The Taft School Purchases Historic Christ Church Property

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The Taft School has closed on the purchase of the Christ Church property, completing a historic and fortunate acquisition for the school. The purchase helps preserve a beautiful historic building in the heart of Watertown and provides Taft with much-needed new space close to campus.

Christ Church, Credit: Watertown Historical Society

This was a historic moment where we could acquire a property that would serve many needs while preserving a unique and beautiful part of Watertown's architectural history. I am thrilled for Taft and for the town.

The Taft School has closed on the purchase of the Christ Church property, completing a historic and fortunate acquisition for the school. The purchase helps preserve a beautiful historic building in the heart of Watertown and provides Taft with much-needed new space close to campus.

"This was a historic moment where we could acquire a property that would serve many needs while preserving a unique and beautiful part of Watertown's architectural history,” says Taft headmaster Willy MacMullen. “I am thrilled for Taft and for the town."

The property, which includes the church, church annex, Rectory and Academy building, will have multiple uses for the school. The chapel will function as a performance and gathering space for the Taft community. After renovations are completed, the church annex and the Academy Building will likely hold administrative offices.

The purchase was funded entirely through donations, in particular from the Woodward Foundation. Due to Taft’s deep and longstanding ties to Christ Church, Taft alumni and supporters also generously provided financial support to make the purchase possible. The chapel will be renamed and be known as the Woodward Chapel. The church figures prominently in the memories of many Taft alumni when church attendance was still required for students and as the ongoing site of the Service of Remembrance, an emotional and moving annual event that honors deceased alumni.

This ends a long process, beginning with Taft’s strong interest when the church went on the market a year and a half ago. The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission helped clear the way for the purchase, with its approval of Taft’s plans for the church property in September. The school also worked closely with the Watertown Historic District Commission in developing a plan for use.

“I am very pleased that Taft is going to be the new owner of what is an important core property in the middle of our historic district,” commented Jean King, Chair of the Watertown Historic District Commission. “Taft has an impressive record of careful attention to the care of its properties including many in the historic district. Having these buildings and spaces used in the community, while maintaining their historic character, is important to our entire town.”

The Christ Church congregation has been worshipping in Taft School’s Walker Hall since late July 2009, due to the unmanageable cost of maintaining the church property.

The Taft School takes a strategic and pragmatic approach to property purchases with the intent to preserve historic properties in Watertown. Walker Hall, the other recent major purchase by the school, is a former town library on Watertown’s town green built in 1883 that is used as a performing arts space and chapel.

The Taft School (http://www.taftschool.org) is an independent boarding and day school for 588 boys and girls in grades nine through post graduate. Founded in 1890 by Horace Dutton Taft, younger brother of President William Howard Taft, the school moved to Watertown in 1893. More than a century later, its motto of service—Not to be served but to serve—remains central to the school’s mission today.

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Maggie Dietrich
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