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Governor Patrick announces $2 million renovation of Roxbury state park

Yawu Miller | 12/24/2013, 6 a.m.
Gov. Deval Patrick announces $2 million in funding for renovations to the Roxbury Heritage State Park, which encompases the Dillaway Thomas House, an 1850 Georgian house that was once home to a commander in the American Revolutionary War. (Banner photo)

The governor wants the Roxbury Heritage State Park cleaned up and he’s on a schedule.

“I have a year left in office,” Governor Patrick said during a press conference at the Dillaway Thomas house last week. “I want this done before I go.”

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(Banner photo)

Built in the 1750s, the Dillaway Thomas House is part of the Roxbury Heritage State Park.

Speaking to a group of reporters, community members and state officials Patrick announced $2 million in funding for renovations to the state park. The funding will go toward structural repairs to the 18th century colonial house and landscaping.

State officials were light on details about the renovations, saying they will seek public input before any plans are finalized.

“We will do this with the community,” Patrick said. There are important decisions to be made.”

Built in the 1750s as a parsonage for the First Church of Roxbury, the house belonged to Continental Army Commander John Thomas during the American Revolutionary War. Roxbury played a pivotal role during the siege of Boston. Continental Army troops stationed there controlled all land access to the city and eventually helped convey cannons brought from Fort Ticonderoga by General Knox to Dorchester Heights, effectively ending the siege and forcing the British Troops to retreat.

The Dillaway Thomas House is one of the few surviving houses from that era in Roxbury and was nearly razed when the adjacent Timilty School was constructed.

The house underwent a renovation in the 1930s, then again in the early 1990s after state Rep. Byron Rushing petitioned the Legislature to preserve the house as part of a state park. The house opened to the public in 1992 and has hosted community events and been a stop on historic tours of Roxbury.

“One of the most important things we can do for any neighborhood is to let people know who lived there before them and what they did,” Rushing said during the press conference. “If they know, they can be better prepared to make decisions about the future of the neighborhood.”

The renovation of the Dillaway Thomas House and Roxbury Heritage State Park is part of the Patrick administration’s commitment to creating and preserving green space in Boston. During his two terms in government, the state has created or rehabilitated 170 parks across the state.

“It’s important that every community has access to green space,” Patrick said. “It’s time to re-invest in Roxbury.”

The public process for the redevelopment of the park will kick off in January with the first of no more than three community meetings, according to Rich Sullivan, secretary of energy and environmental affairs.

“It will be short,” he said of the process. “We have a construction season we’ll have to be hitting so the governor can be back for the ribbon cutting.”

Dudley Square Main Streets Executive Director Joyce Stanley said she welcomed the renovations, but would like to see funding for staff.

“They need programming and staff to bring in more people, fundraise and help the place make more money on its own,” she said.

Currently, the only staff at the historic building is a part-time maintenance man.

Asked whether his administration would consider staff for the site, Patrick said, “There’s conversation about that all the time. We’re about to file a budget.”