Imminent Demolition of the Elijah Bryan House, c. 1790

Once again, another 18th century home in Milford, Connecticut, is under threat of demolition. This time, it’s the Elijah Bryan House, c. 1790, located at 250 Gulf Street. Unfortunately, this home is not situated in any of Milford’s historic districts, nor listed on the National or State Registers, so it has no legal protections that would potentially bar its destruction.

Image of the Elijah Bryan House, marked for demolition.

The Elijah Bryan House, c. 1790, at 250 Gulf Street, Milford, Connecticut, marked for demolition.

The Bryan House is one of a half-dozen in the city dating back to about the late eighteenth century that feature Dutch-inspired architectural styling, including a dormered half-gambrel roof. The home also has two end chimneys, a substantial rear ell with summer kitchen, and what appears from the street to be another rear addition with a small porch.

Image of the Elijah Bryan House, north elevation.

Among the major architectural nuances of this home are a Dutch-inspired half-gambrel roof, with shed dormers and a “kicker” at the eave.

It’d previously been home to the late Donald and June Poland of Milford, and is now owned by their son, Lance Poland, who’d applied for a demolition permit on June 26th of this year. Milford’s City Historian, Carol LaBrake, imposed a ninety day demolition delay, which means the house will survive until at least September 24th. The purpose of this delay, which the City Historian has a legal right to impose, is to provide time for concerned parties to propose alternatives to a tear down.

Image of the Elijah Bryan House, south elevation.

A view of the south elevation reveals the roof contours, chimneys, and attached rear ell. The ell was most likely added to the house later, probably in the early to mid nineteenth century.

My understanding from colleagues more closely involved in this situation than myself is that the current owner might be willing to consider a reasonable offer for the house, but has not been actively marketing it. Also, despite Mr. Poland’s citing the home’s current condition as justification for its demolition, I’m told the house actually is in relatively good condition; at least, compared to many other historic homes we often find in this situation.

Image of the Elijah Bryan house, plaque and window detailing.

Much of the Elijah Bryan House’s architectural detailing, including twelve-over-twelve sash, louvered shutters, and “rams horn” iron shutter dogs, is quite elegant.

And although I’ve had no opportunity to closely inspect the Elijah Bryan House myself, I’ve seen nothing obvious, from the perspective of the street, to suggest any serious problems: the foundation and masonry work all appear sound, the roofs all seem in good condition, with straight lines, and the exterior walls appear reasonably plumb, except for some slight bowing noticeable at either end. All in all, the Bryan House exhibits exterior characteristics one usually finds in just about any home of this vintage that’s been reasonably maintained.

Image of Elijah Bryan House, south elevation, showing demolition prep work at the site.

This photo illustrates the extent to which the site had been disrupted in preparing for demolition (i.e., the cutting of sewer and utility lines). If resale of a threatened home is to remain a viable alternative to demolition, then house and site should remain completely undisturbed throughout the duration of any imposed demolition delay, and the local building department or official should enforce this.

Of course, the real shame in tearing down the Elijah Bryan House is that an historically significant, and highly visible, example of Milford’s early domestic architecture will be destroyed. This home is one of only six remaining that exhibit late eighteenth century Milford’s apparent penchant for Dutch architecture. Once gone, it’ll be gone forever, and both the city and Gulf Street community will have lost yet another jewel.

Image of Elijah Bryan house, north elevation and ell.

This view of the north elevation shows the depth of the attached ell, and a shed addition, just behind it.

Furthermore, the Elijah Bryan House’s destruction is likely totally unnecessary. It’s condition hardly seems to warrant it, and there are a number of viable alternatives to tearing it down, including:

  1. Aggressively marketing it as an historic home, and eventually selling it, with protections in place, to some new homeowner who’d be willing to keep and maintain the place.
  2. Renovating the rear ell and connecting a new structure to it, so as to create a modern living space, at far less expense than a complete rebuild. In this case, the front house could be preserved as an historic structure, therefore helping to maintain the neighborhood’s historic character, as well as the property values of surrounding homes. This would most likely also enhance the value of any renovated/expanded living space at the rear.
  3. Moving, or dismantling and temporarily storing, the house itself, until some interested historic home buyer is found. While this wouldn’t necessarily be an ideal solution for the City of Milford, nor the Gulf Street community, it’d at least save the house.

What you can do to help

[See Postscript below, however...] To his credit, Mr. Poland has placed his mailing address on a notice outside his home for the purpose of submitting questions to him. Readers interested in saving the Elijah Bryan House should consider writing Mr. Poland a personal and respectful letter expressing their concerns over losing this home, and suggesting any possible alternatives to demolition they might conceive of, including the two I’ve suggested above. Also, any offers to purchase this property should be directed to Mr. Poland, and as soon as possible:

Mr. Lance Poland
117 Judith Drive
Milford, CT 06461

You can also help by joining and/or supporting the Milford Preservation Trust, which is spearheading the effort to save the Elijah Bryan House. Visit the Milford Preservation Trust home page, where you can donate to the Trust, or sign-up online, and even request to be contacted if you want to help out.

Image of intent to demolish sign in front of the Elijah Bryan House.

The sign in the front yard of Elijah Bryan House clearly describes the owner’s intent to demolish the home. Such signage is required by the city’s demolition delay ordinance.

Finally, you should also consider voicing your concerns to Milford’s various municipal officials, such as the Mayor, Board of Alderman, Planning and Zoning Commission, and Building Department. Although Mr. Poland’s legally within his rights to demolish his home, and there’s little or nothing city officials can do to prevent it, they should at least be made well aware of any public objections to this tear down, especially considering the fact that all of this is occurring during Milford’s 375th anniversary year.

Postscript

Please note that on 19 September 2014, it was announced unequivocally by the owners that demolition of the Elijah Bryan House will proceed as planned, and that no offers to purchase this property will be entertained.

Post-Postscript

The Elijah Bryan House was finally demolished on 6 October 2014, despite a number of last minute efforts by local preservationists to save it. Two local news articles are posted below.

Related articles

Jill Dion, “Historic house comes down: Preservationists lose battle to save 1790 building“, Milford Mirror, 6 October 2014.

Feroze Dhanoa, “Historical Gulf Street House in Milford Will Be Demolished Today“, Milford CT Patch, 6 October 2014.

Jill Dion, “Permit holds up demolition of historic house“, Milford Mirror, 30 September 2014.

Susan Fitch Antonik, “So many memories growing up in house set to be razed“, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 25 September 2014.

Feroze Dhanoa, “Historic House in Milford Will be Knocked Down Despite Efforts to Save the Property“, Milford CT Patch, 25 September 2014.

Nancy and Fred Bayers (Wilmington, N.C.), “Don’t demolish historical home in Milford“, Letter to the Editor, New Haven Register, 17 September 2014.

Patricia Perro, “Resident hopes historic Milford House can be saved from demolition“, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 14 September 2014.

Gwen Bruno, “Family’s history is also that of Milford“, Letter to the Editor, New Haven Register, 9 September 2014.

Michele Kramer, “Two historic homes in jeopardy“, Letter to the Editor, Milford Mirror, 1 September 2014.

Jill Dion, “Preservationists want to save Gulf Street house from demolition“, Milford Mirror, 1 September 2014.

#ThisPlaceMatters #MilfordCT #CTHistory

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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12 Responses to Imminent Demolition of the Elijah Bryan House, c. 1790

  1. I hope someone with enough money comes forward. Good luck on this. Great pics, too.

  2. Peter says:

    The option to move the house has been offered for months. This offer remains open to anyone who wants to have the house. The only option the ‘buyer’ would have to bear is the cost to move the house. Please contact the owner and make arrangements prior to September 24.

    • John Poole says:

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks very much for your comment.

      If you don’t mind my asking, how are you aware of this? No one here has heard of any such offer, and no one from the owner’s camp seems willing to talk. How has this offer been communicated, exactly?

      ~ John

  3. Peter says:

    I know the owners and they have communicated this directly to members of the society, as well as city officials. The house is in deplorable condition and the cost of repair greatly exceeds that of rebuilding. The owners have also said they would entertain am offer to buy the house, but have received none.

    • John Poole says:

      Peter,

      Thanks very much for your quick reply back. However, allow me to respond to a few of your points.

      First, by “society”, I assume you mean the Milford Historical Society. Although they own three well-preserved historic properties and do a great job promoting Milford history, they’re not in the business of saving and marketing historic properties. Like most historical societies, they’re mainly concerned with their own collections, not with what’s going on with the privately owned historic home down the street.

      Regarding city officials, again, that hardly seems to make much difference, as municipalities are rarely ever in the business of saving threatened, privately-owned historic properties (the story of the John Downs house might suggest otherwise, but that was an exception, as that home is a gateway to the historic district, and home to a local revolutionary war hero). Since the Bryan house doesn’t sit in either local historic district, town officials have little reason to withhold approvals to demolish the house.

      Also, the claim that the house is in deplorable condition, and would cost more to repair than to replace, is the most frequently used justification for tearing down an historic home by a new owner. Unless an unbiased historic preservation contractor and/or PE with a track record in historic timber frames gets in there, does a condition assessment, and costs-out the repairs, I’ll never accept that claim. To date, none of my colleagues involved in this are aware of any attempt by the owners to properly qualify the condition of the house and cost to repair it. If you know otherwise, then by all means, please let me know.

      And finally, as far as marketing or selling or entertaining offers to buy the house go, yes, I’ve heard things stated to this effect, but again, unless a strong attempt is made to market the house, there seems little point to such overtures. Just like asserting the house is “beyond saving” or “not cost effective to repair”, the claim that “no one wanted to buy the place” after only a weak sales attempt is made, is yet another complaint frequently made by new owners who are determined to tear an old house down.

      The bottom line is that historic buildings are almost invariably at greatest risk whenever they change hands, especially when they’re situated in some prime location. Almost always, it’s a new owner (or recent heir) who wants to tear the old place down, replace it with modern construction, and then, more often than not, flip the new place and move on. Meanwhile, one more bit of the community’s cultural heritage and character has now been taken away, in the interest of pure economic gain. Do private home owners have a legal right to do this? Of course they have (usually, that is; protected buildings are a different matter). But local preservationists and historians likewise have a right and an ethical obligation to at least appeal to them to do otherwise.

      Thanks again for commenting here, Peter. Your opinions here are always welcome and appreciated, even if we’re not in full agreement.

      Best regards,
      John

  4. RK says:

    John, thanks for bringing attention to this. It is a beautiful home and hopefully finds a good owner.

  5. H. Guillen says:

    The front setback of this house is grandfathered. Once the house is torn down, the owner will not be allowed to build as close to the sidewalk. Even without a historic interest the owner is better off saving the house (More backyard). Imagine having to ask a mason, in this day and age to rebuild those beautiful fireplaces/chimneys. You would pay a mint.

    • John Poole says:

      Very right, Hector.

      As you point out, the house embodies craftsmanship and detailing that’s close to being unobtainable in modern times. Yes, there appear to be issues, but this house doesn’t seem to be anywhere near being in “deplorable condition” and on the “verge of collapse”, as it’s been described. IMHO, these are claims made to justify its destruction.

      ~ John

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