[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