Historic New England loses to Federated Church in Appeals Court

The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), better known as Historic New England, recently lost its bid to control a property owned by Edgartown’s Federated Church. 

At issue in the case before the Massachusetts Appeals Court was which of the two entities had control of a waterfront home at 75 South Water St. and could sell it. Language in the 1956 will of Sara J. Mayhew stipulated she bequeathed the home to the church for certain uses, but if used otherwise, the property went to SPNEA. 

The church sought to sell the property, and after a battle in superior court, Judge Gary Nickerson ruled it could, and Judge Robert Rufo upheld that. SPNEA appealed. 

Appeals Court Justice Joseph Ditkoff upheld the opinions of the superior court judges. The fundamental argument against SPNEA, according to Edgartown attorney Marilyn Vukota, who represented the Federated Church, was that they had 30 years to preserve their interest in the home from the date of Mayhew’s death in 1956. They didn’t, she said. The clock ran out in 1986. Vukota said she was “thrilled” with the decision. “I’m just really happy for the church,” she added.