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Millis

Boston Globe, 2/15/2004

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The landmark Niagra Fire Engine Company Building in downtown Millis.


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MILLIS -- After renting in Brookline for several years, Beth and David Perry decided to buy a home in this Charles River Valley town 15 miles southwest of Boston.

"We didn't want to commute along routes 93, 24, 9, or 2 so we looked west of Boston and south of the turnpike, where we found Millis," said Beth Perry.

The Perrys, who both teach at the Park School, a private school in Brookline, said they instantly fell in love with the town center, which they describe as having just enough commerce. There's a Roche Bros. supermarket, a Hollywood Video, a Rocky's Ace Hardware, and a McDonald's.

But perhaps the biggest selling point was that much of the town consists of wetlands, and there are several boat launches directly into the Charles River.

"We're big canoeists and there are a half-dozen places to put in the boat within 10 minutes of our home," said Beth Perry. And now that the couple have a toddler, they've added schools to their list of reasons for liking Millis. The public schools are among the top-rated in the region.

For $315,900 the Perrys purchased a three-bedroom Cape in 2002. Today, of the two dozen homes listed on the MLS Property Information Network Inc., just seven are priced under $500,000.

"In the time since we started looking, prices have gone out of control," said Beth Perry. "So I think we got here just in time."

With a median price for a single-family home in Millis at $348,450 last year, only Medway had a lower median at $345,000, according to Warren Group data. The median in neighboring Holliston was $351,750; Norfolk, $406,000; Medfield, $475,000; and Sherborn, $675,000.

One of the more intriguing projects underway in town is the effort to preserve the Niagara Fire Engine Company, one of Millis's original fire stations. Built in 1879, the firehouse was converted to town offices in 1978. When the offices moved in 1997, Town Meeting voted to sell the vacant building.

Selectman Jeffrey Hardin was one of the voters to support the sale. That is, until he toured the two-story building on Exchange Street following the vote.

"As soon as I saw it, I knew it would be wrong to part with it," said Hardin.

In the late 1990s, the town received a $50,000 grant to shore up the building's exterior. For the interior, officials hired a forensic scientist and an art conservator, who uncovered part of a wall mural that was painted in the 1800s. Hardin said another $200,000 is needed to complete the exterior and interior renovations.

"Is it worth it? You bet," said Hardin. "We should save this important resource because it's a link to our past and doesn't exist elsewhere. This is part of our heritage."

THOMAS GRILLO

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