If a picture can speak 1,000 words, imagine how much an old house can speak. This is a blog about words and story, so the loss of a historic house seems appropriate here.
Something happened yesterday that is astonishing in the combination of its significance and its protagonists disregard of said significance. A house, the oldest in Dover (at least, until yesterday) was demolished. It was half decade older than our country. Built in 1724, the Draper House had a history of being home for generations to a single family, a family that helped fight the America Revolution.
Our Revolution from our shared American history.
A couple of people liked the land the house was on, but not the house, itself. So, they bought the property, house and all. But there are little things that can get in the way of the enjoyment of a dignified, historic home. For example, it seems that one of the owners is tall, and the pesky 6 foot ceilings of the old house were inconvenient. Well, what would you do with an inconvenient piece of our country’s history?
Tear it down, of course.
Never mind that such old houses are rare and that this is Massachusetts, arguably the home to the birth of the United States. Never mind that the history contained within the walls of the house belonged to everyone in Dover, in Massachusetts, in the United States. Never mind that a descendant of the original owners – you know, the ones who fought our war for independence – penned a heartfelt letter (readable on the ‘Save Dover’s Oldest House’ Facebook page) to the new owners asking them to please let preserve this piece of her family’s and our history. Never mind that preservationists offered the new owners $50,000 to move the house to another location and then clean the site up in preparation for whatever modern home the owners wanted. None of that mattered, it seems. Yesterday, a wrecking ball crashed through and destroyed deliberately what no winter storm since 1724 ever did.
And there goes history. Or, at least, there goes the illustration, the physical telling of unique and important period in our shared history. Because the ceilings were too low. Because the house was too old for the taste of its final purchasers.
What is frustrating here is….well, lots. Reading newspaper articles won’t tell you a whole lot, but it will tell you something. According to a June 17, 2014 Dover-Sherborn Press article on Wickedlocal, the owners accepted the offer of $50K for the house’s removal. However, after holding on to the check for months, they reneged on their offer and gave the money back. Why the refusal of free money? One can only wonder…and wonder and wonder. Free money is generally a nice thing, especially when you are basically being paid for being socially responsible.
A Boston Globe article from February 3, 2008 is the only place that I could find offering any kind of glimpse into why the owners didn’t let anyone save the house: timing.
(Here’s the passage from the article by Anna Fiorentino in The Boston Globe.)
When Oliva applied for a permit to raze the Draper House last May, the Historical Commission voted to use the town’s demolition review bylaw to buy some time – up to a year – for efforts to raise enough money to relocate it.
After the decision to invoke the bylaw, neither the Historical Commission nor the society heard from Oliva, officials said, until the commission received a letter in the fall stating he was no longer interested in donating the house.
“At that point the offer was off the table,” said Oliva. “We had already waited a year and a half before they even requested the demolition delay. We needed to move on.”
I guess things were taking too long, and they wanted their new modern home, already!
The thing is that these people obviously had the money to buy a nice house on a nice piece of land; what they didn’t have was the understanding and sense of responsibility that they were buying stewardship of history, of story, of physical storytelling. Because, after all, a house tells a story. And, a house that was built in 1724 in rural Massachusetts? That tells quite a story.
But not anymore.
And, I can’t imagine the owners have won a fond place in their new neighbors hearts. Not only have they destroyed, willingly, a community treasure, they have also snubbed their noses at community life. When the story of the Draper House is written one day, it will be story of longevity and continuity that ends with a big who cares from its final stewards. It will be like an elegant, eloquent speech that ends with a big F. U. to its audience.