What's the story with the Tobey Homestead?

By September McCarthy | Sep 23, 2011

It is my understanding that there is a case in court right now involving Southcoast Hospital/Tobey Hospital and Wareham residents about the Tobey Homestead. I would like to know more about it, and suspect there are others who would also, so I am raising the question here.


The Tobey Homestead is a beautiful building with a prominent position on Main Street, and which adds significantly to the character of the Narrows area. I never get tired of seeing it when coming from Sandwich Road over the Narrows, and often daydream about it possibly being the headquarters of the Wareham Historical Society along with offices and meeting places for a Visitor Center and other Wareham community and historic organizations. The Tobey family had a long history in Wareham and made major contributions to the development of the town, including the first library building and, of course, the funds to build the hospital.


I have been told that the goal of Southcoast Hospital Corporation is to be allowed to tear the building down. The Tobey family wanted the best for the town and they worked hard for that purpose. I find it difficult to believe that they would have wanted their lovingly built and cared-for home to be removed so that the hospital, with its neon signs, could be front-and-center on Main Street. If this were to happen, then, in my opinion, the Town of Wareham and its citizens would suffer a great loss, and the tone and character of Main Street would be forever changed. I, for one, would like very much to know more about this. I encourage the local reporters to please follow up on this, and I encourage anyone who has factual information to please share it with the rest of us. It would be a shame if we woke up one morning to find the building being demolished and it was too late to do anything to prevent it.

Comments (4)
Posted by: interestedparty | Sep 24, 2011 15:01

That beautiful home makes the approach to Tobey Hospital visually attractive.  I agree with you.  We need to save our historical sites.  That home has a lot of meaning to a lot of people in Wareham.


And, I should also like to mention that a patient recenlty died at Tobey due to negligence, and no where in Wareham Week could you read about this incident.  Instead of being concerned about tearing down a cherished part of Wareham history, Tobey should concentrate their energy on other issues, like health care litigation.

Posted by: concernedcitizen | Sep 24, 2011 19:10

I agree that the Tobey Homestead is a beautiful and important historical building.  Furthermore, it is one of the nicest buildings in downtown Wareham which is, overall, an ugly hodgepodge of  buildings, some of which are badly in need of  paint and repair.  What about some regulations regarding signage on Main Street?  A New England town's waterfront downtown could be a LOT more aesthetically pleasing.  Is there even a Merchants' Association to deal with any of this?



Posted by: September McCarthy | Sep 25, 2011 14:33

There is a project going which, I believe, is entering Phase 2, to improve Main Street (Street-scape?). According to the Community Preservation Committee's November, 2006 plan (document at http://www.wareham.ma.us/Public_Documents/WarehamMA_BComm/preservation, the "Historical Commission had just completed a CPA-funded local inventory of all historic structures. The Historic District Commission is responsible for protecting the Town's three historic districts," and these two groups, along with the Historical Society work together to preserve Wareham's historic properties. According to the Massachusetts Historic Commission, this property, identified as WRH.26, commonly known as the Tobey Homestead,  was recorded as part of a local historic district on June 2, 1986, and registered as a National Register Individual Property on Jun 5, 1986. At that time the building had some fire damage.  You can find the MHC document online at http://mhc-macris.net/. My understanding is that a private citizen of Wareham spent a great deal of his own time and money, based on a verbal agreement with the then president of Tobey Hospital, to repair the damage and prevent further damage to the property. I believe it is this individual that Southcoast Hospital Corp. is now in court against. While we might trust that the historical significance of the property, as recognized by the state and federal commissions would be enough to prevent the loss of the structure, I am not at all confident in this. It did not save the old Town and Country Cleaners at 274 Main Street which has had its' old signage removed, and is now having a new roof put on (all with a building permit issued for replacing windows - no mention of anything other exterior changes). This property is also part of the Historic District and listed on the Mass. Historical Commission's MACRIS site as part of the document WRH.P: Wareham Village, which describes its historical significance. While it may be that the recent changes to this building may be considered an improvement, the apparent lack of the proper permissions/authorizations and the lack of intervention by anyone at the town or state level, as well as the lack of a response from anyone in the Building Dept. to inquiries about the appropriateness of the permit in relation to the actual work, does nothing to encourage my trust.


The difficulties in gaining access to the microfilmed Wareham newspapers at the library (only available 2 afternoons per week - during normal working hours - if a particular part-time librarian is in) have limited my research into the history of this issue. However, I have been able to locate some newspaper clippings help by the Historical Society which report the death of Alice Tobey Jones in 1922, and then the terms of her will. A provision of her will delineated $250,000 to be "devoted to the maintenance of the Tobey home in Wareham with the servants and specifications that it is always to be kept in readiness for occupancy by her husband [John Hall Jones] and their friend E. P. Clark at any time and in addition P. A. Hutchinson, P. A. Wells, Ralph Blandfield and John M. Ryan are to be received and entertained there with the others before mentioned, free of any cost to them. All of the animals on the estate are to be cared for and kept in comfort during their lives. Upon the deaths of Mr. Jones and E. P. Clark the homestead and all appertaining land on Main and High streets, Wareham, is to be conveyed to a corporation to be organized under Massachusetts laws for the purpose of maintaining a hospital to be known as the Tobey Hospital and the $250,000 bequest with accumulations is to be an endowment fund for that institution, with hospital expenses to be paid out of it. The wish is expressed in the will that the ministers of the Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Congregational churches with the president of the  Wareham National Bank or its successor and one of the selectmen of Wareham, constitute a board of trustees of not more than seven nor less than five, these to select the other members of the board and empowered to fill vacancies. These are to attend meetings monthly and to be compensated at $5.00 each for every meeting. Patients admitted are to be required to pay according to their means and preference is given to residents of Wareham. When the homestead is converted into a hospital all of the books which are not wanted for the hospital are to be given to the Wareham Free Library. The residue of the estate is to go to Mr. Jones and after his death is to be added to the hospital fund."


The estate of Alice Tobey Jones, who inherited it from her father, George Oakes Tobey, was valued at approximately $3 million. She gave $1 million to humane societies (Bide-a-Wee Home of N.Y. and the M.S.P.C.A.). The Tobey family owned extensive lands in Wareham, including the land the high school and ball field stood on. Alice's brother, George Oakes Tobey, Jr. died suddenly in 1915, and their mother built the first town library (on High Street) at a cost of $50,000 in his memory. George, Jr. was only 36 years old when he died, but he had graduated from Harvard and served as a selectman of Wareham for several years.


George Oakes Tobey, Sr., along with his brothers, Gerard C. Tobey and Horace P. Tobey, also graduated from Harvard, and lived in Wareham all their lives. Gerard was an attorney, member of the state Board of Health, a director of the Boston Safe Deposit & Trust company, the president of the Tremont Nail Co., and the president of the Wareham First National Bank. Horace was president and treasurer of the Tremont Nail Company and president of the National Bank of Wareham (succeeding to these positions following the death of his brother Gerard), and a trustee in the Wareham Savings Bank, active in the Old Colony Club (protecting the fishing interests of Buzzards Bay) and in town meetings and charitable activities.


These three brothers were the sons of Joshua and Susannah (Pratt) Tobey. Joshua was the founder of the Tremont Nail Works, along with several other business interests and extensive service to the town of Wareham. I won't go into it all here, with one exception -- there is a newspaper clipping from 1923 which tells of, and transcribes a letter, recently found, dated Dec. 4, 1860, to Joshua B. Tobey, Wareham, Mass. from P. T. Barnum of New York. This letter tells of financial matters and relates to Joshua Tobey, one of the note-holders, the plans Barnum has to resolve these matters.

Posted by: Zephyr | Sep 25, 2011 20:26

Nice little history lesson there September McCarthy.

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