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Preservation Action in Western Massachusetts

For nearly 40 years, the Springfield Preservation Trust has been a strong voice for historic preservation in Springfield. This non-profit has backed the creation of historic districts, fought the demolition of historic buildings, and provided educational publications, tours, and lectures for owners and admirers of historic sites in the city. During its early history, the Trust purchased key properties to preserve, setting a positive example for owners of historic buildings in challenged neighborhoods.

The Trust’s most recent—and perhaps its most ambitious–challenge is to preserve one of the few survivors from Springfield’s first two hundred years: the historic Female Seminary building at 77 Maple Street. Although Springfield was settled in 1636, the city’s rapid development during the late 19th and early 20th centuries resulted in the destruction of most of its early architecture. One Georgian house that was moved to Historic Deerfield is the only known remnant of 18th-century Springfield, and fewer than 25 buildings dating from 1800-1835 have been identified.

Constructed in 1832, the Greek Revival Female Seminary is not only one of Springfield’s oldest buildings, but it is also the city’s oldest extant school building. The Seminary was designed by Springfield master builder Simon Sanborn. An associate of Asher Benjamin, Sanborn designed Springfield’s town hall, county jail, and many of its early churches, mills, and commercial buildings. Although originally a girls’ school, the Seminary quickly became a co-educational institution. In 1843, the school closed, and the Seminary became a private residence. Its original third story was removed, and it was remodeled in the Greek revival style. In the 20th century, the building was converted into medical offices.

Since 2002, the building stood vacant. Until the Trust stepped in, the Seminary seemed likely to become another victim of the demolition by neglect that has destroyed many historic buildings. The property’s location in the Lower Maple Hill Historic District prevented it from being razed, and in December 2008, the Trust negotiated a sale with the owner, closing on the property the following January.

Since then, the Trust has been securing and stabilizing the building and seeking the necessary funding to complete the rehabilitation project. The Trust plans to convert the building into three or four residential condominium units. The Trust has received Community Development Block Grant funds and this year was awarded a Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission. However, the Trust still has a long way to go to raise the $500,000 needed to complete the project.

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