Milford man will donate Sanford-Bristol paneling and mantels to help save historic house

Alfred Benjamin has a lot of Milford memorabilia and antiques in his Astriab Lane home. Perhaps the most interesting, especially considering the ongoing efforts to save the historic Sanford-Bristol house, is the collection of wood panels, mantels, a stove cover, and other interior elements from the house.

Maybe even more interesting than the fact that the Milford man has all this stuff is that he is willing to donate it to whoever buys the house and promises to restore it.

Benjamin bought the panels and everything else at a tag sale.

“My daughter called me one day,” he said. “She likes to go to tag sales and she likes antiques.”

She was at a tag sale at the Sanford-Bristol house and had bought a millstone, which was too heavy and large to fit in her car. So she asked her father to come get it.

When Benjamin got there, the owner had fireplace mantels outside, and Benjamin couldn’t resist. When he expressed interest in the mantels, the owner said he had more material inside, and led him to a back room where original pine paneling hung on the wall.

The homeowner told him that he was selling the house and the buyer was going to trash the inside and re-do it, Benjamin said.

He agreed to buy the mantels and paneling, plus a Dutch oven cover and fireplace crane, for a few hundred dollars.

“It was a steal,” Benjamin said. “It hurt taking it down, but it was better than seeing it go in a Dumpster.”

The owner even offered to sell him the front doors to the house, but Benjamin knew that since the house was in a historic district, that likely wasn’t legal. Historic district regulations limit what can be done to the outside of a house, but not the inside.

So Benjamin took his purchases home, planning to perhaps use them in his own home.

“I like history, and the paneling is the heart of the house,” Benjamin said.

The material he’d purchased dates to the 1700s, and he estimated it is worth a few thousand dollars.

When stories about the Sanford-Bristol house started hitting the papers, Benjamin read them with interest.

The story started more than a year ago when then owner of the house Richard Wincapaw filed for bankruptcy. He had bought the house for $445,000 in 2005, when it was in good shape, according to the family that owned it at the time. Wincapaw filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

At that point, with the house in foreclosure and up for sale, people who toured it said it was in horrible condition inside: Walls were torn out, floors were missing and there was a jack holding up the ceiling in a main-floor room.

William and Gwendolyn Farrell bought the 1790 house for $150,000 in January, with the intention of restoring it to its original condition. However, William Farrell said, the house turned out to need much more work than he’d imagined. The couple then decided to demolish it and build a more modern house on the property in the same style as the existing house, using some of the existing material.

In June the Milford Historic District Commission approved an application to demolish the house based on engineering reports that the structure was unsafe.

Historic and preservation groups in and around Milford were not happy with the decision and secured a lawyer to try to halt the plans.

On Nov. 6, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milford Preservation Trust reached a settlement with the Farrells to prevent the house’s demolition.

The agreement ultimately gave the two organizations 67 days — until January 12 — to finalize a sale of the house. If no one buys the home, the Farrells may demolish it. The asking price for the house is $200,000, cash only.

Steve Belitz, who owns a restoration company in Glastonbury, has a passion for historic buildings and has done many restorations. He said the house can be saved, and said it will likely cost $70,000 to $80,000 to make it structurally sound.

He couldn’t speculate as to how much it would cost for interior repairs because restoration is up to the individual doing it. However, he agreed that $200,000 might be a reasonable estimate.

Platt said there have been “some nibbles” on the house, but any official transactions will go through the lawyer representing the trusts, Philip Walker.

Platt was thrilled when he got the call from Benjamin about the interior paneling.

“I was quite pleased,” Platt said.

He’s happy that someone like Benjamin bought the material. Not only is Benjamin willing to donate it back to the house but he is carpenter, and is willing to reinstall it, using the original hand-hewn nails that had held it in place.

Benjamin said he is distantly related to the Sanford family for whom the house is named, and he really wants to see the house restored.

He said he won’t be disappointed to lose the investment he made in the paneling, nor the items themselves, so long as they return to the historic North Street house.

“That’s the right place for it to go,” he said.