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One special roost

The Owl’s Nest can be yours - for a mere $1.37 million

By Kathleen Burge
Globe Staff / August 14, 2011

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One of Framingham’s largest and most storied homes, which reportedly once hosted Buffalo Bill Cody at parties, is looking for a new owner. The price: $1.37 million.

The sprawling pink mansion known as the Owl’s Nest holds 26 rooms, 14 working fireplaces, and a long ballroom said to be modeled after one at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury. Sitting off Belknap Road, it was once part of a 1,000-acre farm. Its living space spans more than 9,000 square feet.

“I would say it’s the most spectacular house in Framingham,’’ said Mary Murphy, a former president of the local historical society, now known as the Framingham History Center.

The owner, Bruce Davis, bought it in 1997 and renovated it, fixing walls and plaster but keeping the house intact - except for the kitchen, which he gutted and rebuilt. He added 92 electrical outlets, and installed a half-mile of wiring in the basement, he said. He filled the rooms with his vast collection of dolls - he has more than 250 - and antiques and dishes.

“The house when I bought it was horribly run down,’’ he said. “I spent about three years restoring it, fixing the walls, painting it, doing little repairs to it. But basically, it was pristine and hadn’t ever been butchered. The windows are all original.’’

But lately he has been restless. He’s been eyeing another house - a smaller one, where he hopes to build an addition to hold his furniture and collections - in Wells, Maine, where he has been spending much time lately. He sings at the Front Porch, a piano bar in nearby Ogunquit.

“Even though I’m pushing 70, I can still build,’’ said Davis, who lives here with his three Pomeranians. “I thought, why don’t I buy that house? This one’s done. I love the house. It’s beautiful, and I’ll probably cry when I sell it. But I should, and move on. Onto something else.’’

It’s unclear when the Owl’s Nest was first built. Davis says a friend who did historical research on the house found that it was built by Enoch Belknap in about 1790. But the original house was small, he said, and it was greatly expanded in the 1890s by the Bowditch family, which gave it to Anna Bowditch when she married Robert Forbes Perkins.

Other versions of the story say the house was first built as the wedding present. The house became famous when the couple’s daughter, Anna Goodale, wrote a book about it called “Owls Nest - In and Out.’’

Davis has also heard that the ballroom - where he now has a pool table - was built to resemble the one in Sudbury. Still, he said, “I went up and looked at it, and I can’t see that they’re all that similar.’’

Now the house is surrounded by ranches and Colonials on suburban lots. As Davis remodeled - he has owned many businesses over the years, and is an expert builder - he added his own touches. One room has a floor made of wood paneling from the wall of a bar that Davis owned in the 1970s. He has decorated another room to reflect his fascination with all things Egyptian.

Yet another room is filled with dolls, including a replica of Princess Diana with a diamond in her tiara, and two old-fashioned store-window doll displays that begin moving when Davis flips a switch. He points to another doll: “That we bought at a show because it looked like my sister when she was a baby.’’

His collection of stuffed animals, he said, spans about 120 years. At Christmas, he decorates the house in full form. Last year, he put up 29 Christmas trees.

Davis, who is from West Virginia, first saw the house when he was visiting his sister, who had moved to Massachusetts.

For a time, he lived in the Owl’s Nest with his mother, who died of cancer in 2004. The last time his mother was able to get out of bed, it was to see the adjoining bathroom - one of four full baths in the house - that Davis had renovated for her.

But now, he’s ready to move on, in part, he said, to escape the mortgage payments.

Murphy said she hopes the next owner cares for the house as well as Davis has.

“It will take a special person,’’ she said.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.

The Owl’s Nest

First built in 1790 , by one report, and expanded in the 1890s, it was once part of a 1,000-acre farm. It was given as a present when Robert Forbes Perkins married Anna Bowditch. Their daughter wrote a book about it, “Owls Nest In and Out.’’

Buffalo Bill Cody is said to have been a guest.

Living space: 9,000 square feet

Fireplaces: 14

Rooms: 26


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