On our way to church a few weeks ago, we saw a large plume of smoke rising from near the downtown of our little village. We over-heard rumors from from fellow church-goers that the local fire department was doing a “controlled burn” of house. There are some dilapidated, vacant homes in the area so we didn’t think much about.
However, after church we drove over to check it out. To our shock and dismay, the home being burned was not one of the dilapidated, vacant homes we presumed it would be. Rather, it was a nice, older home that had been a multi-unit. In fact, it was up for sale about a year ago at a non-distress price. Why in the world would someone burn down a perfectly good home?
From what we can surmise, the house is very close to the headquarters of a major local employer. There were clearly some parking issues, perhaps even security issues, so our best guess is the company bought the home and decided giving it to the local fire department for fire training exercises as the cheapest option of disposing of the property.
The pros of this option is at least they didn’t sit on the vacant property letting it slowly be “demolished by neglect.”
However, in our opinion, the cons outweigh the pros:
- While the house was not overly “historic,” it was an historical element of the downtown. So this demolition diminishes the historic fabric of the downtown area.
- The downtown area does not have a lot of stand-alone housing so demolishing this reduces the potential number of owner-occupied housing downtown.
- The house was built into a hill with nice views and, if not housing, would have made a fine commercial establishment–such as a restaurant.
However, this episode highlights the large number of threats to our architectural heritage in Northern New England. Even well-intentioned situations, such as this controlled burn, can lead to the irreversible destruction of our architectural heritage. As more and more of our historic stock is lost, especially in our downtowns, it can threaten the historic integrity of entire towns.