The old red house at 295 Head of the Bay Road, once owned by the late Pearl B. Henshaw, cannot be razed for at least six months.
On Tuesday morning, the Bourne Historic Commission held a hearing under the town’s demolition delay bylaw and voted to give those interested in saving the home four months to come up with a plan , plus two months more to implement that plan.
The commission first heard from builder Michael R. Mulligan of Plymouth, who now owns the house lot and is in the process of building a new home, the framework for which is already going up some 50 feet away from the historic structure.
He told the board that the Head of the Bay Road property had been for sale for several years and that he had delayed his own purchase of the land because several people had said they wanted to save the historic house.
However, he said, no one stepped forward with an actual proposal, so after waiting, he made one.
Miss Henshaw’s heirs, Mr. Mulligan said, had wanted money to retire and were anxious to sell the property. As a new home builder, he wanted to build a new home on the lot. Mr. Mulligan also brought pictures showing the condition of the home and an engineer’s report that said it was not salvageable.
He said he approached Building Inspector Roger M. Laporte about a permit for that new house. Under Bourne zoning bylaws, two homes cannot be accommodated on that one lot. However, he said, Mr. Laporte said the Henshaw structure, which does not have indoor plumbing or an indoor kitchen, met the definition of a barn. Therefore, since there was no other legal home on the lot, Mr. Mulligan said he was able to receive his building permit.
He said he redid his plans for that home and “slid” his new building over so that it did not require demolition of the Henshaw house. It was only after he asked to demolish that building that the demolition delay bylaw was triggered and historians became aware of the threat to the building.
Mr. Mulligan said he had no objection of anyone moving the old red house, or salvaging any materials from it. He said he would cooperate in any way with the commission, but that he needed to move forward with the completion and sale of the home he was building. He said that, given the interest on his construction loan, he cannot delay the completion of his own work for too long.
The old red Henshaw family house has a long history. Most local residents know it, because in 1936, when Miss Henshaw was in her early 30s, she opened the Old House antiques shop in the home.
According to some historians, her great-great-grandfather, Russell Harris, had bought property in the area from the Gibbs family sometime before 1850, in the days when Head-of-the-Bay was a village with its own tavern and tiny schoolhouse.
Historic commission Chairman Donald E. (Jerry) Ellis said this week that he had never been able to prove the story the home had been built for the Gibbses, reportedly some time in the 1600s and then moved to the Buzzards Bay site, but that he had been able to trace its existence back to 1725.
Miss Henshaw’s father was a gunsmith, clockmaker, painter, antique collector, and even worked in his own small blacksmith shop filled with antique tools, in a building that stood behind the antique store. She, herself, had studied business in college, but learned to love antiques from her family. She became an expert in early American pressed and flint glass, as well as early clocks.
She never married, but lived instead with her sister, who needed her care, and operated the antiques business, ran a nearby gift shop and managed the cranberry bogs on her family property.
She retired in April 2004 and died at age 90 in July of that year. The home was put on the market several years ago.
In May of 2007, Town Meeting voters authorized the use of funds to buy the lot next door. That purchase, which included a cranberry bog as well as Little Buttermilk Bay beachfront, took a little more than $1 million in Community Preservation Act funding. Since that time, the town has created a parking lot and trails, opening up that land to the public.
At that time, Mr. Ellis told attendees at this week’s meeting, the town had wanted to purchase the house property as well, but were unable to do so.
Jack L. MacDonald, a preservationist and former commission member, made a plea this week for working to save the building at its site, He said that moving the building was better than its demolition, but not the ideal way to preserve Bourne’s history.
Mr. McDonald, who had been the first to propose that the town adopt a demolition delay bylaw, decried the fact that the construction of the new house had begun before a demolition delay hearing could be held. He said Mr. Mulligan was clearly aware of the historical significance of the Henshaw house, and having known of the demolition delay process, took the risk of a one-year delay when he began building.
Later in the meeting, Mr. MacDonald said he wished it was possible for the town to use $500,000 in Community Preservation Act funding to buy Mr. Mulligan out. Mr. Mulligan, in turn, said, “I’d take it.”
Susan Anderegg of Old Head of the Bay Road, who was among the area residents who came to the meeting to comment on the house, told the commission that she had called the realtor who had listed the Henshaw house for sale a few years ago.
At that time, she offered to pay for moving and preserving the home if anyone bought the property for the use of the land, alone, as Mr. Mulligan had eventually done. She had even, she said, asked an expert restoration builder who did work at Plimoth Plantation to look at the structure of her behalf. At that time, he determined the house could be preserved.
She would, she said, have moved it to her nearby land, if she had been told no one wanted it. Ms. Anderegg told commission members she did not ask for a written report on the house’s condition, but only received an oral one. She said, by her recollection, the expert did not think the house was built in the 1600s.
Donald M. Duberger, who had bought and preserved the former General Leonard Wood home, said he would be willing to help dismantle and store the structure on his Shore Road land, as well. A builder himself, Mr. Duberger expressed some understanding for Mr. Mulligan’s position, but added that he is a new homebuilder, not a remodeler or restoration builder.
Mr. Duberger said he looked at the home and saw that the ridge line was relatively straight, causing him to think it might not be as unsalvageable as reported. At the very least, he said, there might be rare woods, wide boards, or other materials or parts worth saving.
He argued for time to consider the options. He said he thought the board and the builder could come to a common understanding over a reasonable time for a delay in the proposed demolition.
Mr. Mulligan said he would donate help to move the structure, if that was what the preservationists decided to do, but said he could not afford a year’s delay.
After some discussion, the commission settled on the six-month time line. Mr. Mulligan said that if those who brought forward a plan to preserve the home were in the middle of implementing that plan when the six months were up, he would not order them to stop and raze the building. He said that, so long as work and been started and was progressing, he would be willing to allow them a reasonable extension.