Safe for now: Council delays demolition of historic house in Chepachet, hoping for solutions

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GLOCESTER – The demolition of the early 1800s historic house on Glocester town property at 1272 Putnam Pike is on hold for now, unless someone steps up to save it.

Several residents urged the Glocester Town Council at its recent meeting to think twice before a demolition order was approved, including town historian Edna Kent and Historic District Commission Chairman Charlie Wilson.

“Once you lose an historic house, it’s gone forever,” Wilson told the council. “Another piece of history is gone forever.”

“It’s the first antique home visitors to the village see,” added resident Thomas Cash. “It’s a welcoming feature coming into town.”

Kent agreed, adding, “I look at it as a gateway building to the community, just like the one we saved on the other side of town.”

The reference was to the Dr. Reuben Mason House near Acotes Cemetery on the south side of Chepachet Village. It was built in the early 1700’s. The Glocester Heritage Society secured a 99 year lease and through a Champlin Grant and fundraisers restored the building at a cost of more than $300,000. It is currently used for special historical celebrations and events, especially those connected to the Dorr Rebellion.

Councilor Walter Steere, whose ancestors once lived in the house in question, read a long list of detractions delineated by the Rhode Island Housing Authority when they investigated the building for possible use as low income housing. It included citing walls out of plumb, sagging floors, poor structural integrity, outdated electrical and plumbing, floor joists in poor condition, sagging roofs, holes in walls and numerous other deficiencies. Department of Public Works Director Gary Treml added that both the septic and well also have to be replaced.

The building, which sits on 10 acres of what is now town property, dates back to the 1800s and is described in the 1980 Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission’s report as a “1 and a half story late Victorian structure with a small, brick chimney, a central entry in a 5 bay façade with gabled dormers and a late Victorian porch.”

Since the early 1900s, however, the building has been occupied by numerous tenants and owners and has deteriorated over the years as a result.

Steere said the Housing Authority did point out that the building has historic significance.

“This is RI Housing Authority,” said Steere. “They try to save every building. Any building can be saved, but our interest has to be weighed against the cost of repairing this building. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair this. I don’t say this lightly because that is my old family home. My grandmother grew up there. It’s not like it’s somebody else’s house. It means something to me as well.”

He added that previous owners over the years had let the building go and as a result, there are serious issues. The council’s initial goal, he said, was to see if the building could be rehabilitated for affordable housing, but with the report of the house’s condition, the cost outweighs the historic significance.

“We are not just saying we want to tear it down,” Steere added. “That’s not the intent.”

Resident Pat Henry said the house was an important part of the reason people come to Glocester, especially those looking for antiques and an historic setting.

“I like the concept of why not put it off, put it on the open market and let somebody who wants to, renovate it,” she suggested. “Sounds like a great plan to me and we’ll have another beautiful historic building…and they’ll pay for it.”

“I think everybody’s hope is that we can save this building,” said Town Council Vice President Stephen Arnold. “That was the initial intent.”

But, he said, the council has gotten rough estimates that amounted to well over a half million dollars. Arnold added that he was open to tabling the decision to see if there were any possible solutions or anyone interested in taking on the project. Certainly, it would be hard to justify using taxpayers’ dollars for it.

“It’s been on because we need to figure this out,” he said. “No one’s rushing.”

“It deserves more investigation,” agreed Council President William Worthy.

Treml pointed out that the building is currently secure and there is nothing to maintain.

Councilor Cheryl Greathouse suggested placing an ad looking for someone to renovate the building.

“I’m not in a rush to tear it down,” said Steere.

But, he added, the RI Housing Authority suggested that if they were to make use of the property, the building would have to be torn down. There were other historic buildings in town in danger of being torn down as well, he said, that were in better shape than this one.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these older houses, people don’t take care of them,” said Steere. “Older houses, like older people, need more care. We are losing some of our history.”

Arnold urged people to contact council members or the town clerk’s office if they have any ideas or solutions to saving the house.

“It would be everyone’s first choice (to preserve the house),” he added. “It’s beautiful. It’s like a postcard. I get that. But, so far we don’t have a solution. There are plenty of other things to do rather than take that down right now.”

Previous estimates for demolition were estimated at about $7,500, with the DPW tearing the building down and clearing the site.

Wilson told the council that several homeowners in town were in the process of restoring historic homes. When he first purchased the building the Town Trader occupies, a circa 1690’s trading post and the oldest historic building in the town, he was told it was a waste of time to restore it and to tear it down.

“I said, ‘no,'” recalled Wilson. “I saved it. I took care of it. There are people out there willing to do it. Give the public a chance, a shot at it, to try to save it.”

The council agreed, tabling the decision in hopes that someone steps forward.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. It would be grat to save this one. It’s a nice piece of history but it seems it would be costly. Maybe do a kickstarer program to help off set the costs? What about saving the Harmony Meeting House that is slated for demolition? It’s smaller and could be moved onto the same property as the Laurel Grnage, which is where it originally stood. It would be less expensive to save than this one. No disrespect. It could be so many different things to the community. A food pantry, a library, a daycare…..the possibilites are endless. It’s so heartbreaking and such a shame to lose this Harmony treasure. I know this is about the Chepathct house, but I don’t know where else to voice my concern on the Harmony property. As Charlie Wilson said, “Once you lose an historic house, it’s gone forever,” “Another piece of history is gone forever.” So sad.

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