creative alternatives to demolition if NMH is not interested in more serious renovation and preservation,” the Historical Commission suggested.

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Prompted by the Severance House’s uncertain future, the Historical Commission held preliminary discussions surrounding the town’s potential adoption of a demolition delay bylaw during its Jan. 17 meeting. Gill, along with the neighboring town of Erving, is considering instituting a demolition delay bylaw following Montague’s adoption of one during its Annual Town Meeting in May 2022.

According to Montague’s demolition delay bylaw, the purpose is to “preserve and protect, through advance notice of their proposed demolition, significant buildings.” This might “encourage owners of preferably preserved significant buildings to seek out persons who might be willing to purchase and to preserve, rehabilitate or restore such buildings rather than demolish them.”

“Unlike a number of early farmsteads, this one has not burned down,” Shoemaker wrote. “It remains as one of the older and few significant residences still standing.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or