What the hell is going on here?
Why are today’s heirs of “Still Revolutionary” Connecticut so determined to destroy the very few, remaining vestiges of our Revolutionary era?
That was my reaction, while reading in the Connecticut Post today about the latest new owners’ plans to destroy yet one more eighteenth century Connecticut home. In this case, the victim is the Campbell Homestead, built in 1784, in Fairfield, Connecticut:
Located at 696 Hillside Road, in the Greenfield Hill section of Fairfield, the home was purchased in early July for $875,000, by William and Danielle Sharp. According to the Connecticut Post article, the Sharps soon sent registered letters to their neighbors, stating the house was going to be razed on August 1st.
And in a move similar to that of William Farrell of Milford, with the Sanford-Bristol House, they marked their home with “696 Demo” in orange spray paint, despite having not yet even submitted an application for a demolition permit. Really? Are people so determined to tear these homes down that they can’t even wait to apply for a demo permit before marking the house?
A great irony here is that, despite having been modernized in certain respects, the home appears to be in pristine condition. The two photos I’ve included in this post are from Halstead Property’s sales listing, and you can view the entire set of Halstead’s photos here.
The Connecticut Post article also quoted Ellen Gould, Chairwoman of the Greenfield Hill Historic District Commission, as stating that a ninety-day demolition delay will still be applied to the Campbell House, given its age. However, as the home is not located within the Greenfield Hill Historic District itself, nor listed on National or State registers, it ultimately has no real protection.
Historic and vintage homes are at greatest risk whenever they change hands. Rarely does an existing owner destroy a home they’ve lived in for years to build anew. More often than not, demolition is perpetrated either by a commercial entity, or a new, private owner, with a pocket full of money, and an ego-feeding vision of creating something newer and grander, in a location they perceive as desirable, instead of conserving the structure already there.
And at the dictate of expediency, demolition invariably is the only answer. Never do you hear these shortsighted folks propose seeking out a new owner who’s willing to relocate the home elsewhere. Which is a shame, because there is indeed a niche collectors market here in New England for historic homes, where well-moneyed patrons who want them are usually willing to purchase and move them, especially some of the more pristine ones.
Nor do you ever hear the demolishers propose at least salvaging historic materials, for which there’s an even broader niche market. The exception, of course, is when the owners proudly say how they’re going to incorporate a few random timbers or foundation stones as decorative accents in the new place — a practice they feel will absolve them of any historical wrongdoing committed by destroying the whole house. Some will even go as far as claiming this to be an acceptable form of heritage conservation, which of course, is complete nonsense.
Just a very short while ago, Terrain Garden Center in Westport, Connecticut, withdrew plans to demolish an historic home on their property, because of the resulting public outcry. A preferred outcome, certainly. But keep in mind their change of heart was most likely a response to much negative publicity that could’ve hurt their business. Their future use of this home is, as of yet, still undecided.
The Top Six Biggest Threats To Historic Homes
Here in Connecticut, historic homes, especially those of the 18th century, are toppling at an alarming rate. Here’s my own top six list of the greatest threats to the survival of these buildings, in decreasing order of severity:
1. New owners with deep pockets, big egos, and a lack of appreciation for, or a complete indifference to, both the cultural and practical value of our built heritage.
2. Commercial developers, especially those from out of town.
3. Unconcerned or misguided Planning and Zoning offices, and gutless Historic District Commissions.
4. Indifferent heirs who, only wanting their share of an inheritance, have little or no concern about a buyer’s plans for their ancestor’s property.
6. Unmanaged bulk water, or significant moisture infiltration.
There are, of course, a great many other sources of threat, but most pale in comparison to the six listed above. [I'll adjust this list from time to time, based on experiences, or my increasingly jaundiced perceptions.]