Bob Bloomberg recalls the first time he got to look inside the Shick House. The house oozed history, but it was clear then, he said, that the home of the owners of one of the few Jewish-owned farms in Massachusetts was not in good shape.
“I was in the house twice, the first time was about a year ago, and at that point we could go to the second floor,” said Bloomberg, a member of the Historical Society’s board who has researched the history of the house. “I was able to take a lot of pictures of the interior. We got the essence of the house. It certainly was very, very old. A lot of the plaster, stained glass, flooring, marble fireplace, and staircase were original — all old. There were also some artifacts from later periods: an old 1950s television, a 1940s console radio, a few things like that.”
The home, however, will soon be torn down. As a way to remember the house, the Historical Society of Watertown has arranged to have a historic marker installed.
After hearing about the house, Bloomberg wanted to find out more about the home and the Shick family.
“I talked to the grandson of the original Shicks (Larry). He lives in Florida, and is quite elderly,” Bloomberg said. “He gave me a lot of information about the house and sent me a lot of pictures, which were great.”
He also found out about a book written by Larry’s grandmother. The family immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe, and first set up a dairy in the West End of Boston, which is also where two of Bloomberg’s grandparents came from. The Shicks then moved to Watertown into the home on the Eastside in 1914, and established the dairy farm.
“They would take the cows down to the edge of the (Charles) River to graze down there,” Bloomberg said.
Before the Shicks, the house had been owned by people who had owned the orchards on the surrounding land, Bloomberg said.
When the dairy operation became too large, the Shicks moved the farm to Wayland, but the family remained in the house until the beginning of the 21st Century.
“Larry lived there for a while,” Bloomberg said. “The last Shick that was there was the wife of the youngest of the grandchildren, and she lived there until 2002.”
The family sold the house and the land around it to the Mount Auburn Cemetery at the time, and in 2021 the land was sold to Buckingham Browne & Nichols School (BB&N). Groups led by the Historical Society of Watertown tried to save the house, Bloomberg said.
“(BB&N’s) intent was to demolish the house and turn the acreage into playing fields and a field house,” Bloomberg said. “What we wanted to do — there wasn’t going to be any way we could stop that — originally we hoped we may find a place to move it; preferably in Watertown because that was where it was located, but if push comes to shove we would move it somewhere else.”
The Watertown Historical Commission approved a 12-month demolition delay on the house to allow time for the house to be saved. BB&N said they would allow anyone who wanted to save the house to have it for free.
By 2021, however, the house was in bad shape, Bloomberg said.
“The roof leaked. The mold is horrible,” Bloomberg said. “The remediation of the mold itself would be a huge cost. We couldn’t stay in there long because of mold, and the danger of floors collapsing.”
The second time Bloomberg and others from the Historical Society visited the house, the second floor had been blocked off because part of the roof had caved in and it was not safe up there.
Efforts to save the house have proved unsuccessful, Bloomberg said.
“We did a lot of research and found there is no place in Watertown to move a house of that size, also it would be prohibitively expensive,” Bloomberg said. “I figured a back-of-the-envelope cost to move the house, renovate and refurbish the house and shore it up is about $2 million. There is no way the Historical Society could afford that. The Town might have been able to help, but there is no way we could get $2 million.”
While Shick’s home could not be saved, the Historical Society wanted to find a way to remember the house and the family who lived there for so many years. They decided to put up a sign with a description of the house, the Shicks and the roles they played in the history of Watertown.
“It is very important: architecturally, historically, religiously, agriculturally — a lot of things,” Bloomberg said.
While he was researching, Bloomberg came across the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
“One thing they do is put up historic markers to commemorate historical places, people or buildings of importance in Jewish history,” Bloomberg said. “They funded the entire thing.”
The blue sign arrived at the Historical Society recently, said Marilynne Roach, a member of the Historical Society Board.
“The historical marker for the Shick House location has arrived, all 300 pounds of it (including the shipping crate and pole), generously donated by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation,” Roach wrote in an email. “The inscription honors Jacob and Mary Shick who operated a dairy in Watertown for decades early in the 20th Century, one of the few Jewish-owned farms in Massachusetts. The house itself, built in the 1850s, is in the Italianate style with elaborate interior plasterwork and a gracefully curving staircase, among other distinctive elements.”
Roach said the Shick House historical marker will be unveiled sometime in the spring at a public event.