Sanford-Bristol House Demolition Blocked (And Yet…)

Milford’s Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1790), has temporarily been saved from demolition by the efforts of Milford City Historian Richard Platt, and the Milford Preservation Trust. A temporary injunction, filed under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), was served to owners William and Gwendolyn Farrell late last week. The ninety day demolition delay ordinance, previously invoked by Mr. Platt, expired just this past Sunday (October 13th). And a preliminary court hearing will be held on October 28th.

But Mr. and Mrs. Farrell apparently believe they can play by their own rules, and had demolition contractor James Mallico show up today with a small backhoe, to begin the process of digging and cutting utility lines. Michele Kramer, a Milford Preservation Trust board member and historic district resident, was alerted to the activity, and showed up on site with a copy of the court order to show Mr. Mallico.

Image of Sanford-Bristol House, backhoe, and campaign signs.

A small backhoe parked behind one of Bill’s Farrell’s campaign signs. (Photo credit: Kara Flannery)

Mr. Mallico did the right thing, however, and backed away at that point, sparing both his clients and himself the risk of a possible contempt of court charge. Milford police had also been  summoned, but didn’t arrive until after both Mrs. Farrell and Mr. Mallico had left the area. Milford Preservation Trust members and neighborhood friends will continue to keep a close watch on the home.

Some words of wisdom

Res ipsa loquitur — Roughly, “the thing speaks for itself”.

Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set — Proverbs 22:28.


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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13 Responses to Sanford-Bristol House Demolition Blocked (And Yet…)

  1. Bill Smith says:

    The line between belief in yourself and stupidity is so easily blurred.

  2. Bill Smith says:

    Wait! John, where am I going to get my math practice now? I was so proud that I never had to resort to a calculator to post on your blog. My math-in-my-head skills will now go right to hell ;-(

    • John Poole says:

      Have no fear, Bill. Plenty of opportunities are still there. This story isn’t over yet, and the general problem of modeling “accumulated value” of embodied energies of very old and traditionally crafted structures still begs to be addressed!

  3. Hubris, you say John…Hubris? I (we) can all suffer that sin at times. This goes way past hubris into the clash of “normative cultural belief systems,” being obtuse as an individual, and pure unadulterated greed. Mrs. Farrell has full intentions on getting his way, no matter what. I just hope for the sake of the home, and more importantly establishing a precedent, that he finds out otherwise…

    • John Poole says:

      You’re right, Jay. This all goes well beyond hubris. What I’d meant was that hubris is often the minimal requirement to transform “belief in one’s self” into “stupidity” (Bill’s words above). But much stronger qualities can also readily effect that transformation as well, and that’s clearly what’s going on here. I shouldn’t have been so soft about it. ~ John

    • John Poole says:

      Also, I think your term “clash of ‘normative cultural belief systems’” is about the best possible, fundamental characterization of what’s actually happening here.

  4. Hunter Smith says:

    I have been following this story for some time. I think that it’s sad these people are gettting attacked for buying a house that has been determined to be beyond repair. If the fanatical preservationists are so concerned about the welfare of this home, how come they didn’t buy it themselves and put in the money to rehab it? It appears this couple is getting harassed by the extremists on this issue and they should be allowed to do with the house what they will, since it’s THEIR house. When the house was built, I’m sure no one expected it to last forever. It’s a structure, it’s not meant to last thousands of years. Leave these people alone.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Hunter,

      Thanks very much for your comment, and for contributing a contrary opinion to this discussion. With all due respect, however, I believe there are a few points you’re perhaps not completely aware of, so please allow me to attempt to summarize them here.

      First of all, since the Sanford-Bristol House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is situated in a local historic district that’s recognized by the state of Connecticut, it has a number of legal protections from demolition that are well-established under Connecticut law. More specifically, under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), listed historic resources are fundamentally protected against “unreasonable demolition”, meaning that if some other, viable alternative to demolition exists, then such a structure is not permitted to be destroyed.

      It’s the shared, good-faith opinion of the Milford Preservation Trust, Milford City Historian, and Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation (a co-plaintiff in this case), based on their own knowledge of the current state of the Sanford-Bristol House, that the home is not beyond repair. So, as legally registered entities entrusted with the preservation of local historic resources, these three parties actually have a moral/ethical obligation to attempt to protect this home in the interest of the public trust. And they’re fully supported by Connecticut state law in doing so.

      So, I hope you see that they’re not quite the “fanatical preservationists”, or “extremists”, that you’ve chosen to describe them as. And they’re certainly not deliberately harassing anyone. Rather, they’re undertaking exactly the function that they’ve been entrusted to perform, and are indeed expected to perform, in this situation.

      Perhaps the single most important point here, Hunter, is that, for a listed historic property within an established Connecticut historic district, owners are not necessarily always free to do what they want. It’s been established in our state, that in this kind of situation, the needs of the owner must be balanced against those of the public, who in turn, have a certain right toward the preservation of key cultural resources and landmarks. Our state legal system supports this concept (as do the legal systems of most other states), and it is precisely this legal process which you see unfolding here.

      And finally, if a Connecticut property buyer/investor can’t accept that fact, then they ought to avoid investing in listed historic properties in established historic districts. Mr. Farrell, as First VP of the Milford Historical Society, a candidate for the Planning and Zoning Board, and a local real estate investor/developer, was undoubtedly well aware that the Sanford-Bristol House carried these protections when he’d purchased it, and that a legal battle would almost certainly follow any decision on his part to demolish it.


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