Demolition Alert 9: Wheaton-Alexander House in Winchester, New Hampshire

Wheaton-Alexander House at 71 Main Street in Winchester New Hampshire

Update (December 26, 2011): Local residents file lawsuit to block town’s approval of the Dollar General and demolition of Wheaton-Alexander House.

A prominent home known as the Wheaton-Alexander House (pdf), built in 1810, at 71 Main Street in Winchester, New Hampshire faces the wrecking ball to make way for a Dollar General. Yes, that’s right . . . a Dollar General. This feels like deju vu since we recently wrote about two homes in Lancaster, New Hampshire facing the same fate to make way for a Family Dollar. Are dollar stores the wave of the future?

At any rate, this proposal has caused quite a stir in town. The town’s Historic District Commission first voted to deny the demolition but has been recently over-ruled by the town’s Zoning Board. According to a story from the Keene Sentinel:

A Winchester board now says a Main Street house in the town’s historic district can be demolished to make way for a new store.

The zoning board voted unanimously Thursday night to allow the 200-year-old house to be torn down, with a condition: the town’s historic district commission must first approve plans for the new building, and any other necessary approvals must be secured.

The board had been asked to reconsider a decision by the town’s historic district commission, which in July denied an application by a developer hoping to replace the house with a Dollar General store.

However, this process has apparently stirred the angst of many members of the community as witnessed by this letter-to-the-editor in the Keene Sentinel:

In Winchester, there’s an old house in the historic district that’s owned by a woman who works for the town and is on a number of boards, who wants to tear this house down and put up a Dollar General.

The property is on Main Street and sits between the community center and the VFW. The house is one of the first buildings in Winchester (from the 1700s) and she wants to put in its place a monstrosity of a building that looks like any other strip mall store in the country.

When she bought the property, she knew it was in the historic district, but now she wants the historic district board to ignore the fact that her building would disrupt the historical cohesion among the district’s buildings.

There is also a brand new Family Dollar store in town that was built outside of the district in an existing shopping center.

She sent her lawyer to a historic district meeting who asked that a certain historic district board member not be allowed to deliberate on her application because of possible “animosity” that could spill over from the planning board, where both women serve and where the woman who has the building has started the process to have the other removed from the planning board.

To follow-up on that last paragraph, one has to wonder about a conflict of interest between the owner of the property and the planning board. From the first story:

Margaret A. Sharra, one of the owners of the house and its 4-acre lot, said she is “satisfied that the zoning board did a thorough and professional job” looking at the case.

Sharra, who sits on the town planning board and serves as an administrative assistant to the planning and zoning boards, owns the house with her two brothers, James S. Shannon of Winchester and Michael P. Shannon of Connecticut.

Things that make you go, hhhmmmmm . . .

Potential political shenanigans aside, this looks like a bad move for Winchester. While the house is not itself on the historic register, it is in an historic district. As such, a large retail outlet would have a severe negative impact on the overall neighborhood with an inappropriate building (both size and architecture), a parking lot and resulting traffic. For what . . . approximately 8 to 10 retail jobs.

We aren’t against jobs, but preserving an intact historic district can be a job machine as well via tourism. Historic homes don’t just grow on trees . . . you’ve got what you’ve got and Winchester is not exactly a big town (population 4,431 as of 2010). Take a look for yourself in the Google Map below.

Ultimately, this is about who will bear the costs of this property’s neglect. Will it be the current owners who can’t afford to fix it up . . . or will it be the neighbors who will see a reduction in their home’s value having to live next to “strip mall USA?” Keep in mind, the house is sound and has not been condemned. The current owners could move in or continue to rent it as a multi-unit apartment house.

As such, we say the owners had full knowledge of the home’s history and location in an historic district (they did want to open a B&B after all). Fix up the home or find someone who will.

What are you thoughts?

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Please add your thoughtful comment . . .
Cathy Young says:

Just this morning (April 28, 2012) I discovered that my 3rd great grandparents lived in this beautiful home. They were Willard Stickney Chaffin (a physician) and Sophia Doolittle. He died in about 1831 and Sophia eventually remarried. Her second husband was Lucius Alexander. They were living in Cohoes, New York in 1850. Mary Augusta Chaffin (Sophia and Willard’s daughter) married William Henry Smead. They were my 2nd great grandparents.

It is devastating news that this house full of history is in danger of being demolished. I live in Illinois. The architectural history here can’t hold a candle to the history you have in New Hampshire. Please don’t demolish history!

Cathy Young
Mahomet, IL 61853

[email protected]

Cathy, thank you for providing another piece of history on the Wheaton-Alexander House.  In case you missed it, check out the link to the historical information as your 3rd great grandparents are mentioned on page 4 as having owned the home from 1825 to the “early to mid-1830s.”

Cathy Young says:

Yes, that site is where I discovered the Wheaton-Alexander House! Now I need to look up the deeds around that time. It is my understanding that Willard Stickney Chaffin died about 1831, but I do not have absolute proof of that. Also, that article said that his wife’s name was Thankful. The way I found his wife’s name to be Sophia Doolittle was from Mary Chaffin Smead’s death registry. Her parents were listed as Willard Stickney Chaffin and Sophia Doolittle.

Cathy, sounds like you are really doing your homework 🙂 

I think the you are right about his wife’s name not being Thankful.  The name Thankful appears twice in that paragraph and it looks like the typist just put it in the wrong place.  The death registry is likely the more trustful source of that information.  

Happy hunting!

Gloria, thank you for your wonderful comment. 

One of our goals here at NNEV is to help folks reconnect with places from their past and to share stories that will serve to further document a building’s history.

We’re sorry that in your case it had to be via a “demolition alert.”  We hope, as you do, that someone out there will see this and save the home.

Gloria Tacy Hooper says:

My Grandparents, Paul Joseph Tacy, 1870-1949 and Delia Eleanor Laffond Tacy, 1875-1949 lived in this home from approximately 1916-1945.  They had 13 children and  in my records I have that the last 3 children were born at this home.  I can remember as a child visiting this large home and running around on the lawn and having get togethers on Sundays. It was very beautiful at that time with lace curtains and beautiful woodwork and floors.
It seems a shame that this cannot be brought back to life by someone that appreciates historical homes.
Gloria Tacy Hooper, Fort Myers, Florida

Gloria, thank you for your wonderful comment. 

One of our goals here at NNEV is to help folks reconnect with places from their past and to share stories that will serve to further document a building’s history.

We’re sorry that in your case it had to be via a “demolition alert.” We hope, as you do, that someone out there will see this and save the home.