Group effort saved historic house

A group of people came together in the past few months to accomplish something that seemed nearly impossible: They saved a historic house from demolition.

The odds were stacked against residents who started the battle: the city’s historian, Richard Platt, and members of the Milford Preservation Trust.

Experts had testified that the historic Sanford-Bristol house was beyond repair, and it certainly looked like it was. A city historic district commission voted to allow the owners to knock it down and build a new one in its place. It looked as if the house was a goner, legally and every which way. But local preservationists did not give up.

They rallied, and their numbers grew. Platt, working with people like Barbara Genovese and Tim Chaucer from the Milford Preservation Trust, and others, teamed up with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, and before long a lawsuit was filed to halt the demolition.

Even then it seemed unlikely the house would be saved. An agreement between the homeowners and the trusts fighting to save the house gave the preservationists only about two months to find a buyer and finalize a deal. With only hints that there might be someone interested in buying the property, and with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation saying it didn’t really intend taking ownership of the house, it still didn’t look as if the save could be made. It was difficult to envision a land sale going through so quickly.

But it happened.

The new owner, Lesley Mills, said Chaucer called her and put her in touch with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, and they all worked to make a deal happen. The trust bought the house by the deadline, and within a month sold it to Mills.

All along the way there were people behind the scenes keeping the effort alive. Resident Michelle Kramer was one, stopping a backhoe operator from starting to demolish the property by waving a copy of a demolition delay ordinance in front of him.

Other people, like Al Benjamin, had bought paneling and other material that was salvaged from the house, and after reading about the efforts to save the home, offered to donate it all back if someone were to buy it and restore it.

Builder Steve Belitz offered his input, stating that the house could be saved and even attending a court hearing to make his views known.

This was one heck of an effort to save a house, and it was successful.

The effort was successful, surprisingly, because of a core group of people did not give up but rather spread their message to others who joined their cause.

Hats off to all of them. They did an amazing job.

In years to come, when members of the next generation and the one after that are driving by the North Street duck pond and glance at the historic Sanford-Bristol house, they won’t know it, but there will be the energy of a large group of people standing behind it, all having contributed to its continued existence.