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Town is looking at a gift house

The Patton family estate in Hamilton is being offered to the town by Joanne Holbrook Patton, daughter-in-law of the famous general. The Patton family estate in Hamilton is being offered to the town by Joanne Holbrook Patton, daughter-in-law of the famous general. (essdras m suarez/globe staff)
By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / May 10, 2012
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HAMILTON — It’s a grand old home, with a high-flying US flag, set on 27 acres of soft green fields rolling toward the Ipswich River.

The Patton Homestead, purchased in 1928 for George S. Patton, the iconic World War II general, and his wife, Beatrice, has been home base for three generations of his storied family. The couple lived at the estate on Asbury Street, named Green Meadows, between military assignments.

General Patton planned to retreat to Green Meadows in retirement. But he died from injuries suffered in a car accident in Germany shortly after the war ended, in 1945. Hamilton saluted Patton by naming a park in the town center for him and calling the high school sports teams the Generals.

Beatrice Patton lived here until her death of a heart attack while horseback riding in 1953. Her son, Major General George Smith Patton, retired to his family home in 1980 to start a new career as a farmer.

Now the Patton family has offered to donate their homestead to the town for historic preservation. On Saturday, voters at the Annual Town Meeting will be asked to accept the gift, and to appropriate almost $100,000 to pay for legal fees and an engineering study of the property.

“I want to pass on the heritage here,” said Joanne Holbrook Patton, 80, widow of the late Major General George Patton, seated in her living room. “I started with the town, because they have been so appreciative of the Patton legacy. I felt they should be the one to have this property.”

The gift includes the main house, a classic Colonial that dates back to 1786, along with 27 acres lying between Asbury Street and the Ipswich River. The property, located near the Topsfield town line, is assessed by the town at $1.9 million.

“This is a very exciting opportunity,” said Town Manager Michael Lombardo. “Mrs. Patton has a wonderful, philanthropic spirit. . . . Our hope is that Town Meeting [voters] approach it with an open mind. It could become a wonderful public asset.”

Along with the 21-room house, the property also includes two barns and a horse stable with 10 stalls, a rose garden, a swimming pool, a small pond, and a dock on the river. Lined with a stone wall and shady trees, the estate reflects the rural character of Hamilton.

“It’s a special property,” said Selectman Marc Johnson, who cochaired a town task force to consider the gift. “It has great vistas, and it’s the only point where Hamilton touches the Ipswich River.”

Among the proposed public uses: a canoe launch and a picnic area at the Ipswich River, as well as athletic fields for soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and softball. The barn and horse stalls could be leased to private horse owners. The main house could be leased out for a bed and breakfast or an event center, according to a report on the property prepared for the town.

“There are lots of opportunities here,” said Jennifer Scuteri, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, who cochaired the task force. “But it’s going to take time to come up with a working strategy.”

The gift does not include Green Meadows Farm, a 40-acre organic farm on Asbury Street. The younger Patton started the farm after retiring from a 34-year Army career that included tours in Korea and Vietnam. He named its fields for slain American soldiers who served with him in Vietnam. Patton ran the farm until his death, at age 80, in 2004.

“My husband started from scratch,” Joanne Patton said. “He didn’t know how to farm, but he was willing to learn. . . . He enjoyed the farm every day of his life. We’re committed to it.”

Joanne Patton does not want the homestead to be a financial burden for the town, so the gift agreement allows the town to give back any portion of the property. But it must first be offered to her or one of her five children. If the family passes on the offer, and any part of the estate is sold, 50 percent of the proceeds must be donated to a charity of the family’s choice.

The agreement also allows for modest housing development of the property, which is zoned for residential use. Up to 12 “moderately priced homes” could be built on a portion of the land, so long as it respects “the rural nature of the neighborhood,” the agreement states.

Scuteri said a housing development isn’t a priority. “This is a gift meant for the residents of Hamilton, which is important for people to understand. It’s not [Patton’s] intention that she give us a revenue stream,” she said.

The agreement also gives Gordon College in Wenham the right to have space in the main house to continue working on a Patton family archive project. Over five years, Gordon staff and students have archived over 100,000 letters, photographs, diaries, personal papers, and artifacts of the Patton family, dating back to the Civil War.

“It’s an impressive collection from a great, old American family,” said David Goss, a history professor at Gordon College, who is leading the project. “It’s an impressive document collection, nothing short of amazing.”

Most of General Patton’s World War II artifacts, including helmets, uniforms, and medals, were donated to a museum named for him at Fort Knox. Manuals, books, and other materials he used in battle were donated to the US Military Academy at West Point, his alma mater.

But materials not donated, or tucked away in the attic, fill the family home. About 4,000 books, including many on American history and biographies of world leaders, fill richly furnished rooms. A study shared by the two generals has a replica of Napoleon’s desk, along with a copy of a portrait of the senior Patton that hangs in the Smithsonian Institution.

A trophy room — which is also a family TV room — contains Army helmets worn by both generals, along with certificates for the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and other military honors awarded to the younger Patton. “My mother-in-law, Mrs. Patton, saved everything,” said Joanne Patton, herself the daughter of a war hero, Brigadier General Willard A. Holbrook Jr., who commanded American troops that liberated Linz, Austria, in 1945.

There are also mementos from grateful Americans.

There’s a photograph of two young boys at the Cutler School in Hamilton dressed up as General Patton for a school project. A painting of the main house, its green shutters and American flag visible, was done recently by a local veteran.

A painting depicting father-and-son generals arrived one day in the mail. So did a carving of a human hand, done by an artist who, as a young soldier in Vietnam, was rescued from a chopper crash by Major General Patton. It arrived as Patton was ailing, with a note that said “Thank you for saving my life,” Joanne Patton recalled.

“There is so much history here,” she said quietly, her soft voice laced with a trace of a southern drawl. “I could spend the rest of my life here, scrapbooking . . . but I am the last Patton of this generation. I feel I owe this place a future.”

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.

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