Phil Russo On The Sanford-Bristol House

[Editor's note: Phil Russo, an original member of the Milford Presentation Trust, had recently provided me his commentary on the threatened Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1790) of Milford, Connecticut, which I'd found highly relevant and worthy of publication here as a full article. What follows are his words in their entirety, with only very minor editorial revision on my part. Many thanks to Phil Russo for contributing his perspectives on the Sanford-Bristol House, and his support of its ongoing preservation and, hopefully, future restoration.]

My name is Phil Russo. I am one of the original members of the Milford Preservation Trust. I was a part of the effort to save the John Downs House. I have over 20 years of fine woodworking, restoration, furniture making, timber framing and hand tool experience (building reproductions, and restoring originals). I have known Kathy and Richard Lutz quite well, and toured the Sanford House MANY times, including trips to the cellar to view the sills and framing.

Even if the house has “10%” damage to it’s framework, IT STILL FAR OUT CLASSES ANY construction made today. And one should realize that you CAN NOT replace a house built by hand with timbers that could be as much as 500 to 1000 years old when harvested! Yes ALL old houses settle, they especially settle around brick or chimney work, because wood expands, contracts, and rots (brick, for the most part, does not).

The real argument here is simply financial. If the house was purchased for $150,000 due to it being “stripped” and now you want the location and comfort of a new structure ….you’re NOT the right person to own an historic house. Any old home is an ongoing project; it never ends, but the results are not only preserving the past, but ensuring a future for the property. Frankly I wanted to take my grand children to Milford to see this beautiful house, a house I wanted to own myself at one point. As part of a fund raiser for the Downs house project, I’d constructed a hand made gingerbread house, made in the image of the Sanford house some years back!

It is NOT an option to demolish this house! Mr Farrell purchased it cheap enough!!! It is his responsibility to maintain and restore this house. EVERY house has had additions put on that were possibly detrimental; you fix it, and move on the the next area that needs attention. A structure that has stood for more than 150 years built out of wood is going to need attention!!!! Mr Farrell most certainly knew this, and if not, then his expectations for the home were totally misaligned with reality. When one is buying an historic car to restore, you look it over, and when you find rust, (and you WILL), you multiply that by 10 and that is a reasonable estimation of the project ahead. With a house, it’s the same. At $150,000, figure on putting in at least $300,000 over a reasonable period of time, for a proper restoration.

There is NO reason this house cannot be saved, and no matter how “pretty” the plans are for a new structure, it will NEVER be a part of Milford’s past, nor the source of Pride that the Sanford-Bristol house HAS been since 1850 when it was built to its current construction. SELL THE HOUSE TO SOMEONE WHO CARES ENOUGH TO SAVE IT!! A historic home is NOT an investment for the future; there is NO profit in it. It is a labor of love and preservation. Mr Farrell is obviously NOT up to this task, and the Milford Historic District Commission needs as much of an overhaul as does the Sanford-Bristol House.

- Phil Russo

Image of Sanford-Bristol House and bumper sticker


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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5 Responses to Phil Russo On The Sanford-Bristol House

  1. Daniel L. Bosques says:

    Stupendously bold, and to the point. I’m glad people are sharing the same sentiment; preserve this piece of material-American history. I feel this is all heading in the right direction.

  2. Outstanding!!!

    I agree that after all of this there is some social restoration of the Milford Historic District Commission, it’s understanding of historic stewardship, as well as, the rehabilitation of this beautiful vintage home.



  3. John Poole says:

    Dan & Jay:

    Yes indeed, this was quite a bold and to-the-point assessment of things. I just hope that a sufficient critical mass of similar sentiments have built up already. Or will soon.

    Much thanks for your great comments! :-)

    ~ John

  4. Phil Russo says:

    I am biased. I love history. Reading about it, going to a house where a particular person lived, walking the grounds, going to the cemetery and seeing there name carved in slate. reading about HOW a house was built, finding the actual tools and learning how to use them. Even the 1885 morgan dollar I carry in my pocket everyday, history is in everything all around you everyday, you just have to look, you have to WANT to look. It is a cycle. There are certain people who have this passion, and frankly people driven only by greed and the plows and wrecking balls of “progress” push over the past to make way for a temporary built future. A mere momentary structure—never to stand as long and as tall as the one that was razed to make room.
    One need only open the pages of Early American Life magazine to see articles about people who bought an old barn and transformed it into a show piece. Or a house empty for decades inhabited only by racoons, snakes, weeds and trees growing through the structure, only to lovingly restore it and have it featured in a national publication! The point to all my rambling here is I have that passion, the Sanford House is EASILY restored, PERIOD. Unfortunately the man who purchased the house lacks the same passion as myself, or that of the people who rescued those barns and reptile and weed infested hulks that they live in today that shine like new and are warm welcoming peeks into the past….not to mention the people who pile their children into cars and drive by “the old house” in their neighborhoods full of vinyl sided plywood boxes, who then in amazement say ” mom, houses used to look like that….can we get one”.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Phil,

      Very well put. The two gentlemen who commented just before you both share your passion. As do I. You are among fellow travelers here. And your “rambling” is very much welcomed and good to see.

      I am still hoping for a positive outcome to all this nonsense. If we lose, everyone does, especially all those children of the future who will have been deprived an opportunity to see the Sanford-Bristol House as an unusual example of real history. Instead, they’ll be greeted by something synthetic, and won’t even bat an eye.

      Thanks for your contributions here, and your letters to the editor. Everyone appreciates your past and current efforts, and your desire to protect and preserve this piece of history, a desire we all deeply share.

      ~ John

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