Condo Association Asks to Raze Historic Grantham Farmhouse

  • A red historic farmhouse on the Gray Ledges Rentals and Property on Feb. 1, 2018, in Grantham, N.H. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Sunday, February 04, 2018

Grantham — A historic brick farmhouse that dates to the 1830s may soon be torn down.

A condominium association wants Planning Board approval to take down the farmhouse on Dunbar Hill, which it was required to preserve when the Gray Ledges condos were permitted 30 years ago.

After a discussion about the cost to save the deteriorating structure at a Grantham Planning Board meeting on Thursday, the president of the Gray Ledges Condominium Association, Peter Guillette, said it will apply for an amendment to the board’s site plan approval 30 years ago.

A condition of that approval was for the developer to preserve the farmhouse. Though some improvements were made, the farmhouse, once known as Gray Ledges Estates, was never fully restored, and part of it was torn down.

Guillette, who is a member of the Planning Board but recused himself for the discussion, told the board that the estimated cost to restore it is $500,000, roughly double the estimate 30 years ago.

“Nobody is willing to spend that kind of money,” Guillette said. “It would be a financial hardship.”

Board Chairman Carl Hansen urged Guillette to apply for an amendment to the original site plan approval.

The building, which has been significantly modified on the interior, is used solely as an entry to the condominium association’s outdoor pool, and only has a bathroom, shower and storage area, Guillette said.

Guillette said brickwork is crumbling, and a few weeks ago, the chimney collapsed.

“The sills are rotten and the bricks are cracking everywhere,” Guillette said, adding that at least one contractor told him if the building were to be elevated to repair the sills, the brickwork would fall apart. He said a contractor told them if it were to be restored, it could not be done with the existing bricks.

The house has double brick walls with bricks made in Grantham, which gives the building its historic significance.

Guillette said the condominium developer, Earl Thompson, did not restore the building decades ago because he could not get the same bricks.

According to newspaper articles from 1988, the Planning Board approved the condominium project with the understanding that Thompson use the main house for an “amenities building.”

But in July of that year, he asked the board for approval to tear it down, saying it was not structurally sound enough to repair. He was given approval to move forward with demolition but that approval was rescinded by the Planning Board.

Sheridan Brown, an attorney and former Selectboard member who stepped down from the board to take up the cause of saving the farmhouse, told the Planning Board Thursday night that the town failed in its enforcement duties.

“We don’t hold people to conditions,” Brown said. “He (Thompson) should have been held to what he committed to 30 years ago. They are bound by that condition. This is still, as I see it, a valid condition.”

Brown said the building’s condition is not the hardship; rather the condo association created the “financial hardship” by failing to address the situation when it should have.

He urged the board to require full documentation and cost estimates as to why the building can’t be saved.

Brown said the farmhouse has been identified in Grantham’s master plans since 1985 as one of Grantham’s 12 most important historic sites.

“Don’t just take their word for it,” he said. “I’m just asking, please recognize the significance of the structure and the site. I would like to see the condition upheld. You may wish to go a different way.”

If the building is taken down, Brown, and at least one board member, said they would like to see the new structure to be similar in appearance and design.

Board member C. Peter James said the brick is porous and was painted, which trapped moisture. “It holds water than freezes and breaks apart. This is going to continue to go downhill. At some point you have to cut your losses and say you are going to rebuild with new material to look like the old building,” James said.

Guillette said the condo association has someone lined up to take the old brick if the building is taken down.

Brown conceded on Friday that saving the building is probably beyond the means of the condominium association.

“I understand it would be difficult to take on that cost,” Brown said. “But I don’t want to let them off the hook completely. I would love to see something that keeps the spirit of what was there.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.