Mass Audubon given permission to demolish buildings at Sacred Hearts

Oct 3, 2019

The Historic Commission approved Mass Audubon’s request to demolish most of the buildings that made up the former Sacred Hearts Retreat Center at its Wednesday night meeting. 

Mass Audubon will be keeping the chapel, the corridor that connects the chapel to the manor house, and the garage, along with the piers that support the boathouse. 

Gina Purtell, the sanctuary director, and Stu Weinreb, Mass Audubon’s director of capital assets and planning, explained that the buildings would be extremely expensive to maintain and would have no real use for the sanctuary. To renovate the buildings, bring them up to code, and abate hazardous materials would likely cost between 5 and 7 million dollars, Weinreb said. 

The planned renovations, which would convert the chapel into a visitor center, add bathrooms, and make the building universally accessible, will cost between $500,000 and $1 million, and will require a capital campaign.

Weinreb and the commission members agreed that there is nothing historically significant about the buildings themselves — no significant architects were involved, and many additions were built over the years. The family who expanded the manor house, the Herricks, don’t have much significance in town, either, as they only summered in Wareham. When Robert Herrick died in 1944, he left the property to the Massachusetts General Hospital, who sold it to the Sacred Hearts Community, who were working under the Fall River Diocese.

Mass Audubon has asked the company that will be demolishing the buildings, Costello Dismantling, to salvage anything that architecturally useful, and will try to incorporate some of those elements into the nature center. The property has been thoroughly documented through photos.

Mass Audubon is also planning to incorporate photos and historical information about the property and the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center into an interpretive display within the nature center.

The piers under the boathouse will be kept and used as the base for a viewing platform.

Removing the buildings will also enable Mass Audubon to restore more land to its natural state.

The sanctuary will feature walking trails and educational programs. Mass Audubon plans to open the newly conserved land to the public in 2020.