Back in September I wrote “The Value of a House” published in Enduring Gloucester. At that time word had circulated around the city that two houses on the Boulevard were in danger of being demolished. News that one of the threatened houses was the Inn at Babson Court caught the attention of the public. There was an anguished outcry of dismay from a number of people including the Gloucester Historical Commission.
Meanwhile, the owners of a lesser known house just a few doors down the street obtained a permit to demolish and rebuild with hardly a ripple. This house was not as old as the Inn at Babson Court but with its two big chimneys running up the back of the house supporting numerous fireplaces it actually had more integrity and more remaining original fabric than did the Inn. Somehow it never got the attention it deserved and there was little or no reaction or opposition. Misleading was the date of 1900 from the assessors’ records. People don’t realize that the arbitrary date of 1900 has been assigned to most old houses in Gloucester having nothing to do with the actual age. The demolition was quickly approved by the ZBA.
In the fall the outside of the house was stripped away. It sat there with little happening. A large dumpster occupied most of the yard. I secretly hoped the owners were having second thoughts. But as was predictable, its brief reprieve came to an end and heavy equipment sat in the front yard, poised to wreak the inevitable destruction.
By mid afternoon I grabbed my camera and headed to the Boulevard. All that was left was a pile of kindling.
I took several photos. The Harborview Inn right next door was festively decorated for the season looking beautiful and inviting, sharp contrast to the pathetic pile of rubble just a very few feet from its foundation. I hurried back to my car not caring to linger.
My definition of a true antique house is one with a hand hewn, handmade timber frame and fireplaces for heating and cooking. By these standards this house was a true antique almost 200 years old.
Here is a repeat of the history of the Joseph Proctor house researched by me and previously published in Enduring Gloucester.
“The house was built on land owned by Joseph Procter, just one of a long line of Joseph Proctors. It may not have been his homestead but certainly was the homestead of his son, Joseph Johnston Proctor, followed by Joseph Osborn Proctor. The Procter family’s role in the history of Gloucester is huge. They were heavily involved in the fisheries and many local organizations. Ultimately they owned a number of houses along the Boulevard including the Inn at Babson Court as well as the stately house at 73-75 Western Avenue. Their holdings extended up the hill toward what is now Hovey Street.
Joseph J. Procter was born in 1802 and married Eliza Ann Gilbert in 1826. This couple had eleven children before Joseph died unexpectedly on September 2, 1848. His death was followed by the death of a one year old son just two weeks later. Eliza Ann lived in the house until her own death in 1887.
At this time the house was sold to Hiram Rich, a poet (1832-1901), who worked at the Cape Ann National Bank. Hiram Rich was widely published in many periodicals including the Atlantic Monthly. Not so long ago in the Gloucester Times John Ronan called Hiram Rich an underrated poet who was important to the City of Gloucester.”
On Wednesday December 22rd almost simultaneous to receiving the news that the house on Western Ave. was being leveled I received a call from an out–of-towner; a stranger to whom I had been referred. After giving me his name he said, “How would you like to help save one of the oldest houses in Gloucester?” My immediate thought was, “ Here we go again! “ But, of course, the caller already had my full attention and yes I would go to bat for another old house; another piece of Gloucester history, the fabric of this place.
Two hours later I was wandering through the old house poking into the nooks and crannies of the large, once charming rooms of this interesting but tired country antique from the late 18th century. I had to acknowledge that this was not a project for the faint hearted. Yet I’m sure most readers of Enduring Gloucester would have the same conviction as I that this house too must be saved.
I learned that some of the heirs to this property wanted to save the old landmark while other heirs did not appreciate its value and wanted it to be demolished. Old Gloucester names such as Riggs, Haskell and Dennen are associated with the property.
It is premature to predict the outcome and too soon to talk about it publicly but when and if it is no longer confidential information and still in jeopardy you will be hearing from me.
We need demolition delay and we need it now!
There is positive news about the Inn at Babson Court. The anticipated demolition has been CANCELLED! The potential owner has gone back to the drawing board and will retain the house with alterations and adjustments on the interior in order to create new spaces for today’s condo living. With so little of the original remaining on the inside I have no problem with redesigning the interior. I hope the developer will be sensitive to retaining an appropriate exterior. His willingness to accommodate and still come up with viable plan for development is commendable.
There will always be houses in jeopardy in the name of progress. Will we be ready to go to bat for them? Will we have a demolition delay in place to at least slow down the destruction thereby gaining time to consider other alternatives?
Has this recent spate of demolitions been a wake-up call? In 2016 will Gloucester finally say, “We’ve had enough already!” by approving a long overdue demolition delay ordinance with a long enough delay to give it some teeth?
Now that would be a good first step in the right direction.
Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.