A 17th century West Tisbury farmhouse believed to be the second oldest house on the Vineyard is set to be sold at a public auction later this month.
The Old Parsonage house on State Road in West Tisbury is owned by Tara Whiting and her brother Daniel Whiting. With its diamond-paned windows and pastoral roadside setting on a knoll overlooking Parsonage Pond, the house dates to 1668. It served as the parsonage for the West Tisbury Congregational Church from the 1700s into the 1800s. The house has been in the Whiting family since 1852 and sits on three acres surrounded by the family sheep farm.
The Whiting siblings put the house on the market in 2011, and more recently decided to employ the services of JJ Manning Auctioneers, a Yarmouth Port auction and brokerage firm to sell the property. The house is being sold at what is termed an absolute auction, which allows bidders to set the market price. Terms of sale include a 10 per cent deposit of the sale price, $20,000 of which must be presented in cash, certified or bank check. The property is assessed at $1 million and is currently listed in LINK, the Vineyard’s multiple listing service, with an asking price of $833,000. There are five bedrooms, four baths, a large country kitchen and five fireplaces.
The property is being sold as is and will be sold to the highest bidder regardless of price. An open house for prospective bidders will be held on Sept. 21. The auction is scheduled to take place Sept. 27.
Justin Manning, president of JJ Manning Auctioneers, said there have been offers in the form of early bids, but none have been accepted to date. He said there is a 50-50 chance that the house will be sold before the live auction.
If the auction does take place, bidders are allowed to participate remotely online, over the phone, by absentee bid, or on site at the Whiting house.
Speaking to the Gazette by telephone this week, Daniel Whiting said the decision to sell was extremely difficult. “Heartbreaking,” Mr. Whiting said, but he also said the cost of restoring the house is simply out of reach for him and his sister. “It’s a wrench,” Mr. Whiting said. “That’s where the Whitings first moved and started farming. It’s not through anyone’s neglect or through family mismanagement. It’s made of wood and it’s 370 years old.”
The house is one of 215 properties situated in the West Tisbury historic district, which is included in the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places. In 2011, the Whitings applied to the town historic district commission to demolish the house due to hardship, but the application was denied.
Daniel and Tara Whiting’s great-great-grandfather Henry Whiting purchased the home in 1852 and began a sheep farm.
The center of the house is the original 1668 one-room cottage designed by Josiah Standish, son of Capt. Myles Standish, a passenger on the Mayflower and military advisor to Plymouth Colony. The house was built when the town was still Tisbury, and was one of the first settlements in the area. The town of West Tisbury was incorporated in 1892.
A thick packet of historical documents are available for potential bidders, including a survey by the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Owners prior to the Whitings included Nathaniel Skiff, John Manter, and Thomas Mayhew. The house was a homestead for the Cottle family for three generations. In the 1850s, the parsonage fell into disrepair and the church sold it to Mr. Whiting, who was a professor of engineering at Harvard and a cartographer working for the U.S. Coastal Geodetic Survey.
He did extensive renovations on the home and added the diamond-paned windows, which are today a distinctive feature of the house. A kitchen, front and back gables and wings on the east and west were also added. Mr. Whiting also bought a large church that once stood at the corner of Scotchman’s Bridge Lane and State Road, and converted it to the central part of the barn on the farm.
In a 1979 interview with the Gazette, the late Everett Whiting, grandson of Henry Whiting, who carried on the long farming tradition at the property until his death in 1981, recounted the story of the purchase. “My grandfather inspected this house and all the window sills were rotten, and broken off. Then he ran in a gimlet — a hand auger — into a beam and the gimlet broke off,” Mr. Whiting said. “The wood was so old it had petrified. That decided him to buy it. He added two wings and seven dormers — like the house of seven gables, and rebuilt all the fireplaces. He put in all the diamond pane windows, but the central part of the house with its exposed beams dates back to the 1600s. This kitchen was a shed.”
Sheep grazing continues at the Whiting farm, and Tara Whiting, who is the West Tisbury town clerk and lives on the property, helps manage a portion of the farm. She formerly ran a bed and breakfast out of the house. Her uncle, Allen Whiting, lives in the Davis House and farms the land next door. In 1984, the state bought the development rights to the Whiting farm and an agricultural preservation restriction was placed on 55 acres of the farmland. The restriction does not apply to the three acres surrounding the homestead slated for sale.
The Whiting house is believed to be the oldest house on the Vineyard in use as a residence. The Mayhew-Hancock-Mitchell House at Quansoo Farm in Chilmark and the Vincent House in Edgartown also date to the 17th century. Both are preserved but are not lived in.
In a telephone interview this week, Mr. Manning said his brokerage and auction company has sold historic properties before. The company auctioned the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony in Adams. He said auctioning historic properties has its own set of challenges.
“To the buyer there are two steps . . . the first is acquisition and the second is restoration and repairs,” the auctioneer said. “The buyer is going to adjust their bidding according to what it is they spend going forward. Age is a factor.”
Mr. Manning said advertising and marketing “is our forte” and draws in prospective buyers on an international, national, regional and local level.
Auctioning is a popular choice for selling real estate worldwide, Mr. Manning said, although in the Northeastern United States it is more often associated with distressed properties or properties in foreclosure.
Mr. Whiting said he and his sister decided to go with the auction company to expand the advertising reach beyond the Vineyard.
“It’s better [to auction it] rather than see it fall into the ground,” Mr. Whiting said. “I think someone will come along that can give it the proper restoration.”
For information about the planned auction of the Whiting property, go to jjmanning.com.