Imminent Historic Teardown

Once again, one of New England’s early saltbox homes is facing an imminent teardown in the name of commercialism and historically insensitive development. This time, it’s happening in my own home town of Stratford, Connecticut.

Stratford is a very old, coastal town, originally established in 1639 by a band of settlers from Wethersfield, Connecticut, under the leadership of Reverend Adam Blakeman. Stratford has a large collection of interesting and well preserved historic homes, including the well known Perry and Judson houses, and the Boothe Homestead. So, it’s actually quite surprising to me that an early saltbox in our town would be treated with this kind of disregard.

Saltbox house

The Oronoque saltbox, awaiting demolition, in Stratford, Connecticut.

The home itself is located at 7296 Main Street, in the Oronoque section of Stratford, and adjacent to the Oronoque Shopping Plaza. Architecturally, it appears probably to have been built around 1720-1740. And even though I’ve always been visually familiar with this house, I regret to say I know nothing of its origins, history, or early family associations. The home is not listed on the National Register, and a scan of the WPA Architectural Survey of Stratford buildings revealed nothing. And the home is not located in any recognized historic district or community, which at least would’ve afforded it some degree of protection.

According to an article by Stratford Patch, a purchase of both the historic home, as well as an adjoining property, with an old gas station, was completed the first week of September, 2012, for $1.1 million. General contractor Brian Hulse was quoted as saying that he wants to demolish both structures as soon as possible, but is waiting on a permit. The same article also quotes Hulse as stating that “a Mobil and convenience store that features a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru” will replace the previous buildings (however, the owner of an existing Dunkin’ Donuts nearby told me he knew nothing of any plans for a new Dunkin’ Donuts in the area).

Salbox entry way

A close-up reveals an elaborately carved pediment and pilasters surrounding the paneled entry door.

I also spoke with Gary Lorentson of Stratford’s Planning and Zoning Office, and asked why his commission approved the application, apparently without any consideration of saving the historic building on the premises. He told me that this issue had been raised at a public meeting well over a year ago (the application was approved in August of 2011), and justification for not saving the home was based on the fact that fire had once damaged much of the interior, leaving little of historic import behind, and probably making the place difficult to save. However, several locals told me that, despite this fire damage, the house was subsequently repaired, and continued to be occupied for many years afterwards.

[ I should also point out that loss of interior fabric, even if extensive, doesn't necessarily detract from a building's value as an historic artifact. The interiors of most historic homes are seldom completely original. Very often, an old home's frame and sheathing are usually all that can be considered original. Everything else is often a mixed bag. In this case, despite the fire, the timber frame still stands, as does the exterior shell, and the historic windows and exterior trim seem to largely remain. So this home has hardly been rendered insignificant as an historic structure by the fire. This particular conclusion by the town, in my opinion, was cursory, and not consistent with preservation standards and practices.]

Another view of the saltbox

Another view of the Oronoque saltbox and downed tree sections. The extension on the right is not original, and grossly out of place on this home.

Just this past Sunday morning, I noticed fencing enclosing both properties for the first time, and also that surrounding trees had been felled. So the teardown must be drawing near. This afternoon, I took all the photos you see here.

Side and back of saltbox house and fencing

A view of the north end and rear of the house. The extreme length of the rear “lean-to” roof suggests the existence of some specialized timber framing underneath, such as an elevated secondary rear plate, or structural purlin, something rarely found, and worthy of study and cataloging — if only that were possible at this late point in time.

Some readers may recall how, well over a year ago, I reported a similar teardown in A Sad Goodbye To The Smith-Tomlinson House (c. 1757), which occurred in Seymour, Connecticut. The travesty of this teardown was that owner Tony Mavuli, despite numerous public proclamations that he would be preserving the home, swiftly took the house down one weekend in early May. Many local residents were outraged, and few held back their consternation.

Back of saltbox and extension

This photo shows the back of the home and the attached ell, which is in severe disrepair.

Like the Oronoque saltbox, the Smith-Tomlinson home was also an obvious and well-known visual landmark, overlooking a well traveled public road. Mavuli, who had intended to incorporate the old house into a new restaurant he was building, claimed that he decided to demolish it when two structural engineers determined the old home couldn’t be made to conform to modern building codes for a publicly accessible commercial building, to which I say “well, no kidding”.

Ell of the saltbox

Fine, trash the ell and the extension on the side, but save the main part of the house, will you please?

My point here is that it’s all too easy to find a “highly compelling” reason to quickly demolish an old historic structure, rather than taking appropriate steps to preserve it, whether that consists of rehabilitation and re-purposing, moving it elsewhere, selling or assigning it on condition of move, or even approaching a non-profit dedicated to acquiring and preserving old homes for guidance or potential interest.

All too often, the true compelling reason is convenience, combined with maximizing return on investment, combined further with indifference towards, or ignorance of, what it means to preserve one’s local cultural heritage (for example, Mr. Mavuli had told me, in a personal conversation following the teardown, that he actually was preserving the Smith-Tomlinson home, because he would be incorporating some of its structural timbers into the interior decor of his new dining room).

Rear of the saltbox house

Sure, it looks bad, but I’ve seen far worse than this restored to museum quality. The multi-light (possibly casement style) windows on the side and rear of the main part of the house are unusual and appear quite old. The old casement window on the garret is quite an unusual find, as well.

Soon, the Oronoque saltbox, like the Smith-Tomlinson home before it, will become dumpster fodder at the hands of a backhoe operator, and future generations will forever be deprived the privilege of seeing it. Gone in a heartbeat, and in exchange for yet one more culturally stunted and impermanent gas station/convenience store/drive-though coffee shop (as if we didn’t have enough of those along Main Street and River Road). I only hope that, in some small, but meaningful way, my collection of photos here serves as a worthy record of the very last days of a grand old home, now consigned to the ages.

The earlier culture will become a heap of rubble and finally a heap of ashes, but spirits will hover over the ashes  -Wittgenstein

Postscript

1) The Oronoque saltbox was finally demolished throughout 26-31 October, 2012. Since penning this article, I’d subsequently published a follow-on posting, Oronoque Saltbox Requiem, that attempts to provide some insight into why these tear downs occur, and what might be done, going forward, to possibly reduce their occurrences.

2) Along with the comments posted here, a significant amount of additional commentary on this topic may be found on Stratford Patch.

About John Poole

My interests include historic homes, architectural preservation and restoration, improving the energy performance of old houses, and traditional timber frames.
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38 Responses to Imminent Historic Teardown

  1. I am just curious, have you or others considered asking to at least deconstruct the structure for historical materials – granted you might have to form an LLC & be under a slight time crunch but it beats the alternative
    I know other builders have agreed to this in the past as it saves them money, it is good PR & yes even they occasionally hate seeing them torn down but when it comes to feeding them & their workers families…

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Sean,

      I am trying to get in touch with the GC to see if he’d be willing to remove and save certain items and what the terms of doing so might be. Your suggestion is great, but I really think the clock is ticking on this one, and doubt I could assemble enough folks together to get this done quickly. If I’d been aware this was happening much earlier, then maybe…

      ~John

  2. I wish there was a mechanism in place whereby the local historical society would be contacted far in advance so they’d have a chance to try and either buy or move the property. As Sean says above, if they don’t want it, they might be amenable to having a preservation group or team come and take it away. Local preservationists are also consumers, so if they are making a retail business there, it makes better sense from a customer service perspective to see if those potential shoppers would want to have the building. What a shame that it’s probably too late for this piece of history.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Alexandra,

      You’ve made a lot of valid points in your comment. There are preservation and demolition delay laws in effect here in Connecticut, but the problem with them is that:

      1) They by and large don’t have the teeth they really need, and at best, usually only delay the process, not prevent it;

      2) There’s nothing particularly “automatic” about them; any person or group concerned with preventing or delaying the destruction of an historic property has to closely monitor what’s going on in terms of building applications being approved and permits being requested. Ultimately, some one who cares needs to intercede.

      In my opinion, the approval and demolition processes often proceed quietly and quickly, with only the minimal notices required by law, and I hardly doubt that that’s not done by design and intention.

      Thanks very much for your comment.

      ~John

  3. Juliana Inman says:

    Hi John,

    With the zoning board hearing over a year ago, there has been plenty of time for local non-profit preservation groups to take action. At a minimum, the house should have been offered for relocation to anyone willing to move it, and this should have been a condition of the permit. This is really sad, and reflects badly on the City preservation processes. It also highlights local historical groups’ indifference.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    Juliana

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Juliana,

      You’re very right about that.

      The most infuriating thing about this was the total lack of any sort of attempt on the part of the town to save the house, nor publicize the situation in an attempt to build awareness and get the right people involved.

      In my opinion, they basically wrote the house off in a very cursory, summary fashion, as not even worth attempting to save; so therefore, why even bother to try? And yet, as you point out, much could’ve been accomplished during this past year.

      Thank you very much for commenting.

      ~John

  4. John Poole says:

    [ FYI to readers: My very good friend Juliana Inman, who commented above, is the preservation architect who led the restoration of the North Carolina Governor's Mansion, some decades ago. ]

  5. Richard Potter says:

    There is a lot to be said here, of course, an i will do my best to balance what is practical with what is emotional. Firstly i want to say that i admire your commitment and passions, John, to fight for and seek after what you think is right, for history, for society, and specifically for community. Every community is an unfurling cycle of families, of children becoming adults who too will have families that will share the streets and buildings of their grandparents. Its not just for novelty to hold onto historical buildings, but it is the cherishing of the physical manifestation of ours histories, and the remnants of people from whom we came.

    How quickly would we tear down our own histories to allow for convenience and profit? The practical answer is all too quickly and too often. We replace them with poorly made boxes that sell trinkets and garbage. inside. We’ve justified them as progress and employment opportunities, when we know both are untruths. The reality is that beauty and history are traded for facade and convenience, that might offer a handful of low paying jobs that could have been just as easily found at any other strip mall, where there are countless strip malls that did not require the destruction of a structure that predated the American Revolution, Survived the Civil War, and witnessed two world wars, all while nestling the ancestors of a town that would thoughtlessly tear it down when the chance of opening a new Dunkin Donuts arrived.

    My home town has gone through a lot of these same issues. My friend’s father is the president of the Historical society there, and he and they have had a great deal of success saving houses and landmarks in situations like yours. Here is a link to their contact page, as i think they may be of great service to you. http://www.sewickleyhistory.org/contact-us.html

    • John Poole says:

      Thanks very much for all the good words, Richard.

      For me, you really hit the proverbially nail on the head with “cherishing of the physical manifestation of ours histories, and the remnants of people from whom we came”.

      That’s a keeper, and one I intend to repeat (with full attribution to you, of course). It’s precisely that physical manifestation that keeps our histories alive. Without it, they’d fade completely. And that’s in large part why I’m so passionate about these matters.

      Every break in that continuity, no matter how seemingly insignificant, threatens our ability to hold on to that history. Replacing those breaks with things decidedly impermanent and culturally empty means one can’t even establish some meaningful cultural toe-hold in the present. Which is truly tragic, in my opinion.

      ~John

  6. John,

    It is a shame that this old house is being taken down in such a manner, but the blame (if there is to be any) hardly falls on the town, or at least not all of it. As was pointed out, there was a public hearing on the sale over a year ago, a hearing in which there was positive comments made by several in the neighborhood.

    It seems somewhat disingenuous for people to now, a year later, decry the demolition of the house, when no one has stepped in. It is also unrealistic in these times to burden an owner with the requirement to spend a fortune to renovate an old house of questionable historic value. Sometimes an old house is just an old house, and just because it is old does not mean it is necessarily worth saving. There are some excellent examples of this kind of home in town, especially along lower Main Street and Academy Hill. Is another decrepit saltbox really a contribution to our historical record?

    I just wish people who seem to care now, when nothing can be done, would have cared last August.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Michael,

      If you’re suggesting I’m being disingenuous by decrying the destruction of this particular house, at this late stage, it’s because I only found out this was happening three days ago, and only from having driven past the site and noticing the fencing and felled trees.

      Had I known what was going on in August of last year, sure, I would’ve attempted to organize some effort to find an alternative to destroying this house (and no, that doesn’t mean somehow burdening the owner to invest money they don’t have in renovating it; I’m certainly not advocating anything like that).

      There’s no doubt that folks who would be concerned by this sort of thing need to pay far better attention to what’s going on in their respective municipalities. I certainly fault myself for not doing so, on more than just this one occasion. But I also believe that municipal government has some degree of responsibility for the stewardship of its historic properties, even if only minimally.

      And a big part of my complaint is that this doesn’t appear to have been the case here. Determining whether or not a particular historic property is worthy of saving isn’t something that can be based solely on opinions voiced during a public hearing. But as best I can tell, that’s essentially what happened.

      Finally, it seems highly doubtful to me that this home can be saved at this late date, but that wasn’t necessarily my objective in writing this article. A big part of my mission, generally, is to build awareness of the nature of threats against historic properties, and how these sorts of tear downs come to pass.

      The best way of doing that, in my opinion, is by publicizing these events when they happen, attempting to surface their details, and by gathering and maintaining comments from all interested readers, whether supportive or dissenting (and there’s no doubt my accounts are invariably going to reflect own biases and opinions, but that’s what an online journal is for).

      So thanks very much for taking the time to comment, Michael, and please feel free to submit any additional comments you might feel inclined to add to this debate.

      ~ John

  7. John, I wasn’t singling you out by any means. There tends to be (and not just in Stratford) this kind of outcry when people wake up from their apathy, usually after seeing the first backhoe on a piece of property next door. All the “outrage” on various blogs, letters-to-the-editors, comments on articles would have more of a punch if the people who wrote them actually did something instead of wringing their hands.
    The article states that the owners of the Dunkin’ Donuts in the shopping center knew nothing about it. Really? Talk about not paying attention.

    I agree with you on the point that a public debate would not determine the worth of the property for saving. But… had someone noticed, that process could have started thirteen months ago.

    The Smith-Tomlinson house is a good example of the problem here. I will give the owner the benefit of the doubt that he bought the property with the best of intentions. (if little in the way of due-diligence.) But the town of Seymour required he bring his 250+ year old house up to modern code, and the engineers declared it structurally unsound. What is an owner to do at that point?

    I’ve driven past this house on Main Street for years. The place looks poorly maintained, and bordering on abandoned. If it were not two centuries old it probably would have been condemned, or at least that’s the way it looks. I’m no engineer; I don’t know if the house is worth saving or not, but the way it is, it is not reflecting well on our town, anyway.

    • John Poole says:

      Michael,

      I doubted you were singling me out personally, but nonetheless, wanted to reinforce the idea that I feel there really is a breakdown in communication between municipalities and residents that often results in people only getting engaged at the very last minute.

      And I totally, totally agree with you that all of this reaction would have had far more punch had it happened 13 months ago. But it didn’t. And I feel it didn’t because the presence of fencing and backhoes is just far more easily noticeable than message boards in town halls. I agree that people need to get over their apathy and be more engaged in these matters, upfront and early on.

      Regarding the owner of the DD, no, I didn’t suggest that he knew nothing about the tear down. What he said was that he had no knowledge of any plans by DD to established a DD at the new site. I actually believe “Dunkin’ Donuts” was just used in the early quote to generically refer to a drive-thru coffee shop. But I can’t say that’s definitely true, either way.

      Regarding the Smith-Tomlinson house, yes, the owner was probably mostly well-intentioned, but certainly failed in terms of due-diligence. He should’ve had the place vetted by engineers before purchasing it. On the other hand, it seems highly unlikely, even to a layman, that any 250+ year old home could realistically be expected to be certified as a fully functioning commercial business place, especially as a restaurant, where you have a relatively large number of persons inside the building at one time, the type of live loads on the structure that it was never built to accommodate in the first place.

      Furthermore, this place was on a piece of land the owner wanted for expanding his business on. So it’s hard to understand how at least the possibility of a tear down could’ve completely escaped the imaginations of those involved. In my opinion, that fiasco wasn’t the total failure of imagination that it was later painted to be.

      But even so, tear downs aren’t the only possible solution in these situations. But they’re invariably the most frequently employed ones. The alternatives (usually requiring the sale and moving of the structure, or its disassembly and storage), take a lot of time and effort.

      And most entrepreneurs aren’t going to be willing to invest that time. They want to get started with their business. That’s perfectly understandable. And this is precisely why I feel there needs to be more active stewardship on the part of municipalities, whether that means within city hall itself, or even delegated to concerned voluntary boards, etc. And certainly in terms of more active and early involvement of the citizenry, as you aptly point out.

      Anyway, thanks for the additional comments, Michael. They’re much appreciated. This is a good debate to surface, and I feel a rather necessary one at that.

      ~John

  8. Lucas Karmazinas says:

    This is an absolute travesty. What an outrageous and short-sighted waste. How many of our historic resources do we have to lose in the wake of a seemingly ceaseless onslaught of chain pharmacies and drive-thru coffee shops?

    The apparent lack of communication between local preservation/historical interests and the planning and zoning commission is certainly a huge part of the problem in this instance, however, I am also once again reminded that those on these boards rarely have the knowledge/experience to make the decisions they do in regards to projects that impact historic resources. Take, for instance, the comment from the local planning official regarding the loss of the building’s historic character. As you clearly state, this building obviously retains a great deal of its historic fabric and significance. If there was a single preservation professional on the p/z committee, or if one had been consulted before this decision was made, they certainly would have refuted the claim and suggested that local preservation entities be contacted regarding finding an alternative to demolition.

    The proposed project is another a dime-a-dozen scheme, while the building in question is an irreplaceable resource and a piece of the town’s heritage that it will never get back. Unfortunately, this once again plays second fiddle to the almighty dollar. My only hope is that should this historic building come down, it will serve as a martyr in efforts to preserve others in town in the future.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Lucas,

      Thanks very much for your comments.

      You’re totally right about the lack of communication between town officials and local historians/preservationists. However, I think the problem goes even deeper than just a lack of communication. This situation underscores the need for those interested in preserving local historic structures to not even consider relying on town officials to communicate anything to them. (Face it, it’s not to any town official’s advantage to publicize plans to demolish an historic building to a bunch of preservationists).

      Rather, local preservationists and other concerned citizens need to actively monitor what’s going on in their local planning & zoning offices and building departments themselves, and also need to be current on what protective ordinances or covenants might be in effect that could help prevent occurrences like this one.

      I have many thoughts on how one might go about formalizing that sort of monitoring and action network (not unlike an Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch for historic buildings). We should discuss some time, preferably over a craft ale (or two) :-)

      ~John

  9. chris says:

    Just what we need, another Dunkin Donuts.
    Such a shame that another house is probably going to be lost. People don’t seem to realize that the area which is now Sikorsky actually was filled with old homes and farms. Oronoque was a community like Paradise Green or Lordship, not just the name of a pie crust. Just in my lifetime the old post office became another parking lot for Sikorsky and the old Oronoque house was lost.
    My travels rarely head up that way so I was also shocked to read about the sale and demo. A high school friend grew up in that house and she would be heartbroken to see it now. The town should publicize more openly these meetings regarding historic structures since they are a piece of our past that need to be preserved either by saving and restoring or dismantling. If the town can use the call system to tell everyone about snow parking, why can’t they send out one to alert citizens of important meetings?

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Chris,

      Your comment is particularly poignant in the way it paints a vision of how Stratford was at some earlier time. I’m 52. Old, perhaps (or maybe just older), in some respects, but not really that old. And when I was growing up in Stratford, it seemed like so many more artifacts of a yet earlier past still existed, including visible traces of the ship building, farming, and oyster harvesting industries that were once at the heart of the economic sustainability of the region, not to mention fabled old homesteads, like Phelps Mansion, and even the Short Beach cottages.

      Even Oronoque Orchards was still very much a family owned and run business back then, and didn’t exhibit the blatant commercialism that the current strip malls and drive-thrus now pay homage to.

      This is why these loses are so tragic; once a home like this is gone, it’s gone for good, and yet another link to a past that many of us can still remember, or at least had an opportunity to see the last traces of, once up a time, is gone and can never be recovered. And what they’re being replaced with will never spawn any sentimentality in any one, nor provide any significant sense of place or community.

      Thanks very much for you comment.

      ~ John

  10. Connecticut Sam says:

    It is a shocker that another old house will be taking down. We have too many Dunkin Donuts in Stratford and Connecticut.

    • John Poole says:

      So very true Sam.

      And this is not an isolated incident, in the sense that every year, a good number of old homes like this one are lost to ongoing development and sprawl. Once they’re gone, they’re gone for ever. And to replace them with things that are themselves destined to be short-lived, and that provide no significant cultural value, only compounds the sense of loss, IMHO.

      Thanks very much for commenting. Much appreciated!

      ~John

  11. John Poole says:

    This is a comment I had previously posted on Stratford Patch’s announcement page, but I wanted to repeat it here as a follow-on to my original article:

    John D. Poole
    8:01 pm on Wednesday, September 26, 2012
    A number of comments here describe this house as most likely being uninhabitable, or unusable. There’s no doubt that in it’s current state, yes, it’s uninhabitable. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s beyond rehabilitation.

    Whether rehabilitation is possible, or how much it would cost if it were, is not precisely known, and that’s simply because no one ever bothered to find out. But it often costs far less to rehab a building like this than to completely replace it with a new structure (depending, of course, on just what sort of re-purposing you happen to have in mind).

    For example, I’ve seen many homes like this one purchased by home builders and rehab’d and re-purposed as single-family rentals, or partitioned into two-family apartments. Doing so has saved many an old house, while making it useful once again, and turning it into an income-generating proposition.

    Of course, a preservation-oriented solution like the one I’ve just illustrated requires a certain degree of willingness to make happen. Often, that willingness is simply not there. In this case, it obviously isn’t.

    But folks should be aware that there are a great many creative ways to save a home like this and return it to usefulness without replacing it, as long as the spirit is willing and the home has not yet degraded beyond some reasonable threshold. For this particular house, of course, it’s too late, and that’s unfortunate.

  12. Connecticut Stories says:

    According to the tax records on Vision Appraisal, this house was built in 1775. The date seems newer, by at least a century, for a house with a massive central stone chimney in Stratford.

    • John Poole says:

      Yes, a date of 1775 certainly seems very much out of place.

      In very broad, general terms, the saltbox era in Connecticut started, more or less, around 1675, when owners of existing two room/two story central chimney homes began extending them by adding what was called a “lean-to” roof. This was done for the same reasons people extend homes today — they needed more room, and the colonists were becoming just a bit more secure and economically prosperous around that time.

      Towards 1700, saltboxes were often being constructed as new homes, not just as conversions of older homes, because the saltbox style had become well established by then.

      Then, somewhere around the 1720s or so, a full two story house form started to be built, which consisted of the same first floor plan as the saltbox, but a full second story consisting of five rooms that followed the first floor plan. The Judson House in Stratford is a prime example of this style of home. Of course, saltbox style homes were still being built as this time, too.

      And by 1775, many new homes were starting to be built with a central hallway and two chimneys, one at each end. There are many homes of this style along Main street in downtown Stratford, between East Broadway and Stratford Avenue. There are at least two houses in Paradise Green of this style that I’m also familiar with.

      Of course, none of these time-lines are hard and fast, and many house wrights in various different locales still continued building earlier-style homes in later times. It’s certainly possible that the Oronoque house might’ve been constructed in 1775, but, from an architectural standpoint, highly unlikely.

      Official records of homes from colonial times are also often very inaccurate. The only way to accurately and objectively determine the precise age of a very old home is usually to do a detailed dendrochronological survey of the house’s frame.

      But thank you very much for taking the time to look the home up in Vision Appraisal, and for posting what you found here. I very much appreciate your doing so. BTW, was any other information returned? Just wondering…

      Thanks again!

      ~John

      • Tom Pieragostini says:

        Besides the date of construction, there’s also a detailed drawing of the dimensions of all houses on Vision Appraisal. Several historically significant homes in Stratford were moved off Main St. to Elm St. in the late 1800s. Have you driven down Elm yet? I live in the Ephraim Hawley House (1670-1690) on Nichols Ave. in Nichols (Trumbull). I read your blog about your present home in Derby, it’s very interesting. My home was plastered when built and its summer beams were reduced (6″ x 10″) and dovetailed into the chimney and end girts (8″ x 10″) and nailed into them just like your house is an interior wall made up of water-sawn 1″ thick oak planks.

        • John Poole says:

          Hi Tom,

          Yes, I looked at the Vision Appraisal site, and likewise saw the stated date of construction of 1775 and dimensions and areas, and a reference to a Malick surname being associated with the house.

          I was also told recently that a family named Delacour owned the home at the time of the fire, but that’s all I’ve been able to glean so far.

          Regarding Elm Street, yes, I’m quite familiar with most of the houses on Elm Street, having grown up in Stratford. And I’m certainly well aware of the Ephraim Hawley House.

          Interesting about your summer beams. Yes, summers began to get reduced in size when house interiors started to be plastered. My saltbox house (the Mansfield house) is likewise plastered, and actually has no summers at all; rather, the joists just run between the end and chimney girts.

          I haven’t determined yet how they’re framed in. However, I assume they’re probably similar to what I have in another house I own (the Hawkins house in Derby, c. 1750), where the joists are heftier than usual and have square tenons that are simply dropped into square open mortises on the end and chimney girts, with just one, particularly larger joist (running right along the longitudinal line dividing the front volume of the house from the rear volume of the house) having a half dovetailed tenon at each end, joining it to the end and chimney girts. Presumably, the half dovetail is there to keep the adjacent bents from drifting away from each other.

          Both houses also have cantilevered girts on the second story, where the cantilevers support the front and rear plates. And the rear cantilevers in the Mansfield house actually extend quite far back — you’d think at first glance they support the lean-to rafters, but the rafters are just resting on the rear plate, not the cantilevers.

          I’ve never seen any old timber frames before where a cantilever was there to support the plate like that, without also defining an overhang. In my case, it’s not there to define any overhang; neither home really has any overhang in the front (Mansfield just a little hint of an overhang, but hardly much).

          I’d really like to see the Ephraim Hawley House some day, if you’re amenable to showing it to me. It’s one of the oldest saltboxes around. I really admire all the work that went into the Wikipedia page on your house, too. It makes for a fascinating read.

          Thanks for your comments, Tom!

          ~John

          • Tom Pieragostini says:

            You may visit any time, lots of people do. We’ve had two groups drop in over as many weeks. Just let me know what day, so that I can make sure I’m here. There’s a barn deconstruction project that you may be interested in too.

  13. John Poole says:

    Thanks very much, Tom. I’ll give you a call and set something up. Yes, the barn deconstruction is certainly something that interests me, as well. Thanks again!

  14. Karen says:

    I drove by the Oronque Saltbox today 10/11/12. I was on my way to getting a coffee at Dunkin. I never even knew this house exsisted behind all of the trees and brush. I asked a man who was sweeping the parking lot this morning about it. He told me they were tearing it down and that it was an eyesore.This structure is spectacular and I can’t believe it is being torn down without any regard to its age or history. I wish that there was something that could be done to stop the demo.

    • John Poole says:

      Thanks for your comment, Karen.

      Yes, the house is in a state of severe disrepair. But that doesn’t mean it has to be demolished. I’ve seen homes in far worse shape than this rehabilitated and put back to good use. But when money and profit are involved, there’s always a “compelling reason” to destroy a piece of local history, it seems.

      As you point out, the place is quite spectacular. And it will be replaced with what? A gas station and drive-thru coffee shop? That will be the eyesore, IMHO.

      ~John

  15. Karen says:

    Agreed, just so you know I reported this to WTNH and our family friend Geoff Fox. Maybe we can get someone to run a story on it. I know the chances of stopping the demo or low but I can at least increase the awareness of this project and through some shame on the parties involved with desecration of early CT history.

    • Karen says:

      Sorry , Many typos in that message. I wrote it using my iphone. Recap:
      Agreed, just so you know I reported this to WTNH and our family friend Geoff Fox. Maybe we can get someone to run a story on it. I know the chances of stopping the demo are low but I can at least increase the awareness of this project and throw some shame on the parties involved with the desecration of this beautiful and certainly preservable early Connecticut structure.

      • John Poole says:

        Hi Karen,

        Thanks very much! No worries about the the typos; your previous comment was completely discernible, despite the typos. I do the same thing when I try to comment or post things from my phone. If I can afford to, I’ll hold off until I’m in front of a real computer again!

        You’re right on both counts. There’s nothing that can be done to halt the demo — the current owner is within his legal rights to destroy the house at this point.

        However, publicizing what’s going on is still important, even at this late stage, because it will at least contribute to public awareness about the frequent and ongoing destruction of our local heritage here in Connecticut, and the lack of concern or regard by those who be positioning themselves as stewards of that heritage.

        So thanks very much for taking it upon yourself to contact WTNH and Geoff. I hope a worthy news story develops, and really appreciate your efforts in publicizing this. At this point, I’ve heard the home has about 2 weeks or less remaining. So I hope they can run a story quickly.

        ~John

  16. Karen says:

    Thanks for your support John. I certainly understand the owners are within their rights however it is still a shame. If I am able to get ahold of someone at WTNH or Fox would you mind if I gave them your information to speak on this. You seemed to have done your research and know much more about the situation and history of this house.

    • John Poole says:

      Sure Karen. I don’t mind. If anyone wants to talk to me, just let me know and I’ll email you my direct contact information. Thanks again for stepping up and taking a hand in this. Very much appreciated.

  17. Karen says:

    Thanks John, not holding my breathe but we’ll see if anyone gets back to me. :)

  18. Karen says:

    John please email me ASAP. WTNH contacted me back and I think they want to run the story!!!

  19. Karen says:

    She would like to talk to you by tomorrow if possible

  20. Kate Klein says:

    Hi John,

    I was looking for information about this house and came across your blog. I live on Warner Hill Road in Stratford which is literally a 5 minute walk from the 7296 Main Street property and I drive by it every single day.

    I can’t tell you how sad I am about the loss of his house. As I watch the “progress” at the bottom of the hill I just feel so terrible. How is a gas station worth ripping apart a 237 year old home that is a part of our town history? I often wonder what the original builders would think about this. The house stands now surrounded by chain link fence, the ground ripped apart by bulldozers, the street number spray painted across the door which is often left open. It’s just so sad.

    • John Poole says:

      Thanks, Kate.

      I’m glad you were able to find this article, and hopefully it answered some of your questions. I totally agree with all you’ve said, of course. And it seems like this event caught many people by surprise, but all just way too late.

      As you point out, the house still stands as the site continues to be worked. However, I don’t think it has many days remaining, as a demo permit will probably finally be issued very soon. Very sad, indeed.

      And thanks much for your comments…

      ~John

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