With only eight days to live, a wealthy, ailing Massachusetts merchant wrote in his will 351 years ago that he was leaving a spectacular 35-acre seafront property for the benefit of public school children, decreeing the land should never be sold or wasted.
The dying wish of William Payne, one of the state's earliest settlers, created the nation's oldest charitable trust and eventually led tenants to build 167 cottages — most of them used by summer vacationers — on the land he left for the seaside city of Ipswich. The rent money has generated some $2.4 million to help fund public schools over the last 25 years.
Now, the trustees want to tear up the will, convert the property into condominiums and sell them to the tenants to settle a 2006 lawsuit filed by the tenants over rent increases. But hundreds of Ipswich residents have gone to court to block the settlement, saying it violates the sacred intent of Payne's will and shortchanges the schools.
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351-Year-Old Will Sparks Bitter Dispute in Mass.