About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

COULD THIS HOUSE HAVE BEEN SAVED?

COMMITTED TO PRESERVATION
In my hometown in the hills of central Massachusetts there was a special old house.  It had a low hipped roof and a beautiful front door.  I think my first impression of the old house was an awareness of the horrible and unkempt condition.  As a farm it was at the end of it life but the sturdy house, though shabby would survive long after the barn and cows were gone.

In better days it had been known as Elm Farm but I’m not sure anyone remembered the time when it was dignified by such a pleasing name.  Long ago it was also known as the Fisher Farm.

The following was written in the 1940s.  "The house is a large square building with the customary hip roof.  It was built in 1791 by Thomas Fisher.  In front of the house is a long row of elm trees on either side of the highway, said to have been planted at the time the house was built, and the farm has always been known as Elm Farm. It is still owned and operated by descendants of the Fisher family."
This is an old polaroid photo probably from the 1970s.
Thomas Fisher (1755-1822) and his wife Hannah had about nine children.  The next owner of the farm was their son, Charles Fisher (1797-1885)  followed by his son, Lewis Sabin Fisher. (1847-1913)  Lewis Sabin Fisher was named after a local minister, Rev. Lewis Sabin.

The biographical history of Worcester County says this about the Fishers.
"Thomas Fisher was a farmer living midway between Baldwinville and Otter River. (Town of Templeton)  He was frequently chosen to serve the public in matters where good judgement and integrity were required and was a prominent citizen in early part of the century. (19th)  His son, Charles Fisher, lived upon the same farm and likely possessed the public confidence."

There is interesting history involving Lewis Sabin Fisher.

Charles and his son Lewis apparently were interested in baseball.  Charles had obtained from Abner Doubleday (an early figure in baseball) plans for a baseball field and Lewis had a bat.  This bat now can be seen at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.  It is the oldest known baseball bat in their collection!

Originally the house was set back more from the road but the road was relocated leaving a corner of the house tantalizing close to the road just tempting a vehicle to collide with the corner and the inevitable happened. It was hit by a pickup truck that clipped the house.  By this time the last descendants of the original family had moved on and others lived there as the house deteriorated badly.  The corner of the house now had  conspicuous damage.
Demolition of the Thomas Fisher house, 1984

I had long since recognized the beauty of this house as an antique and often had expressed my concern for it when visiting relatives or friends in my old home town.  I would always reiterate my interest in the old place.   People are apt to think you are weird or just silly when you see beauty in an old wreck of a house.  But beauty doesn't have to mean perfect condition just as good condition doesn't mean a house is beautiful.
 
Damage to the corner visible where truck hit the house
One day thirty years ago I paid a visit to my hometown about a week before the 4th of July.  A relative who just happened to be the fire chief snickered as he said to me, “Prudy, you’d better hurry up if you’re going to save the old house. It is going to be bulldozed this week.”  Oh, no!  He went on to say that the town fathers wanted it gone and gone fast.  There was a transformer just outside the house.  If kids set fire to the house on the 4th of July and that transformer was involved it would plunge a large area into darkness.  The house had to go.  Time had run out.

There is a beautiful door and fan light behind the
particle board.
He went on to explain that the only reason that it was still standing, of all things, was that the town could not find a landfill that was willing to take the debris!  What an awful dilemma for what had been a great house.  How could it come to such an undignified end?
My son, Bob, surveys the demolition and the side door with transom

I knew what I had to do.  I asked if I could use the phone.  It was before the days of cell phones.  I was handed a phone.  A quick call was made to someone I knew who took down old houses and sold them ready for reassembling at a new location.

This man immediately answered the phone.  He was interested!  He would call in another crew from Connecticut for help so that they could get the job done faster.  They would be there in the morning!

I also called the chair of the Historical Commission and the Selectmen hoping they could negotiate an extension.  The chair of the historical commission (the father of my friend growing up) was sympathetic but felt powerless to do much.  The town fathers were adamant and through with extensions.  Another call to the selectmen, none of whom  knew me because I had left my hometown more than twenty five years earlier.  I had no influence with them.  They were not interested.  To complicate matters it is my belief that the man in charge of demolition was under contract to have it removed before the 4th of  July.

Good news!  Another phone call the following morning confirmed that the crews had arrived and were dismantling the house as fast as they could.   It was Monday morning. They worked frantically all week with the heavy equipment poised to demolish the house.

Sadly, there wasn’t time for the crew to work slowly or methodically so that the house could be photographed or numbered for re-erecting at a new location.  After a few frantic days there was only a little bit more work to do but the bulldozer was revving up. 

The salvage crew had to leave behind  a few beams before abandoning the task to flee the advancing demolition crew.

All that is left of the parlor and the panels above.  The projecting fireplace with paneling
indicates that the house was transitional and not quite a full blown Federal.
Most of the house had been secured and loaded onto the trucks headed for the salvage yard where the pieces of the old house were made available for many restorers who incorporated the recycled  pieces of Elm Farm into their own restoration.

I was sad that there wasn’t time enough to make the  house available in its entirety as a restoration for a new owner but at least only the dregs went to the landfill.  It was a close call and the outcome not perfect but better than what might have happened had the “chief” not tried to poke fun at my serious commitment to save an old house! 

My commitment to saving houses has not abated and I’m grateful that I happened into town where hardly any one even knew me anymore and was able to play a role in that sad situation even if only partially successful.

While looking for other pictures I found these pictures taken the week it was torn down.  I had almost forgotten this event of thirty years ago.  It is only one of so many similarly sad stories.  Please don't let this happen in your home town!

Thanks for visiting.

Pru


4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post Pru-- I learned the story of another house which bears some resemblance to this one, was in the same condition at its original location in Middleborough, was saved and now stands elegantly on Candlewood Road in Ipswich. You can view the house and read its story at http://ipswich.wordpress.com/martin-keith-house-36-candlewood-road/ .

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  2. Gordon, Thanks for reminding me about the house on Candlewood Road. I knew it was relocated but no details. Interesting connection to the Ruggles House. In an earlier post I claimed that Ruggles house was my favorite house. Very interesting story about the house in Middleborough
    You might like to Google the Federal house at 515 North Rd, Parsonsfield, ME., the Blazo-Leavitt house. Beautiful!

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  3. Now you need to do the story of Post Road & all the pictures.

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