SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

October 8, 2012

Completing the transformation

Final building has been restored in Willowdale Estate project

TOPSFIELD — Renovations are finished on the coach house at the Willowdale Estate, the final building to be restored at the historic estate of business tycoon Bradley Palmer.

The two-story building is the last piece of the puzzle in a massive, private/public restoration, breathing new life into the Arts and Crafts-style mansion in what is now Bradley Palmer State Park.

The events and catering company that took over the dilapidated estate is also celebrating its fifth year in business. A ribbon-cutting was held at the coach house last week.

“There’s so much to celebrate this year,” said Sarah Boucher, the estate’s marketing manager and assistant planning manager.

The Fandetti-Forsythe family of Cambridge signed a 50-year lease with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to take over the Willowdale Estate in 1997. They’ve poured more than $1 million into restoring the property and now run it as a for-profit events venue, hosting weddings, parties and other gatherings.

Briar Rose Forsythe, who previously worked at her family’s hotels in Cambridge, is Willowdale’s executive director.

When the family took over the estate, it had been mostly vacant since Bradley Palmer donated it to the state in 1944. The buildings were in poor shape, uninhabitable, Boucher said, and home to bats and wasps.

After a painstaking, multiyear restoration of the main house, Willowdale hosted 16 events in 2007. Now, it has more than 20 employees and hosts up to 150 events a year— three or more each week, Boucher said.

While events will continue to be held in the main house, the newly restored coach house will be used as much-needed storage and auxiliary/prep space.

“It’s just great to have more room,” she said. “We’re growing a lot.”

Bradley Palmer, an attorney and businessman, built the main house around 1901 and did a massive renovation in 1926. The adjacent coach house was most likely built during the 1920s renovation, Boucher said.

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