Architectural historian laments house demolition

To the Editor:

The plight of the historic Sanford-Bristol House (c. 1790) in Milford is a story I've seen unfold all too often: Someone purchases an historic home in poor condition, at a low price, while ostensibly claiming they want to preserve/restore it.

A few months later, they submit an application for demolition of the home, while offering a PE’s assessment that the place “just can't be saved” as justification, along with a new site plan they claim will somehow preserve the original spirit of the old homestead, in a new, modern structure. Please.

If Mr. William Farrell's intention was indeed to restore the Sanford-Bristol home to its original state, as he claims, then he needs to man up and get to it. I currently own two eighteenth century Connecticut homes which I'm repairing, restoring, and weatherizing.

We're dealing with compromised original fabric, structural issues, water and termite damage, leaky fenestration, inadequate heating, mold, foundations and chimneys in need of repointing/recasting, etc., and yes: Tere's no doubt this process is well beyond daunting.

But that's what historic preservation and restoration are all about. It's not for the faint of heart. And if Mr. Farrell isn't up for this himself, he should at least do the right thing and seek out a new owner who is, rather than destroy this unique home.

In this regard, I fully agree with Milford City Historian Richard Platt, who basically replied "That's his problem" to Mr. Farrell's “My enthusiasm grossly overtook the reality of what I was facing.”

I also don't buy Mr. Aschettino's claim that every original component of the home will need to be replaced, leaving nothing historic behind. I've heard others make that claim before. And while Mr. Aschettino's website and LinkedIn profile reveal an impressive background, I see little indicating regular, ongoing work in repairing and restoring historic timber frames, which is a highly specialized trade unto itself.

A small number of architects, PEs, and restoration specialists in Connecticut and southern New England earn their living doing nothing other than this. And it's truly unfortunate Mr. Farrell didn't seek the opinion of one of those professionals before purchasing the house in the first place. But the fact that he didn't doesn't justify destroying the home.

The loss of the Sanford-Bristol House would be particularly tragic. One unique feature of the southwestern Connecticut coastline is the presence of a small number of extant historic homes that combine both English and Dutch architecture. They're the result of colonial Dutch carpenters and housewrights who had regularly journeyed up from New York along the seacoast, performing work in Connecticut, and exchanging ideas with their English counterparts.

The Sanford-Bristol House is particularly unique in that it's a fusion of a colonial New England home (the traditional saltbox) with strong Dutch nuances. There's nothing else quite like it in this area, nor elsewhere in Connecticut, that I'm aware of.

It's totally unique, and irreplaceable.

John Poole, Architectural Historian