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Historic Milford House Worth the Time, Says New Owner

'We don't want to be known as the home of the McMansions,' says the new owner of the historic Sanford-Bristol House in Milford.

Tim Chaucer of the Milford Preservation Trust embraces Lesley Mills, the new owner of the Sanford-Bristol House at 111-113 North St. Mills is holding a photo of the house taken in 1988. Credit: Jason Bagley
Tim Chaucer of the Milford Preservation Trust embraces Lesley Mills, the new owner of the Sanford-Bristol House at 111-113 North St. Mills is holding a photo of the house taken in 1988. Credit: Jason Bagley

The handing over of the keys to the historic Sanford-Bristol House Friday marked the successful end to a robust effort to save the 18-century Milford home from demolition.

“Sometimes, it all works out,” said Ed Schmidt, chairman of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.

On Dec. 19, Schmidt’s group bought the house, located at 111-113 North St., as part of a legal settlement with the owners, William and Gwendolyn Farrell, who had city permission to raze the shabby structure and build a new house on the property, which overlooks the Milford Duck Pond.

The agreement with the Farrells, which also included the Milford Preservation Trust, paved the way for a new, permanent owner to purchase the home in its current condition for $200,000 cash with the intent on restoration.

‘We don’t want to be known as the home of McMansions’

That person turned out to be Lesley Mills, a city resident who officially took over ownership on Friday.

“What would Connecticut be without our gracious homes to admire?” Mills said inside the kitchen, the oldest room of the 1790 Dutch half-gambrel. “We don’t want to be known as Connecticut, the home of McMansions.”

Mills owns Griswold Home Care, a Connecticut-based personal care company whose clients are generally over 80, she said.

“Things are very similar for old people and old houses in this society,” Mills said. “They’re considered to be not worth the constant rehabbing and time and investment and they deteriorate more quickly than they should.”

Photos sell house

Mills said she'd buy the home – located in the River Park National Register of Historic Places – before she ever actually stepped foot inside, according to Helen Higgins, executive director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.

“We weren’t able to go in,” Higgins said. So she sent Mills several interior photos and that was enough. “Lesley said, ‘I’m going to buy this house.’ Then we had a buyer and were able to take control.”

The Farrells purchased the home in January 2013 for $150,000, property records show. They had hopes to restore it but found the undertaking too difficult, so in June they applied successfully to the Milford Historic District Commission No. 1 for permission to demolish, the Milford Mirror reported.

The commission sided with the Farrells "based on engineering reports that the structure was unsafe," the newspaper reported.

Effort to save home goes to court

On Oct. 11, two days before a local delay of demolition period would expire, the Milford Preservation Trust took legal action, filing a suit under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act with the Connecticut Trust as a co-plaintiff.

The act “allows citizens to challenge unreasonable destruction of historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” a release from the Connecticut Trust had stated.

The move temporarily halted the prospect of demolition before a hearing could be held. And now, with Mills on the deed, the case is closed, said Schmidt of the Connecticut Trust.

“As we’ve always said, it’s as much about the house as it is about the (historic) district,” said Tim Chaucer of the Milford Preservation Trust.

'Saving the whole concept of historic districts'

“Once you can demolish one house in the district, who’s to say you can’t demolish other houses in the district?” Chaucer said. “We see this as saving the whole concept of historic districts.”

Preservationists say one of the unique qualities of the Sanford-Bristol House is its five dormers on the front of the house.

Mills plans to restore the house "to the way it looked for most of its long life, as a side-by-side duplex with two apartments, one with three bedrooms, the other with one," according to the Connecticut Post.

Before the Farrells, Richard Wincapaw owned the house, which he bought for $445,000 in June 2005, property records show.

Jeff Williams January 22, 2014 at 01:01 AM
Why would anyone consider demolishing an eighteenth century house? Glad this group purchased the home and plans to restore it.
jashal January 22, 2014 at 08:33 AM
Financial gain. blatant disregard for historical edifices. Ask the Farrells themselves.
G. Gerard January 22, 2014 at 09:46 AM
I have no problem with a homeowner wanting to legally do whatever he wants with his property. The fact that an equitable settlement was reached is a good thing. But the Farrell's had every right, legal and moral, to tear down that eyesore and build whatever the zoning allowed. It is a fine and noble thing to want to preserve an historic structure but this place was condemned and no one cared enough about it until the Farrells bought the place. Busybodies should leave lawful homeowners alone to do with their property whatever is lawful.
Michele Chesson Kramer January 22, 2014 at 10:14 AM
With all due respect to the author of the statement above, the house was supposed to be protected in two ways: it lies front and center in Milford's First Historic District and also within the River Park Historic District, and thus protected by federal law. The "condemnation" of the house, its "deteriorated state" was greatly exaggerated. The Farrells wanted the property, pure and simple. How does a house go from selling for $445,00 in 2005 to "unsalvageable" in 2013? The "busybodies" you refer to were seeking for the designation of "Historic District" to have some actual meaning. Many of us worked long hours to secure a place for this home in Milford's storied Colonial heritage. Michele Chesson Kramer
John D. Poole January 22, 2014 at 11:24 AM
The "busy bodies" G. Gerard refers to have both an ethical and legally-sanctioned obligation to protect listed historic resources. City Historian Richard N. Platt, Jr. is an appointed official who's job it is precisely to ensure that Milford's historic resources are protected. The Milford Preservation Trust, similarly, is an organization that's registered and chartered with the same mission. Entities such as these exist to provide a system of checks and balances for when the first line of defense (in this case, Milford's Historic District #1 Commission) fails. And failed, HDC#1 did. Spectacularly. In all too easily condemning a legally-protected and culturally-significant listed historic resource. Contrary to G. Gerard's opinion, purchasers of a listed historic home, situated in a designated historic district, actually DO NOT have every right to do what they want with their home; they voluntarily give up certain rights upfront, as a condition of purchasing their home, while also agreeing to preserve and maintain that home. What we've all seen unfolding here over the course of the past year is a legal process that's specifically supported by Connecticut statutes (CEPA) that's intended to protect listed historic resources precisely from threats resulting from system failure, and hardly a matter of a bunch of "busy bodies" obtruding their own agenda on someone else's presumed rights. ~ John Poole
G. Gerard January 22, 2014 at 12:16 PM
I ask that Ms Kramer & Mr Poole to reread my post. I said I believe that a homeowner should be able to do with their property whatever is legal and lawful. I do not advocate illegal actions. It was within the homeowners rights to tear the place down until the authorities changed that decision. I love history and historic places but in the end, it's just property and property owners have rights.
Michele Chesson Kramer January 22, 2014 at 12:31 PM
Milford Preservation Trust, and soon after the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, challenged the decision of the Historic District Commission, finding it severely flawed. The engineering report was cursory and in the end they failed to uphold their mission: to protect the architectural and historic integrity and continuity of the neighborhood. That was their purview; they failed to carry it out. The final decision was arrived at in a court, which is always a last resort. Commissioners need to be more committed to their task, or let those willing to serve do so.
John D. Poole January 22, 2014 at 04:46 PM
Dear G. Girard: No homeowner has an automatic legal right to demolish their home, just because they want to. They can apply for a demolition permit, and if their local building department (or other governing body) approves it, then yes, at that point, and only at that point, do they have a legal right to demolish their home. But if not approved, then no; they have no guaranteed legal right to carry out a demolition. Now, in this particular situation, because the Sanford Bristol House is a listed historic resource (both nationally and at the state level), it's eligible for protection under Connecticut's CEPA statute. This means any Connecticut citizen or Connecticut-based organization *also* has a legal right to challenge a demolition attempt by the homeowner. The homeowner's "legal right" to demolish their home carries neither more, nor less, weight, than that of the challenger's "legal right" to challenge it, until a judge or jury or mutual settlement finally decides in favor of one party over the other. Like it or not, this is what the CEPA statute provides. Now.... if what you're suggesting is that there's some greater degree of "sanctity" to the homeowner's "legal right" to demolish that somehow transcends the "legal right" of the challenger to challenge, then fine; that's your opinion, and you're certainly entitled to it. On the other hand, one could also argue that the concept of "public trust" is also way up there on the "sanctity scale", and given that the very few remaining, registered historic buildings are being protected for the benefit of the public trust, we're sort of back where we started from, aren't we? My own opinion is that neither of these two virtues (private rights versus public trust) automatically trumps the other; it always needs to be reasoned fairly on a case-by-case basis, and that's what the law, in fact, supports. But.... with all that said, I must say that what I really found quite objectionable about your previous comment was your characterization of the Milford Preservation Trust as a bunch of "busy bodies" who interfered with a homeowner's lawful rights. I've re-read your comment several times, and yes, that's what you said. It's your opinion, sure, and I respect your right to an opinion. But it's also a gross oversimplification of this situation, an unfair characterization of the MPT and their mission, and, given the rights afforded to both parties in this dispute under Connecticut law, technically inaccurate. ~ John Poole
arkay January 22, 2014 at 08:43 PM
This is great.
G. Gerard January 23, 2014 at 09:56 AM
Mr. Poole: It may surprise you but I actually agree with your assessment. I believe that in some cases the public trust must hold at least as high a priority as personal property rights. I am all for the common good as long as personal rights are also considered. Again, I support what is lawful and legal and would not advocate that a homeowner break the law or do something that subverts the law. I also thank you for recognizing that I have a right to my opinion and permitting me to express it and recognizing that it carries a certain amount of validity. I appreciate your opinion as well. Now... with all that said, I understand your objection to my term "busybodies". First, I wasn't singling out the Milford Preservation Trust for all of the work that they do in general but only being critical of certain actions- this one in particular. Also, my sentiments are not restricted to the MPT but include anyone else who may think that the rights of the property owner do not hold weight, in some cases even more than the so-called "public trust". I do concede my choice of words were imprudent and I apologize for offending you or anyone else. Thinking about it now, my choice of words would not be busybodies... I think a more accurate term would be people of narrow special interest.
RONALD M GOLDWYN January 23, 2014 at 10:41 AM
Bravo to all parties. The Prevention folk, the land owners, and the residents of Milford can all feel happy that a new owner has been found to be part of our history. Please don't find fault with success. Ron Goldwyn, Sr Citizen and Historian.
Lily Flannigan January 23, 2014 at 11:12 AM
Hurrah for "people of narrow special interest." Seniors, Parents, Educators, Military. Would anything ever get done without people passionate about their cause? Citizens, let's celebrate what's still left of Milford 375 years after "people of narrow special interest" gathered. Lily Flannigan
John D. Poole January 23, 2014 at 12:45 PM
Dear G. Girard: Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my reply. There's no need to apologize; I'm not personally offended by what you said. However, let me throw this one last idea out there, regarding your vision of the property owner's rights, versus those you refer to as "people of narrow special interest": Most historic homes are not demolished by long-term owner-residents. It's almost always the case that a historic home becomes threatened right after it changes hands, and more often than not, it's because the new owner is a short-term speculator/developer who has purchased the home specifically to immediately tear it down and replace it with something new that will yield a good near-term profit. We could perhaps argue for a long time whether or not the Farrells fall into this category. I strongly believe they do. But let's not consider that point just now. Instead: 1) Do you agree with me that there's a substantial, qualitative difference between the long-term owner-resident style of homeowner, and a new purchaser who specifically buys a historic home just to tear it down and construct and flip something new at the same location? 2) Wouldn't you regard the short-term buyer/speculator/flipper to be a person of narrow special interest, as well? My point here being that the people of narrow special interest whom you're taking issue with (preservationists) are almost invariably battling another group of persons of narrow special interest, i.e., the short-term investors/developers, who don't particularly care about the cultural value or historical significance of an old home, just their near-term profit. Doesn't that scenario seem to constitute a much fairer fight to you? It certainly does to me... ~ John Poole
G. Gerard January 23, 2014 at 01:34 PM
I understand your point, however, I wouldn't describe an individual who works to preserve what he sees as his own constitutional rights of property ownership as one who is seeking a narrow special interest. Usually the special interest groups are what a person protecting his rights is fighting against because the special interest is just that- a group seeking special or privileged treatment. Please don't take this the wrong way. I am not saying that all special interests are wrong- many are valid and noble because they fight against the status quo or speak truth to power, etc. I'm saying that an individual or group who defend what he or they see as their right is not seeking special or privileged treatment- only what is his protected legal claim. I understand that special interests believe that they are on the correct side of the issue. And your previous point about each case being taken on their own merit certainly holds true. For me, I'd rather err on the side of the individual property owners- not because they are always right but because they usually have little to no voice in the matter.
Patricia Meaney January 23, 2014 at 07:32 PM
So happy that is will be saved - Many THanks to the MIlford Historical Society for their efforts to protect this historic home! It is a beautiful historic home - and deserves love and care rather than demolition!
Kara F January 23, 2014 at 08:10 PM
Patricia I am happy too! But it was the Milford Preservation Trust that saved the house -- not Milford Historical Society (although MHS is another great Milford organization). I was so grateful to MPT that I became a lifetime member. The legal action they took on was very costly and they need our support now more than ever. You can support them at www.milfordpreservationtrust.org

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