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.