Yet another of New England’s early saltbox homes has recently been condemned to teardown in the name of commercialism and historically insensitive development. This time, it’s happening in my own home town of Stratford, Connecticut.
Located at 7296 Main Street, in the Oronoque section of Stratford, this home was probably built around 1700-1720. None of us know anything of its origins or history; nor does our local historical society. It's not listed on the National Register, and the WPA Architectural Survey of Stratford buildings reveals nothing. And unfortunately, the home is not located in any recognized historic district or community, which at least would’ve afforded it some degree of protection.
According to an article by Stratford Patch, a purchase of both the historic home and an adjoining property was completed the first week of September, 2012. The new owner plans to demolish both structures and replace them with “a Mobil and convenience store that features a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru”. The Stratford Planning and Zoning Office approved the building application in August of 2011, with essentially no consideration of preserving the home, claiming that a past fire many years before rendered it insignificant as an historic structure (which is nonsense, given that the timber frame, exterior shell, historic windows, exterior trim, cladding, etc., all survived intact, and the interior was subsequently repaired and the home still occupied for many years until now).
This sort of cursory writing off of an old home as "unsave-able", or simply not worth saving, is unfortunately just all too easy. It seems that a less than thoughtful planning and zoning commission or building department can always manage to find a “highly compelling” reason to quickly demolish an old historic structure, rather than taking appropriate steps to preserve it, whether that might consist of rehabilitation and re-purposing, moving it elsewhere, selling or assigning it on condition of move, or even approaching a non-profit dedicated to acquiring and preserving old homes for guidance in disposing of the property, or even a potential acquisition. All too often, the true compelling reason is convenience, combined with maximizing return on investment, combined further with indifference towards, or ignorance of, what it means to preserve one’s local cultural heritage.
Soon, this Oronoque saltbox, like so many historic homes before it, will become dumpster fodder at the hands of a backhoe operator, and future generations will forever be deprived the privilege of seeing it. Gone in a heartbeat, and in exchange for what? Another gas station/convenience store/drive-though coffee shop (something we already have an overwhelming number of in our town). Yes, that will be our town's cultural contribution to the next generation; or at least until economic drivers force its replacement with yet something else equally as impermanent.
[ A somewhat lengthier and more detailed account of this story was published under the title Imminent Historic Teardown, on my primary blog, A Preservationist's Technical Notebook, just yesterday, on September 24, 2012. All photos in this post were taken by me. ]