Martin said when the town accepted Petersen’s gift, there were fewer homes around Watson Park. “Nobody wants it there now, the Little League has taken over the park, and there’s no parking,” he said.
Martin believes that the location of Watson Park, because of its proximity to Fore River, was special to Petersen. He said that in an earlier version of his will, Petersen bequeathed his estate to the town to improve the park “on the bank of the river I so long travelled.”
“The river — that was the whole thing for him,” said Martin. “The high school is a long way away from the river. They should have never taken that money out of Watson Park.”
He said Petersen worked for himself and had his own tugboat. He kept it on the Fore River where the Metropolitan Yacht Club is located now, and used it to bring barges to a lumber yard and the municipal power plant.
Braintree is not the only area community to experience contentious fallout as an unintended consequence of a citizen’s generosity.
Milton, for instance, debated over what to do with a 34-acre swath of land it received from Governor William Stoughton in 1701 “for the use and benefit of the poor.” The town is in the process of selling 30 acres to a housing developer.
In Pembroke, Lydia Drake donated her home on High Street to the town in the 1937 so it could be used as a library. Attempts to close the facility in 1999 sparked a public outcry, and the Lydia Drake Library was reopened and is now run by volunteers.
In Canton, Ella White left her 26-acre property on Chapman Street to the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Trustees of Reservations in 1982. The preservation groups later decided to sell the land to a developer, upsetting town residents, according to a Globe report.
In Braintree, allowing Petersen’s gift to languish for so long at least yielded one significant benefit: Its value has skyrocketed.
Gary Steinberg, a spokesman for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, said Petersen’s initial gift of $65,000 has the buying power of $493,163 in today’s dollars, and so, from a purely financial standpoint, the “town did better by investing the money since they now have $2 million to spend.”