After nearly 50 years of being used as a conference and retreat center for scientists, the National Academy of Sciences property has been put on the market.
With a listing price of $27,500,000, the estate at 314 Quissett Avenue is the highest-priced property to ever be listed for sale in Falmouth. The price is about $7.5 million higher than the previous most-expensive listing, a Penzance Point estate also in Woods Hole that sold for $20 million in 2020.
“It’s a dramatic property,” said Stewart Young, project manager and listing agent for this property at LandVest Real Estate. “At LandVest we specialize in coastal properties throughout New England and this is really one of the top properties that we’ve ever listed. It’s a magnificent house with all sorts of beautiful architectural detail, the rooms are well-proportioned with high ceilings, detailed moldings, porches, windows with views in all directions. The National Academy has done a great job. They’ve been a faithful steward preserving and restoring as needed along the way.”
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide expert advice on some of the most pressing challenges the world faces in their respective fields.
The National Academy bought the building in 1975, but its historical significance began many decades earlier. James G. Marshall, a stockbroker who lived in New York City and summered at the Quissett Harbor Hotel for years, bought the property in 1895 and built his family a summer cottage complete with a carriage house. The Marshalls lived there for eight summers before deciding to build something a bit bigger, a more formal residence. The summer cottage, now known as the Wheeler House, was moved at the end of the summer in 1902—using horses and an earthen ramp, they moved the cottage in its entirety, furniture and all—across Quissett Avenue to the other side of the street. The house that took its place was designed with bigger rooms, covered porches, fireplaces, and a variety of other architectural treats, but the real feat of the estate was that it was built in just 11 months, meaning it was ready for the Marshall family when they returned the following July.
The estate changed hands a few times after that, finally becoming part of the National Academy of Sciences in 1975. Twenty-five years later, the center was named in honor of John Erik Jonsson, a co-founder of Texas Instruments Inc. and former mayor of Dallas, who died at the end of August 1995. Though Mr. Jonsson had no ties to Quissett, his sons and daughters gave a $2 million endowment gift to the National Academy of Sciences study center in Quissett after his death. His son, Kenneth A. Jonsson, was a member of the Presidents’ Circle of the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine, which is a group of business leaders whose role is to promote public awareness of the academy.
In recent years, numerous meetings and conferences organized by different organizations, including the National Academy and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, have been held at the Jonsson Center. Scientists have traveled from across the globe to come to Woods Hole, the science hub of southern Massachusetts, and many have stayed at or at least visited 314 Quissett Avenue.
“It’s a really appealing spot so people are excited to come and visit it,” said Makoto Saito, senior scientist in WHOI’s marine chemistry and geochemistry departments. “They get there and there’s definitely a wow factor like this is a wonderful place to be. And it’s really conducive to that kind of study and research. It’s just a really beautiful retreat space for science.”
The Jonsson Center was not strictly used for science, though. Members of the community could pay to rent it for larger occasions like retirement parties or rehearsal dinners, and other local organizations have organized meetings or special events there, too. But access to the Jonsson Center is now slipping away, as the home is being marketed as a residential home rather than a public institution.
“In an ideal world, it will be bought by another nonprofit who can continue that usage or something like that,” Dr. Saito said. “But in reality, it will probably be bought by a wealthy person who will close it up.”
Mr. Young said there are no restrictions on the estate being used as a conference center again—in fact, it’s still being used as a conference center, and is expected to be through the end of the fall—but it’s not the most likely route.
“I really think the future of the property is to become, again, a glorious family residence,” Mr. Young said. “This property offers the location, size, and architecture to be restored as a family residence… and this is not a local property in the sense that these very, very special properties are rare and we find them across New England, from Watch Hill, Rhode Island, up to Mount Desert in Maine, and on the Vineyard and Nantucket. There’s a market in the $20 to $30 million dollar bracket for these really special properties. If you look at the New England coast, we see $20 to $30 million as the very ultra-high-end of the market, and that’s where this property belongs.”
The Jonsson Center may prove to be a gain for whoever ends up purchasing it as a residential home, but the loss to the science and Woods Hole communities is profound and will likely be felt long after 314 Quissett Avenue is sold.
“I think the concern is this is a historically important location for science, from its long history with the institutions,” said Dr. Saito. “To see one of our science institutions pack up and leave is sad for the community. Also, the loss of that conference facility, which I think is a really valuable resource for not just the area but for US science, is a sad thing to see happen as well.”