State group honors Milford preservationists for saving historic Sanford-Bristol house

The Milford Preservation Trust is being honored by the state for its leadership in saving the Sanford-Bristol House in downtown Milford.

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation recently announced its annual Connecticut Preservation Awards, recognizing outstanding preservation projects and people who have made significant contributions to the preservation of Connecticut's historic buildings and places.

The Milford Preservation Trust is among the list of honorees, and will join others in receiving their awards Wednesday, April 9, in the Hall of Flags at the State Capitol, in Hartford.

The state group, in recognizing Milford preservationists, wrote that, “This late 18th-century house, a visible and well preserved example of a distinctive Milford house type, is located within a National Register and local historic district. The house had been vacant for several years and was threatened with demolition, which even gained approval from the city's historic district commission.”

Despite all that, the Milford preservationists set out to save the house, and they won.

“The group launched a public education campaign explaining the house's significance and the value of preserving it,” Connecticut Trust representatives said. “Even though the small organization had basically no money, it sued under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act to block the demolition.”

Eventually the Connecticut Trust joined the suit, which resulted in a settlement and an agreement to sell the house to a buyer who would preserve and restore it.

“But without the Milford Preservation Trust's willingness to take a chance, not knowing whether anyone else would join them, the house would not have been saved,” state trust officials said.

The house

The lengthy story about the house came to a happy ending in January, when resident Lesley Mills bought it. She hadn't even been inside the Sanford-Bristol house when she decided to buy the historic home and restore it.

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation had just taken ownership of the house in a move to save it from demolition, but the trust didn't plan to keep it. A buyer was needed, and trust Executive Director Helen Higgins said she sent Mills pictures of the interior of the house, and Mills said she would buy it.

Mills paid $200,000 for the house, and expects to put in at least another $200,000 on structural repairs and restoration.

The house had been the center of a controversy for several months in Milford. In October, the Milford Trust for Historic Preservation, joined by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation as co-plaintiff, sued under the Connecticut Environmental Protect Act to prevent the demolition of the 1790 house.

In November, the two trusts reached a settlement with property owners William P. Farrell Sr. and Gwendolyn Farrell, allowing the property to be sold to another party.

The Farrells had purchased the house and property on North Street overlooking the duck pond for $150,000. The house was in a state of disrepair, and they planned to restore it. 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.

Mills, who owns Connecticut-based Griswold Home Care, came in at the last minute to save the house, with her purchase offer. She compared the mission to restore the house to her mission as a business owner. Her business provides care for elderly people. And she said caring for old homes is similar to caring for the elderly.

She's restored old homes before, including her Beach Avenue house that she said had water running through it when she purchased it.

She said she may restore the Sanford-Bristol house to a two-family, which it was at one time. She said federal historic preservation laws will allow her to write off some of the expenses for the house because it will be a rental property.