This one is a bit of a head-scratcher for me. In Milford, Connecticut, the first-ever VP of the Milford Historical Society is about to knock down his historic c.1789 house, called the “Thomas Sanford House” or the “Sanford-Bristol House.” And the Sanford-Bristol House isn’t a run-of-the-mill building, either — it’s a Dutch Gambrel double-house, with a cool flared roof, 5 dormers, and a neat Saltbox-style ell. The house has clearly evolved over the past two centuries, making it a fascinating piece of architectural history. This blog reports that the house was expanded to be a double-house around 1850, and the porch was added in 1880. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of an historic district.
Yes, it does sound like the house is in rough shape. This article mentions things sagging and leaning, and a lot of the “historic woodwork has been torn out.” Yet at the same time, it also sounds like the condition assessments by structural engineers may have been unfair to the 223-year-old house, as they supported the owner’s case for demolition. I’ve seen this sort of thing lots of times — it’s easy to condemn an historic house with an old-style foundation, leaning walls, and powder-post beetle damage. Technically, the things the engineers wrote to support demolition may be true. But generally, the people who buy such buildings do so with the intent to save them — to fix them up and give them the structural love they need — in order to be stewards of our historic built environment. And you would think a leader of his historical society would understand that?
The historical society guy, William Farrell, and his wife, Gwendolyn Farrell, just bought the house in January (for $150,000) to “restore” it. Now, they will not comment on the situation. As you can imagine, local preservationists are up in arms.
Even though the historic commission already approved demolition, the Milford Preservation Trust and the town historian are trying to find ways to prevent it, and an architectural historian wrote this “Open Letter to Mr. William Farrell” imploring him to consider other options besides destroying the building. A much more thorough story about the controversy can be read here.