Final Thoughts (2016)

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Winship House — Wakefield, Massachusetts

This exploration was like none other; surely due in no small part to all the extremely personal items left behind. From these items I was able to construct a story of the family who once lived here and how it all went so wrong. As promised, here is a realtor video from 2012 showing the house before it was vandalized (click)

Nikon D800

More of my work can be seen here

Charles Winship House

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17 responses to “Final Thoughts (2016)

  1. The quality of the video is just horrible, terrible camera work and video quality, but at least you can (mostly) tell how the place looked “before.” People that ruin old, historical places like this should be taken out and beaten.

  2. No wonder the house didn’t sell. The video is terrible. Doors and flower arrangements and steps. There has to be so much more they could have shown. Loved you pictures, though it was hard to see how far the house has fallen.

  3. Robert, congratulations on these fascinating and well-done pictures of the Winship Mansion. Maybe you and your readers know more of the whole story, but as someone who does, I thought I’d put what I learned over the years out there for anyone who is interested. Forgive me if some of the particulars may be in slightly in error, but the broad swath of the narrative is correct.

    It would be wrong to blame the desecration and final destruction of the Winship Mansion on anonymous stupid hooligans attacking an abandoned property. They are simply putting the finishing touches on a process of destruction that started many decades ago yet which has far less notorious authors who actually did the most damage.

    The Winship Mansion originally stood on a vast property comprising 30+ acres. Today’s incarnation of it sits on approximately 1.5 acres that’s barely larger than the footprint of the mansion property itself. Stripping the property over the years of its acreage, which was re-developed into houses that go right up to the property plus all around it, and with the building of a Catholic school behind it on 19 acres (on which an additional 45 houses are soon to be built now that the school has been shut down and will be soon torn down), greatly devalued the Mansion itself.

    After Charles Winship’s death, the Winship family sold the mansion to the Catholic Church in 1947. The church turned the mansion into a convent, and took a part of the property and built the catholic school on 19 of those acres. Inside the mansion, while the first floor was left untouched, a wing of the second floor and all of the third floor were torn apart and converted into utilitarian quarters that were probably a far cry from their original state, so that the property could eventually house 40 nuns. So right there, much of the grandeur in portions of the house was destroyed.

    By all accounts, the condition of the mansion deteriorated under ownership of the church because minimal maintenance was done once the property was inhabited by the nuns. The pictures Robert captured showing serious external property condition defects reflect this.

    In the late 1970s, the church sold off the mansion and what was left of the land (approximately 14 acres) to a developer, who promptly sub-divided the land and build residential houses all over the remaining property basically right up to the mansion itself. So now this magnificent mansion sat on a postage-stamp size of property, surrounded by non-descript suburban houses. Good thing Charles Winship never had to see what happened to his magnificent residence.

    I may be in error about this, but I suspect Theresa Whitaker, the final owner of the property before it was foreclosed in 2010, may be the widow of the developer who purchased the property from the church and built all the residences in the area. I say this because that man’s name was Wilke, and I’ve seen references to her name being Theresa Whitaker-Wilke.

    But the final nail in the coffin is the fire that took place in March 2005. Here is the entry in the Wakefield Fire Department’s report: “A very serious fire at the former Winship Mansion at 13 Mansion Road occurred on Saturday evening, March 19th. This fire, which required four alarms and mutual aid assistance from 8 communities, spread between the third floor ceiling and the roof in this huge, 3-story, 11,400 square foot home. Although the home suffered heavy damage from fire, smoke and water, a tremendous effort by firefighters saved this historic and prominent home from complete destruction. Three firefighters suffered minor injuries at this difficult, labor-intensive firefight, and we are pleased to report that each has returned to full duty.”

    While the fire was put out and the mansion “saved,” actually, it was a pyrrhic victory. The house was put on the market in 2007, and we looked at it with serious intent. While the damage from the fire was repaired, what was not repaired was all the water damage to the house itself, much of which was not visible but yet which was obvious. So much water had been poured into the house to put out the fire that it clearly ended up in the walls, and you could see in various rooms on the 2nd and 1st floors that the walls were buckling, being pushed out from behind. I can only imagine the mold problem in the house that must have existed. Clearly, major structural repairs would have been needed to repair the real damage which was not visible, but obviously that had not happened. Moreso, the cost of doing those repairs, plus all the other repairs needed, was (pure guess here) probably going to cost between $5 and $10 million. If repairs on this scale were needed for a beautiful mansion sitting on a vast 14-acre property, probably someone would have stepped up for it. But no one with that kind of money would have invested the necessary funds in a mansion sitting on 1.5 acres and surrounded by non-descript suburban houses on what used to be its spacious and magnificent grounds.

    Ms. Whitaker tried to sell the mansion at an auction with a $500,000 minimum, and no one met that minimum. When we looked at the mansion, it was listed for sale at $1.5 million. When the realtor asked us after our tour what we thought, I told her candidly that if they gave us the property for free, we would not take it.

    So as you can see, the death of the Winship Mansion has many authors. At the end of the day, there is one party which shoulders probably most of the blame. And I don’t believe it’s Theresa Whitaker.

    All that’s left in this story is the final fire that destroys this beautiful empty structure, or the eventual condemnation by the Town of Wakefield leading to bulldozers and as many new suburban houses as can be built on an empty 1.5 acre of land. My guess is 5 houses.

    • Thnak you – very interesting story – I did attempt to find out this information before doing my posts, but nobody wanted to talk about it for the record, so i was left to come up with what I could. Yes, Whitaker-Wilke was the name on quite a few of the document left behind inside the house. A sad end to a great place. Thank you!

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