There are teardowns. And then there are teardowns.
It’s one thing to buy a 1960s split-level on a private road, knock it down, and build a monster McMansion. Your neighbors may (or may not) like it, and the old house probably has little historical or architectural significance.
Then there’s 108 Cross Highway.
As reported by WestportNow.com, a 2-story “vernacular” may soon be demolished.
It’s sad enough that the house is definitely old — dating back to 1805.
It’s sadder that it’s a handsome home, adding pleasure to the streetscape of that much-traveled stretch between North Avenue and Roseville.
But how about this: according to the Westport Historic District Commission, the “Henry Munroe House” is one of the few dwellings in town “documented as being built by a free black.”
Henry Munroe, a farmer, bought the land from John Burr in 1802. His descendants were members of Green’s Farms Church. One was the housekeeper for Peter Sturges, at nearby 93 Cross Highway.
As America celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Westport prepares to obliterate a house that predates that conflict by half a century. And was built by someone who himself was historically significant: a free black Westporter.
Because the home was built more than 50 years ago — waaaay more — the demolition application must come before the Westport Historic District Commission. That sounds good.
However, the commission can prevent a teardown only if it is part of a Local Historic District (there are
4 6: Kings Highway North, Jesup Road, Violet Lane and Gorham Avenue, plus recently added Evergreen Avenue and 20-26 Morningside Drive South ), or a property owner asks for designation as a Local Historic Property (there are over a dozen).
If that is not the case — and, with 108 Cross Highway, it’s not — all the commission can do is impose a 180-day waiting period. That, supposedly, gives time for someone to propose an alternative to demolition.
Right now, Westport does not provide tax breaks or credits in exchange for protective covenants on deeds. (The money saved could theoretically be put toward renovation or restoration of the property — which might even enhance the resale value.)
The demolition application will be heard at a Historic District Commission meeting at Town Hall on Tuesday, December 13 (7 p.m.). A large turnout is expected. Many will argue for the 180-day delay, in hopes that a solution can be found.
For inspiration, just look across the street. For years, 113 Cross Highway was a dump. Despite its history as an 1800s farmhouse and (later) pioneering gas station, it was an eyesore — and in 2006, about to be torn down.
At the last second, Mike and Kim Ronemus stepped in. They bought it, then lovingly renovated it and several outbuildings. Today it’s a jewel of the neighborhood.
They had to jump through countless bureaucratic hoops. But they persevered — and won an award from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.
108 Cross Highway is in far better shape today than 113 was a decade ago. It’s also more historically significant. But — to paraphrase Thomas Paine — eternal vigilance is the price of preservation.
The 1st step takes place December 13, at Town Hall. All creative solutions are welcomed.