Should Augusta restore or tear down historic millworker house?


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Posted April 28, 2012, at 7:01 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The city plans to enlist neighbors, downtown advocates and historic preservationists as officials try to figure out what to do with the historic but dilapidated and cheaply built former millworker house at 25 Bond St.

The city-owned house, vacant since 1999, in considered by many to be a significant and unique example of millworker housing.

However, the owner of a neighboring building has told city officials it is a hazardous eyesore making it hard to attract tenants to his building next door, and should be torn down, according to city councilors.

“It’s clear he wants us to tear it down right now,” Councilor Cecil Munson said of Brian Marston, who owns a four-unit apartment building next door.

City Manager William Bridgeo said Marston contacted him because the building and its poor condition is a deterrent to potential renters, attractive to vandals, and a fire hazard.

He also noted many people have a passion for preserving the building.

“Everybody recognizes it has historical significance and speaks to a day when laborers working at the textile mill lived there on Bond Street,” Bridgeo said. “Every time the matter comes up, there’s a lot of passion about it.”

Bridgeo said the building is not only worn out, it also wasn’t built especially well to begin with. He said the trusses of the building, for example, are undersized. He also said a contractor he asked to provide a bid to paint the building said the clapboards were so rotten they wouldn’t take paint.

A 2003 structural inspection and rehabilitation feasibility study by the city found rehabilitating the building would cost about $250,000, including the $40,000 cost of “mothballing” the structure, or stabilizing and securing it, until it could be fully renovated. At the time, the report described the building as in fair to poor condition for a building of its age and construction type.

The same report noted that Maine Preservation in 2001 declared the neighborhood the house is in to be one of Maine’s most endangered historic properties, and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission has determined the Bond Street neighborhood is eligible to be a National Historic District.

The report also said, “While it shows symptoms of advanced age, recent neglect, water infiltration, and structural settlement, it is an important contributing property that helps define a northern gateway to the city of Augusta.”

Councilors directed Bridgeo to contact the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and ask that agency to check out the building, and also asked Bridgeo to contact neighbors, the Augusta Downtown Alliance, and other stakeholders, and report back within 60 days.

Research done in 2004 when a city committee studied what to do with the mustard-yellow building, which now has painted-on fake windows, could not pinpoint when it was built but determined that it probably was built sometime between 1875 and 1878. It was built on the property of Sprague Manufacturing Co.

The house is believed to have been built for millworkers, many of whom came to Maine from Quebec to work at the cotton mill that would later be owned by Edwards Manufacturing Co. Other homes and apartment buildings also were constructed on the street and on Sand Hill to house the thousands of workers employed at the mill.

The city bought the house in 2000, for $14,500, from St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, which had been willed the house at the death of its previous owner, John Dienaltoski.

The 2004 study committee concluded the time was not right to conduct a major restoration of the building, but recommended the city keep possession of it.

A 2007 report by a committee charged with studying the future and potential for revitalization of Bond Street, a very short street running between Water Street and Mount Vernon Avenue, recommended the city sell 25 Bond St. but require, through a preservation easement, that the new owner restore and maintain the building “to its historic 19th Century character.”

© 2012 the Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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