An Open Letter To Mr. William Farrell

Mr. William Farrell
First Vice President
Milford Historical Society

Dear Mr. Farrell:

If you truly had been motivated by a desire to rescue and restore the Thomas Sanford/ David Bristol House, at 111-113 North Street, Milford, Connecticut, when you’d purchased it this past January, as you’d recently claimed before the Milford Historic District Commission, then I respectfully implore you to honor your original intentions, and not demolish this unique historic home.

As an owner and restorer of two eighteenth century homes, each likewise suffering from damage and varying degrees of deferred maintenance, I fully understand how daunting and resource-intensive this process can be. But you’re certainly not alone in this, and there are many of us in the local preservation community who’d be more than willing to listen, and even assist where possible, if you’d only reach out to us.

On the other hand, if you’re unable or unwilling to restore the home, then I request you still remain true to your intentions by seeking out a new owner for the Sanford/Bristol House who’s indeed willing to pursue this path. Once again, there are many of us who could assist you in this process. And, if that seems unacceptable to you, then at the very least, consider an alternative to outright demolition, such as possibly donating the home to a non-profit willing to relocate it elsewhere. There’s no doubt that finding an alternative to demolition takes time and determination, but a good many others have accomplished this before.

As the great William Morris once observed: “These old buildings do not belong to us only…they have belonged to our forefathers and they will belong to our descendants, unless we play them false. They are not in any sense our property, to do as we like with. We are only trustees for those that come after us”. More than anything else, I want my personal legacy to someday reflect that I’d been a worthy trustee of my built heritage. And I’m quite sure you want precisely the same for yourself, as well.

Sincerely,

John Poole
Architectural Historian
Derby-Ansonia, Connecticut

 

Image of the Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90).

The Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1789-90). From “History of Milford Connecticut: 1639-1939.

#ThisPlaceMatters

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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21 Responses to An Open Letter To Mr. William Farrell

  1. Sean @ SLS says:

    Very nicely stated John & good point on the move – especially as most of the structural issues were basement related if memory serves me correctly

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Sean,

      Thanks. I haven’t seen the interior of the house myself, but from what had been cited in numerous local news reports, the biggest structural issue seems to be the bowing of a basement wall. On the other hand, I believe it had been in that state for a very, very long time, based on comments made by some earlier owners.

      Most of the other complaints publicly cited as justification for tearing the house down sound part and parcel for a home that age and with accumulated deferred maintenance. Frankly, they’re almost laughable.

      My favorite was the complaint about a jack supporting part of the first floor system. Here in New England, it’s almost a badge of honor to tell people you have one or three jacks in your cellar supporting some first floor beams. “C’mon downstairs; let me show you”. ;-)

      ~ John

  2. Daniel L. Bosques says:

    It seems like the house was placed back on the market shortly after being purchased by Mr. Farrell. It does seem like the house was initially purchased to bring a quick profit, but I will give Mr. Farrell the benefit of the doubt, and say I understand if he undertook a project that was beyond his grasp. In any event, I feel the wrong thing is being done.

    When the house first reached the market, after Mr. Farrell’s acquisition of the property, I watched the selling price go down from $199,00, to $179,000, at which point I was interested enough to inquire with his Coldwell Banker agent (Jim Porto), who told me that the house was sold. One week later, the price was dropped another ten thousand dollars, and I was never granted a showing of the home, yet my wife and I were interested in possibly purchasing.

    This doesn’t seem the conduct of one interested in the preservation of a beautiful home, nor did it seem he was truly interested in selling it…unless the agent had no interest in showing the home to an Ansonia resident, who is a docent for the Derby Historical Society’s “A Day in 1762″.

    I was upset I’d been denied an opportunity to acquire a home (indeed, in need of some work), but now I am extremely disgusted at this whole situation.

    What you are doing, Mr. Farrell, (besides the destruction of a piece of American history) is disrespecting and spitting on the graves of every individual who labored to ensure this homes existence for their future generations, family or not. We are entrusted to preserve this place, and you’ve dishonored the very corner-stone layman of the Thomas Sanford House.

    There is still a chance to redeem yourself, if you’ll only choose to do what’s right, and give plenty of interested people a chance to do what’s right.

    Regards,
    Daniel Red Bear Bosques
    Ansonia, CT
    6th CR/Docent, DHS/Historic Home Preservation Advocate

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Your comment expresses what many people are thinking:

      1) That the home was purchased, not with preservation/restoration in mind, but rather a quick flip, and failing that, a longer-term “larger investment/larger ROI” flip (i.e., replacement with a modern home);

      2) That there are many people out there — you’re a prime example — who are sincerely interested in the home for what it is, and willing to live there and restore the place, if only they’d known a bit earlier about its availability.

      The placing of the Sanford-Bristol home back on the market at a higher price, and its successive and rapid reductions, all began within just three weeks after Mr. Farrell closed on the home. For example, if you Google “111 North Street Milford CT”, you’ll find numerous multiple listings (including Jim Porto’s) indicating how quickly all of this happened, and the various price reductions you’ve alluded to.

      Other than that, your anger, frustration, and disgust with what’s going on are shared by many, including myself, and I only hope Mr. Farrell realizes that there really are folks out there who are willing to take this home on, warts and all, and restore it to its former state.

      It would just be a matter of employing a little patience in finding the right owner. You for one, would be the perfect right owner. Let’s hope Mr. Farrell comes to realize that (assuming he really wants to do right by the house).

      ~ John

  3. Hi John,

    As you know by now, I called and talked to Richard (Platt.) When he told me that you would be contacting him later in the day I felt so much better. Thank you so much for taking part in this rather concerning issue. Please keep us all informed to what is taking place with this project of salvation.

    Warm Regards,

    jay

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Jay C.,

      Yes, Mr. Platt mentioned you’d called, for which I’m very appreciative. Am very glad to hear you were aware of what was going on down here. And many thanks for your support.

      I’ll certainly keep you apprised of updates, both here, and also on Google+. You should also friend the Milford Preservation Trust on Facebook. I’m sure a lot more information will be forthcoming over the next several weeks.

      ~ John

  4. Gwen George-Bruno says:

    As a Milford resident and preservationist, I am heartsick over the imminent destruction of the Sanford-Bristol house. Even more appalling is that Bill Farrell claims to be a preservationist.

    Supporting failing beams and floors in historic structures is nothing new. My husband and I honeymooned at the Sumner Mansion Inn – 5,000+ sq. feet of historic brick federal architecture built in 1807 (www.sumnermansioninn.com) and the former owners advised they had the original basement log columns shored up by installing steel columns beside them. Cost? $10,000. My former home, a late Victorian, at 414 East 240th Street, Bronx, had lolly columns supporting the original beams in the basement. Both homes still stand and thrive today.

    When you buy a historic home in a historic district, you commit to preservation Mr. Farrell. As a fellow Milford homeowner, I am respectfully requesting you preserve and restore this gem or sell or donate the home to someone who will.

    • John Poole says:

      Gwen,

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment, and relating your own experiences here. I agree with you that shoring up old beams is de rigueur in homes like theses, as were most of the other “problems” cited in the public hearings. None of these issues are absolute justifications for demolishing a very old, historic home.

      I also totally agree with you that there is a reason why historic districts exist, and that folks who buy into them do so acknowledging that they’re willingly abandoning certain rights, including the destruction of their historic property. At the same time, they are expressing a commitment to preserve their homes, regardless of personal cost, by choosing to live in an historic district. And historic districts should never allow themselves to be used as “harvesting grounds” for cheap real estate that can quickly be turned around for a profit.

      Let’s hope Mr. Farrell changes his mind and does right by the Sanford-Bristol House. There’s a large, local community of preservationists willing to welcome him and assist him in his efforts, if he’d just do right by the home, and not turn his back on the rest of us and our ideals.

      ~ John

  5. Hunter S. says:

    With your level of obvious passion regarding this house, I can’t help but wonder why you didn’t buy it yourself when Mr. Farrell put it back on the market. With your expertise on these homes and willingness to take on such a burden, it escapes me why you didn’t scoop up this gem when you had the chance …

    • John Poole says:

      Hunter,

      Thanks for your comment. I already own two such homes that I specifically purchased to rescue, and which I’m in the process of repairing/restoring. Plus, I’m stewarding the care of a third. I have neither the money nor the bandwidth to deal with a fourth.

      And even if I did, I don’t believe the Sanford-Bristol House was placed back on the market with any serious intent to re-sell it. [See the earlier comment by Mr. Bosques, who was interested in buying the home during this time, but was turned away by the realtor, about a week prior to the final price reduction.] I believe this was all done for show, as a demonstration that the house was unsaleable in its current condition.

      But the real crux of this argument, Hunter, is that Mr. Farrell willingly purchased an historic home in a listed historic district, something that comes with specific assumptions and expectations (indeed, backed up by laws and regulations), about how the new owner is to behave toward his purchase. Mr. Farrell should’ve been well aware of all this, given his position, but now appears to be be blithely disregarding it all.

      I should also point out that attempting to transfer the burden of preservation onto the shoulders of those who publicly oppose demolition is not a valid argument. I’m not suggesting that that’s what you’re saying here — I’m taking your question as one of curiosity only. But a number of public comments elsewhere already leveled that old contrarian charge of “if you care so much about it, why don’t you buy it yourself?”. That challenge is seldom a legitimate one, and certainly isn’t in this particular situation, given the factors I’ve cited above.

      Best regards,
      John

  6. Marie Smith says:

    An interesting “coincidence” is that the owner, William Farrell, teaches courses in INVESTING IN REAL ESTATE in Milford Adult Ed.

    • John Poole says:

      Thanks Marie. That is indeed interesting. Maybe this episode will help round out his own experience in terms of strategies that should be AVOIDED if maintaining a long term, positive relationship with the community in which one invests is deemed important! ;-)

      ~ John

  7. Bill Smith says:

    John,

    I’m glad I took the time to catch up with this post. Your original post is very well written, Mr. Farrell should be able to understand that he has many options far better than demolition.

    The house looks very interesting. In northern New England this roof form is not widespread. I am very taken with the saltbox variation, are there other examples? To me, the roof structure alone is worthy of preservation.

    This post seems to be garnering a good deal of attention. Let’s hope it helps Mr. Farrell understand that there is a social value to old homes and their history beyond the market value.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks very much for taking an interest in this situation and studying it further.

      Yes, the roof is quite unique. Five dormers (as opposed to four) is unusual, as is the half-gambrel roof. As best I can determine (via Google Maps aerial views), one half of the house (it was doubled in the 1850s and made into a two family home) has a saltbox extension (lean-to).

      The other half has various rear extensions, but its hard to determine exactly what the original roof of that half of the house might’ve consisted of, just going by the aerial photos.

      I am currently working on yet another post, which I hope to have completed shortly, that talks a little more about the Dutch architecture of the home, and summarizes the situation and current status to date.

      Thanks again, Bill, and will keep you updated on what’s going on…

      - John

  8. John,
    As a member of Preservation Burlington and our local Design Advisory Board, I often see this kind of situation. I am always disappointed when individuals that should know the rules and regulations due to their positions and experience claim to be “ham stringed” by preservation.
    Wonderfully thoughtful response and insightful grasp of the situation. Good luck with your efforts. I’ve emailed friends in Milford to try and raise awareness.
    Yours in preservation,
    Ron

    • John Poole says:

      Thank you very much, Ron.

      It truly is a confounding situation, and a very frustrating thing to watch unfold. I’ve seen events similar to this one in the past. They all follow the same general pattern. But never before have I seen the threat coming from some one who’s assumed to be a preservation advocate.

      Thanks very much for your support from Burlington; it’s great to hear from others, and realize interest in our plight here is shared by preservationists elsewhere.

      Likewise yours in preservation,
      John

  9. Greetings John
    Wow what a mess
    For a very interesting house
    So when do we tar & feather Mr. Farrell
    That would be historically correct

    I had a similar case in N. Attleboro
    The Owner was not on the HDC
    But he was caught removing asbestos shingles
    In advance of demolition
    Without HDC review
    This was a commercial property
    And the HDC place an 18 month stay on the demo
    I found a buyer and dismantled the house
    The Owner saved face (a major car dealership)

    I was astounded that this guy was an HDC VP
    Milford needs to act stronger
    But it looks like it could go by “demolition by neglect”
    Springfield just lost a great house that way this year

    Perhaps before demo someone could document the house
    Measure and photo

    Too Bad too sad
    Leonard

    LJB ARCH, PC
    218 Grand Ave.
    Cranston, RI 02905

    http://www.ljbarch.com
    401-941-1650
    340-244-0904

  10. Leonard Baum says:

    I stand corrected Mr. Farrell is VP of the Milford Historical Society
    Really!!! So what happened at the Milford HDC?
    The Milford Preservation Trust is opposing the demolition
    The house is on the National Register
    Really Milford lets get it together, you should be working together!

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Leonard.

      Great to hear from you (as always), and thanks very much for your comments.

      The HDC voted to issue a certificate of appropriateness for demolition of the house, on the basis of Mr. Farrell’s testimony about its condition, plus the reports of two structural engineers, which stated that the house was “beyond saving”.

      The criticism of many of us on the preservation side of the argument is that, although the house has been neglected and isn’t in great shape, most of the stated problems are de rigueur for a home of that vintage with accumulated deferred maintenance, and not really that daunting.

      Also, the hired PEs have no apparent track record of regularly dealing with the repair or restoration of historic structures. Both of their reports are disclaimed as being based on cursory, visual inspections only. A subsequent article published here on my blog by Bill Smith (Who Ya Gonna Call?) opines on problems associated with these sorts of assessments, generally.

      The Milford Historical Society posted on their Facebook page that they have no official opinion on this matter. As you can imagine, the Milford Historical Society and Milford Preservation Trust have many members in common. Rumor has it that the historical society is divided on this matter, and that some members have even resigned over it. But I can’t confirm any of that for sure.

      It’s certainly a very messy situation, and one rife with much emotion and anger. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Let’s hope for an outcome that favors preservation of this landmark home!

      ~ John

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