SEVEN TO SAVE
WINCHESTER MAKES LIST
WINCHESTER — A statewide preservation organization has thrown its weight behind local efforts to save a dilapidated 200-year-old house on Winchester’s Main Street from demolition.
The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance included the Wheaton-Alexander House, at 71 Main St., on its “Seven to Save” list for 2011.
Two buildings in the region made the list this year: the Winchester house, which has been surrounded by controversy of late, and Charlestown Town Hall, a two-story 1873 building that needs repairs to bring the second floor up to code. A small group of volunteers is advocating to return the hall to full use, according to the alliance. See related story below.
The Winchester building, which lies within the boundaries of the town’s historic district, is slated for demolition to make way for a new Dollar General store. But preservationists think it should be kept in place for the benefit of the historic district as a whole, said Maggie Stier, a field service representative for the preservation alliance and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“It often requires a little creative economic thinking, but we would welcome the opportunity to work with the owners and the planning officials in Winchester to make this work,” she said.
The attempt to remove the Winchester house is an example of what the preservationist group considers a statewide trend of buildings at the edges of historic districts disappearing to development, Stier said. “What happens is the next building becomes the de facto edge of the historic district. ... Pretty soon you have something like a domino effect.”
The house in question was once the residence of doctors who treated the people of Winchester in the 1800s, but it has since been renovated into a duplex and in recent decades it has changed hands several times. The current owners bought it in 2008 and it is now vacant.
The historic district commission in July denied an application by a developer hoping to purchase the property and replace the house with a new building designed for Dollar General, a national chain of discount stores.
But earlier this month the town’s zoning board voted unanimously to overturn the historic commission’s decision.
The house would cost the owners more to fix up than it was worth, board members said, and they questioned its historic value.
Stier challenged those conclusions.
“People often confuse the condition with the historic significance and they are two different things,” she said. “With the loss of that structure the character of that district would be changed significantly.”
Members of the historic commission are researching what they have to do to appeal the zoning board’s decision, according to Julia Ferrari, commission vice chairman.
The house’s position on the Seven to Save list will help, she said.
“This means that someone else — a major preservation group in New Hampshire — has looked at the building and decided that that is a major historical building of interest,” Ferrari said. “These are people who really know their stuff.”
The list names historic properties across the state that the organization considers endangered and in need of attention and resources, and “highlights the challenges that are facing New Hampshire citizens as they work to protect their historic landmarks, villages, main streets and rural communities,” according to the alliance.