Demolition Alert 12: Mica Factory in Bristol, New Hampshire

Picture of Mica Factory in Bristol New Hampshire

Mica Factory in Bristol New Hampshire

The Citizen recently announced that Mica Factory in Bristol, New Hampshire will be demolished to make way for a park and parking along the Newfound River. While we are ever the optimist that any building can be saved, we have to admit that the clock may have run out for the Mica Factory. Yet, if there is anyone out there with deep pockets, there is still time to save it!

From the article:

If all goes well, come spring, the citizens of Bristol will see a new riverside park where the former Mica factory once stood in downtown Bristol.

Money and a Remedial Action Plan are now available and the Bristol Board of Selectmen is ready to put the job out to bid to tear down the four-story wooden structure which is in danger of collapsing, said Bristol Town Administrator Michael Capone in a telephone interview on Thursday . . .

Another issue discussed at the meeting was whether the building was historic in nature. According to the Historical Preservation Act, Section 106, if a building is greater than 50-years-old, then a historical review must be completed, and it was. The review determined that the structure, though built in 1894, has no historical significance due to structural changes and many structural deficiencies. The suggestion was to go ahead and demolish the structure.

As we researched the history of the Mica factory, it became readily apparent that this has been issue many, many years in the making. The story involves an absentee land-lord that, for whatever reason, was not able to get his act together. Years of neglect now leaves the building in a dangerous condition.  The Concord Monitor reported, back in 2009, on the state of the Mica Factory:

The town of Bristol has granted the owner of a decrepit, four-story building the authority to repair it, more than four months after the vacant factory was declared in danger of collapse and neighboring properties evacuated.

A judge had given the town the power to tear down the empty building, but the owner, John Suldenski, had appealed that ruling. Several selectmen said yesterday that they’d decided to grant Suldenski the permit in part because it would preserve a building seen as crucial to the town’s historic character – and in part because Suldenski will pay for it.

The immediate need is public safety, but the long-term goal, the selectmen say, is a renovated building that brings economic vitality to a downtown in need of just that.

Once Suldenski stabilizes his building, however, it’s up to him how to proceed.

Unfortunately, Suldenski’s actions, or lack thereof, has endangered the buildings next to it. One of those buildings houses the popular Mill Ice Cream Cafe and Fudge Factory whose owners have poured money and soul into restoring the 1767 Grist Mill.

At one point, they were forced to relocate their business to a neighboring building due to a partial roof collapse at the Mica Factory. Again, the Concord Monitor detailed the plight of the Mill Ice Cream and Fudge Factory in an article:

For three years, David Munro, his wife and his son have been scooping homemade ice cream, slicing homemade fudge and bringing local artists and musicians to Bristol’s oldest building, a former grist mill in the town’s central square.

They knew nothing about ice cream, but they fell in love with the building, and Bristol didn’t have an ice cream parlor. So they bought the building, renovated it and taught themselves the trade “absolutely from scratch,” said Munro’s wife, Linda Carmichael.

In February, they were forced to evacuate. Part of the roof caved in on the abandoned factory next door, and engineers deemed that building, which has sat vacant for decades, a hazard to all those around it – particularly its neighbors.

Since then, the Munros have been displaced, their shop’s community disrupted. Though they were able to relocate the Mill Ice Cream Café and Fudge Factory to an empty restaurant next door, that arrangement has its own set of problems: The building doesn’t meet fire code, so the Munros can’t put in tables or seating, and they can’t host their signature open-mic nights.

Nor do they know what will happen when the building housing their new spot goes up for auction later this month.

“It’s been quite a roller coaster,” said Noah Munro, David Munro’s son and one of the Mill’s owners. “Challenge, after challenge, after challenge.”

He and Carmichael say their shop’s future hinges on the fate of the four-story factory. The question is who will fix it – and when.

So, while there seem to be plenty of compelling reasons to demolish the Mica Factory, we can’t help but wonder if it is really the right thing to do. As you can see in the Google Map below, one issue with downtown Bristol is that it is not laid-out as a traditional main street with building lining both sides of the street. As such, it lacks that “urban wall” feel.

Central street, which runs in front of the Mica Factory, is the logical extension of the downtown that has the potential to create an urban wall feel–really only needing some infill where Spring street and Central street meet creating a nice, high visibility triangular lot. The building itself could be quite dramatic being four stories and directly fronting the Newfound River.

Tearing down the Mica Factory and putting in a park/parking would end the possibility of creating a semi-urban wall and alienate the couple buildings further downstream (from a pedestrian perspective). The need for parking and river access seems to be red herring since there is an empty, waterfront lot a few buildings down that could allow for additional parking (unless that has changed since Google drove through).

This may all be academic at this point . . . but what are your thoughts? Should the town (which now owns the building after taking it for back-taxes) try to find a developer or should the town demolish the Mica Factory?

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Please add your thoughtful comment . . .
David Bartlett says:

In 1894 a building was built for my great great grandfather, Nathaniel Bartlett to use as a shoe factory in Bristol.  It was a 4 story wood building 75 x 32 feet.  He was in business there only a short time.  I only know this from researching on the internet.  I have never actually been to Bristol.  I don’t know if the building in this article is that same building but as far as I can tell it fits the description I have read.  If someone knows I would be grateful if they would tell me.   It might be worth taking a trip up to Bristol to photograph it before it is taken down. 

David, that description sure fits the Mica Building . . . I think this may be the only four story building in Bristol (left standing anyway). We will cross-post your question on our Facebook page as we have some folks from Bristol there . . . be sure to “like” us as well 🙂

David, we just learned via Facebook that the Mica building was razed a week ago.  We still hope to find an answer to your question, but there is no point in visiting to get a picture.

David, we have gotten confirmation via our Facebook page that the Mica building was once a shoe factory as well . . . pretty good evidence that it was the one your great, great grandfather had built. If you ever find any documented evidence, we would be glad to add it to this post for posterity.