Clayes House in the Media

Framingham Patch posted many photos of the Framingham History Center's "Voices from the Burying Ground" program (10/25/14), where Janice Thompson played Sarah Clayes:

Framingham Patch coverage


Take a look at Julia Spitz's column in the 11/8/13 Metrowest Daily News about our clean-up project:

Clean-up project


Earlier coverage:

Witch house to be auctioned off


By Laura Crimaldi / News Staff Writer

Friday, August 1, 2003


FRAMINGHAM -- One of the town's ties to the Salem Witch Trials hits the auction block today at noon.


For the second time in two years, Minnesota-based Wells Fargo Bank is scheduled to sell the 310-year-old Clayes home to the highest bidder at an auction at the historic Salem End Road house.


The 1693 Colonial, once home to accused witch Sarah Clayes, has been empty since problems with the property's title stopped a Bellingham developer from buying the house in 2001.


Now, as the 657 Salem End Road home sits in desperate disrepair, those handling the auction say the property's title is clear.


"As far as we're concerned it is," said Allison McKnight of the Boston law firm Michienzie and Sawin. McKnight is a paralegal handling the auction for Wells Fargo Bank.


On March 21, 2001, Bellingham developer Fred DaPrato bid $260,000 to buy the Clayes house at an auction with the promise of restoring the historic home.


DaPrato's promise delighted local historians, but problems with the property's title brought the project to a standstill.


"I got my deposit back, and I'm done with that deal," DaPrato said yesterday. He had ponied up a $5,000 foreclosure sale deposit before the deal went sour.


Capital Bank Trust holds a $47,000 mortgage on the property dating to May 1990, DaPrato said. Ruah Donnelly, of Conway, also has a $65,000 lien dating to July 1998, DaPrato said. She also holds the right of first refusal for auction, he said.


Donnelly has said she lived in the house until 1991. Her ex-husband, John Lahey of Worcester, could not be reached yesterday for comment. He is listed in assessor's records as the last owner of the house.


Sarah Towne Clayes was accused of being a witch in Salem in the early 1690s. While Clayes survived, her sisters, Mary Easty of Topsfield and Rebecca Nurse of Salem, were put to death during the infamous witch



Those trials sent 15 women and four men to the gallows. One person was Pressed to death and as many as 13 others may have died in prison.


Clayes watched Easty being hauled off to Gallows Hill in September 1692, according to "Framingham: An American Town" by Stephen Herring.


Sarah and her husband, Peter Clayes, lived in the 2 1/2-story colonial on Salem End Road after leaving Salem for a remote settlement called Danforth's Plantation, later Framingham.


Today the house is in desperate need of attention.


Plastic sheets guard some of the windows. Much of the house's white paint is peeling.


A gutter hangs off the roof on the right side of the house, which does not have the same green shutters that frame windows on the front and left sides of the property.


A broken-down BMW sits in a white garage, which is littered with debris.


The roof has been ripped off a shed at the rear of the property, and neighbors have said the roof of the main house also leaks.


As legal problems stacked up, historian Herring said several prospective buyers have toured the property -- including a producer from PBS's home-improvement television show "This Old House."

Herring didn't tour the house with the producer, but said there has been discussion of the television show helping with the restoration bill.


"They were very interested," Herring said.


Herring hasn't kept records of others who have toured the home, but said many prospective buyers have said they would restore the home.


"There's always the risk that a developer might get their hands on it and have a different idea," Herring said.


The town doesn't have the authority to guarantee that the historic home be preserved, Herring said.


Framingham treasurer/tax collector records show taxes haven't been paid on the property since 2000. Between fiscal 2000 and fiscal 2003, the property rang up a tax bill of $28,486, according to the treasurer's office. The first installment of the property's fiscal 2004 taxes is due today. That bill is $1,461, according to the treasurer's office.


Assessors' records show the house sits on a 55,495-square-foot lot worth $295,600. The house is worth another $149,500, according to the fiscal 2003 property revaluation.


The house is on the Historical Commission's "watch list," along with the president's house at Framingham State College, Eastleigh Farms and the Main Street Bridge.





Framingham battling for historic 1693 `witch' house

By Laura Crimaldi/News Staff Writer

Saturday, March 19, 2005


Framingham -- Once the refuge for an accused witch whose sisters were put to death during the infamous Salem witch trials, the 1693 Sarah Clayes house in Framingham sits abandoned and dilapidated as a battle brews over its ownership and hope diminishes for its salvation.


The 2-story colonial, which Sarah Clayes and her husband Peter moved to after escaping Salem for a remote settlement called Danforth's Plantation, has been at the center of a title dispute since it was first put on the auction block in March 2001.


Now with a civil suit pending over the title against Iowa-based Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Inc., a group of neighbors, town officials and historians have begun meeting to try to save the house.


``It breaks your heart when you go by,'' said Natick resident Pauline Basdelis, who bid $305,000 to buy the home at auction in August 2003.


Basdelis forked over a $5,000 deposit at the auction but couldn't close the deal once Wells Fargo revealed problems with the title after the 30-day closing deadline expired, according to court papers.


``We just really want to save the house,'' said Janice Thompson, an Ashland resident who organized the concerned citizens group.



A historic house in jeopardy

Resident had fled Salem witch trials

By Lisa Kocian, Globe Staff  |  August 4, 2005


One of the most historically significant houses in Framingham is deteriorating from a leaky roof while a legal dispute prevents its preservation, according to the town historian, Stephen Herring.


The Clayes House, built in 1693 as a refuge for a woman fleeing Salem after she was accused of witchcraft, has been empty for years.


In recent months, Herring and other history buffs and town officials have formed a committee to try to save the house.


The house had been controlled by Wells Fargo, according to Herring.  Several people have tried to buy the house in recent years without success.  'It's quite a tragedy we have this deadlock," Herring said.


A Wells Fargo spokesman said in an e-mail that the company no longer owns the property, referring questions to the new owner, Ocwen Federal Bank.  Ocwen Federal could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


The house was built by Peter and Sarah Clayes (her name was Cloyse in Salem) in an area then known as Framingham Plantation. on what is now Salem End Road.  Sarah Clayes's sisters, Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty, were both put to death after being accused of witchcraft, and other members of the family followed Clayes to Framingham.  Those families were instrumental in incorporating Framingham as a town, Herring said.


Significant parts of the original structure remain, he said. ''It still has the central chimney stack and foundation, and probably a lot of the post and beam structure within the front part of the building is original."


Herring described it as ''one of the most, if not the most, historic house in Framingham today."


Katherine E. Murphy, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, is also involved with the committee trying to save the house.


''This is such a historical building for the entire country," she said. ''It predates our country . . . The witch trials, the fact that people fled to Framingham and found refuge -- it's so important."


Herring said the group has talked about having some kind of public involvement in the future of the house and possibly a deal under which a private owner would buy it but promise to preserve it. ''I wouldn't say we're near any successful conclusion at this time."


Lisa Kocian can be reachedat 508-820-4231 or



Neglect spells trouble for historic witch house

By Jon Brodkin



FRAMINGHAM - The home of an accused witch who fled to Framingham to escape the Salem witch trials is one of the ''10 Most Endangered Historic Resources'' in Massachusetts, a statewide advocacy group said yesterday.


The Peter and Sarah Clayes House at 657 Salem End Road, a street named for the town Clayes and her husband fled, has been boarded up to prevent vandalism but is still in a state of disrepair, said Janice Thompson, an Ashland woman who has joined with Framingham residents to save the house.


''There are places where the roof is definitely about to cave in,'' Thompson said. ''There are areas of the house where you don't want to walk.''


A vine tree next to the 4,000-square-foot home has made its way inside and continues to grow through the house, another sign of neglect, she said.


''As the months and years go by and the house gets in worse and worse shape, it's going to cost more money to restore it,'' Thompson said.


Clayes escaped in the 1690s to Framingham Plantation, which was not yet a town, after being indicted on charges of witchcraft. Her sisters, Rebecca Nurse and Mary Esty, were killed.


Preservation Massachusetts, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving historic and cultural resources, placed the Clayes House on its 13th annual list of endangered resources. The list included the Worcester State Hospital Complex along with sites in Beverly, Newburyport, Winchester, Pittsfield and the 450,000-acre state parks system.


The house is actually a ''beautiful'' structure if one can get past the decay and dilapidation, said Erin Kelly, assistant director of Preservation Massachusetts. The house also has ties to the very beginnings of Framingham, she noted.


The earliest parts of the house date to 1693, the year after the witch trials, according to an article written by former Framingham town historian Stephen Herring.


''Salem End families were instrumental in bringing about the incorporation of the Town of Framingham in 1700,'' Herring wrote. ''Peter Clayes (Sarah's husband) served on our first Board of Selectmen, and was a founder of the Framingham Church.''


The home is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Thompson, a fund-raising consultant, said she hopes the Preservation Massachusetts campaign will convince donors to buy the property and have it restored and converted into a museum.


The problem is no one seems to know who owns the Clayes House, Thompson said.


The house has been empty since 2001 and was auctioned off, but the buyer was stalled by a title dispute, liens and back mortgage payments, according to Preservation Massachusetts.

Thompson said the group of residents concerned about the house hired a real estate lawyer. The group believes the home is owned by either Iowa-based Wells Fargo Home Mortgage Inc. or Ocwen Financial Corp. in Florida.


The Framingham assessor's office told the Daily News the town has not received any updates since the auction in 2001. The sale must have fallen through since no deed was sent to the town, according to the assessor's office.


''It's a real mystery,'' Thompson said. ''Our attorney can't really figure it out.''


Preserving a historical treasure


Janice Thompson, director of institutional advancement at the Boston Athenaeum, is leading an effort to start a non-profit organization to buy and restore the Sarah Clayes house, above, and then turn it into an educational museum with an endowment.

By Abby Jordan

GateHouse News Service

Posted Jan 22, 2010 @ 11:39 AM


The white house at 657 Salem End Road is showing the signs of its remarkable, 317-years: the white paint on its exterior is peeling, its windows are boarded or broken and the vegetation surrounding it has become overgrown.
But the house — the Sarah Clayes House — is a historical treasure in the eyes of many who know the storied past of its first occupants, and years-long efforts to sort out ownership of the home, buy and restore it, are now gaining new steam.

    Last week, about 50 people attended a history roundtable event on the house at the Framingham History Center, and spoke of their fascination with the a piece of Framingham’s earliest history.

    Peter and Sarah Clayes came to Framingham following the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, building the house around 1693. Sarah Clayes, though convicted of witchcraft, avoided being hanged, a fate that befell her sisters, Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty.

    Others followed the Clayeses (known as Cloyce in Salem Village), including Sarah Clayes’s son from a previous marriage, Benjamin Bridges, and Rebecca Nurse’s son, Benjamin, and his wife and child.

    Later, the house is also thought to have been a stop along the underground railroad, as it contains secret compartments and passageways linking the house to barns on the property, said Ginger Esty, a member of the Board of Selectmen and a resident of Salem End Road.

    Esty, who is related by marriage to descendents of the Salem Eastys, said she is fascinated by the house’s history and the story of the families who settled in Framingham after leaving Salem.

    She hopes the group beginning to form to save the house can acquire it and turn it into an educational museum.

    "I love the idea of having a private museum, by appointment, not touristy," Esty said. "It’s the perfect setting for that, it’s a resource for the town."  

Janice Thompson, an Ashland resident who lives by Ashland Town Forest abutting the Salem End area, said she became interested in the house four or five years ago and joined efforts by different neighborhood and historic groups to save the house.

    Thompson and Esty secured from the ex-wife of last owner of the house, Jack Leahy, the right of first refusal and a $50,000 lien on the house. Jack Leahy had promised to sign anything needed in order for the house to be obtained from the banks, but before doing so, died, Esty said.

    Thompson said she was pleased with the turnout at last week’s history roundtable on the house, and said since then she’s been contacted by people wanting to help.

    "It was pretty clear from the community members that there’s support for making this place into a public resource," she said. "The support for this cause is fabulous."

    Thompson, director of institutional advancement at the Boston Athenaeum, is leading an effort to start a non-profit organization to buy and restore the house, then turn it into an educational museum with an endowment.

The first step Thompson will soon begin to undertake, is securing verbal pledges totaling $2 million from major donors. Once that money is pledged, efforts can be made to buy and restore the house.

Then, the non-profit group will be formalized and an additional $2 million will be sought for an endowment. Pro-bono legal work will also soon begin, to aid the process of getting the house’s title from the bank.

Once the non-profit group has been established, Thompson plans to "cast a wider net" to attract donors willing to help by giving anything from $10 to $100, or more.

"It’s a matter of figuring out what it would take to get this house away from the bank," Thompson said. "It all comes down to money."

For now, the house is protected in part because Town Meeting in 2008 approved the establishment of a historic district for the Sarah Clayes House.

Chris Walsh, Historic District Commission chairman, said this week that that action protects in some ways the house from being torn down. He said he supports any efforts to save the house, including a formalized group that could work together on the task.

"It is something that the more people who can band together and work together, the easier it will be," he said. "I think it’s really quite a remarkable piece of property, and a remarkable story."

More information on helping the save the house is available by contacting Janice Thompson at 978-604-0869 or by e-mail at

    "I love the idea of having a private museum, by appointment, not touristy. It’s the perfect setting for that, it’s a resource for the town."  Ginger Esty, Chairwoman, Board of Selectmen, and a Salem End Road resident