Yet another historic Milford, Connecticut home is now officially under threat. This time, it’s the former summer residence of Gen. Joseph R. Hawley. This Borough of Woodmont home was purchased on the 23rd of August, 2013, by Milford resident Doreen Watmough. On September 25th, Ms. Watmough filed for a demolition permit, citing the home as being in “irreparable condition”.
Gen. Joseph R. Hawley was an abolitionist newspaper editor who served as a Brigadier General in the American Civil War. Following the war, he became Governor of Connecticut, and then later served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Finally, he served for twenty years in the U.S. Senate. He was also responsible for building the Hartford Courant into a major newspaper.
There’s little doubt local investors are now emboldened by the ongoing Sanford-Bristol House situation, in which an historic home with significant legal protections was declared “appropriate for demolition” by Milford’s Historic District One Commission, after new owners William and Gwendolyn Farrell easily convinced them that the home was “beyond saving”.
[ I say "easily" because the due diligence applied by the Milford HDC in reaching their conclusion was, in my opinion, sadly inadequate; in fact, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation's recent article "Local Historic Districts: Protecting Neighborhood Character" (Connecticut Preservation News, September/October 2013), cites the Sanford-Bristol House situation as a specific example of the need for much tighter decision-making criteria by HDCs, in general. ]
Mr. Farrell, who’s First Vice President of the Milford Historical Society (try figuring that one out), a candidate for a seat on Milford’s District Five Planning and Zoning Board, and teaches real estate investment classes in his spare time, publicly claimed he’d had no idea of the home’s condition before he purchased it. Yet, at the first pubic hearing on his demolition request, he’d readily presented his architect’s plans for a new, replacement home that would be reminiscent of the original, and these plans were subsequently found acceptable by the HDC.
Unfortunately, the Gen. Joseph R. Hawley residence has no legal protections beyond the ninety-day demolition delay ordinance, which has been enacted by Milford City Historian Richard Platt. So the only hope for this home’s survival is for its new owner, Ms. Watmough, to have a change of heart, perhaps after Woodmont residents have had a chance to voice their opinions on her proposed demolition.
For a town so rich in history, Milford is rapidly losing its vintage housing stock — as are many other Connecticut towns — at the hands of real estate speculators, local politicians, and their various appointees, who seem largely indifferent to the value of their city’s built heritage. Both the current Mayor of Milford, Ben Blake, and his challenger, Peter Spalthoff, have been oddly silent on these tear downs. Neither has yet expressed any substantive position on the future of historic preservation in Milford, Connecticut.
Postscript [ December 5th, 2013 ]
Ms. Watmough applied for a demolition permit for the Hawley House on September 25th, 2013, against which Milford City Historian Richard Platt subsequently invoked a ninety day demolition delay. Ms. Watmough stated she’d sell the home to any buyer willing to pay what she’d paid for it. So far, no such buyer has materialized (although the home doesn’t appear to have been actively marketed, either). If no purchaser is found, the Hawley House most likely will be demolished sometime after December 25th, 2013.
Post-Postscript [ March 5th, 2015 ]
The Hawley House was eventually torn down in late 2014, by Milford builder Greg Field.
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