Sanborn House – A Short History
The Sanborn House is one of the few surviving grand estates in Winchester. Nine and one-half acres of property was purchased in 1904 by Oren Sanborn, younger son of James Sanborn, the co-founder of Chase & Sanborn Coffee. Oren and his wife Lorena (Rena) had lived in Winchester since 1901. The Sanborn House, designed in the beaux-arts style by architects Clinton M. Hill and Thomas M. James, was erected in 1906/07 at a cost of $250,000.
Their new home, which they called Aigremont, with its majestic setting, balanced and understated exterior, and beautifully appointed interior, set the stage for their role as prominent Winchester citizens. Oren was a member of the Winchester Country Club and the Calumet Social Club. Rena, active in Winchester Society, helped found the Winchester Hospital and led fundraising efforts for the hospital for many years.
The family fortune declined in the early 1920s and the house was sold. The Downes family, founders of Downes Lumber of Boston, used it as a family home for the next two decades. Their decision to sell the house and surrounding land to the Religious of Christian Education was significant in the ongoing preservation of the house during the years after World War II when so many large homes of the Victorian and Edwardian period were destroyed. The nuns built Marycliff Academy on what had been the western paddock and used the house for their residence.
In 1969, the Town of Winchester purchased the Marycliff Academy and the adjacent house. The school became the present Ambrose Elementary School (rebuilt in 2005), and the Sanborn House became home to a variety of occupants, most recently the town Recreation Department. In 1981, the Sanborn House was one of first properties in Winchester to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Sanborn House was vacated in 2003 to facilitate construction of the new Ambrose School. In 2005 the Massachusetts Historical Commission recognized the Sanborn House as a significant and endangered property, awarding the Historical Society a Preservation Project Funds grant to begin the planning process for restoring the house. In March 2006 the Winchester Historical Society signed a long term lease for the Sanborn House with the Town of Winchester. The Society took on the stewardship for the restoration of the property and its conversion into the Sanborn House Historical and Cultural Center for the use of the community as well as a home for the Society.
Architects of Winchester, No. 1. Hill & James: Beaux Arts Splendor in a Suburban Setting (Sanborn House architects)
Feasibility Study for the Reuse of the Sanborn House and Grounds, prepared by Red Hawk Studio Architects, Inc. in 2005, contains a more detailed history of the Sanborn House.