In May 1973, a demolition permit was issued for the Harnden Tavern. A Malden developer had bought the tavern and wanted to build a condominium project on the property at Woburn and Salem streets in North Wilmington.
Then known as the Maria Hathaway house, it had been the home of Dr. Charles Rounds, a Malden dentist. His death 50 years ago this week, started the ball rolling. 11 months later, in July 1972, Anthony Pallotta bought the tavern and about 34 acres at auction for $180,000.
Before his death, Dr. Rounds had subdivided his property and had plans on file for 15 houselots along Salem and Woburn streets. Pallotta sought to develop the property as a condominium project.
The Town Crier wrote that tavern was built by Col. Joshua Harnden about 1795. However, in Dec. 1971, Alice Dillaway wrote that it was much older, and was probably in existence during the Revolutionary War. Later study determined that it had been built in 1770 by a man named Jones.
Joshua Harnden bought it in 1772. In 1818, it was bought by Dr. Silas Brown and it remained in his family for 125 years. Mrs. Dillaway was a Brown descendant.
That history did not weigh heavily on Pallotta. In May 1973, he took out a demolition permit on the tavern.
In a remarkable series of events, though, the town took the tavern by eminent domain about six weeks later. The whirlwind action was engineered by a feisty Shirley Callan. Her husband, attorney and town moderator John Callan told her that the town could take the property by eminent domain, if it was done by a town historical commission.
She was a member of an ad hoc historical committee and later served as a library trustee, and on the School Committee.
On Monday, June 18, she went to see developer Pallotta. He offered to give the tavern to the town if she would support his rezoning effort. She refused, saying her only concern was in saving the tavern, and that she had no influence that would bear on the rezoning.
Leaving Pallotta’s office, Mrs. Callan went directly to the State House, where she met with the Massachusetts Historical Commission, presenting data for historical certification of the tavern. The commission granted it.
This put the town in a position where it could take the tavern by eminent domain, if there was a town historical commission.
The next day, Pallotta withdrew the demolition permit.
That evening, at a Finance Committee hearing on the Town Meeting warrant articles, the scene between Mrs. Callan and Pallotta and his attorney grew heated.
The following Tuesday evening, June 25, the special Town Meeting voted to form the Wilmington Historical Commission. The meeting ran late, with several other articles. Many residents wanted to speak in favor of saving the tavern. It was after midnight when retired town counsel Philip Buzzell, a Harnden descendant, 81 years old, rose to speak.
“I don’t care what it costs!” he said.
“If this is not taken by the town a precious heritage will be lost. There is no duplicating this house,” Buzzell said.
The town meeting voted 176 to 14 to take the tavern and two acres of land, appropriating $45,000 for the taking.
16 months later, Pallotta offered to buy back the tavern for the price the town had paid him. He wrote that he would restore the building and turn it into a restaurant. He said his offer would avoid litigation. and would relieve the town of the cost of maintaining the building. His offer went nowhere, as it would have taken Town Meeting action to undo the vote of the 1973 town meeting.
In November 1976, a jury awarded Pallotta $105,000, in addition to the $45,000 he had been paid.
That same year, Pallotta sold the Salem Street portion of the land to Choate Hospital for the Regional Health Center.