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6/26/2013 2:00:00 PM
Massachusetts Couple To Preserve Historic House
The owners of this late 18th century house at 21 Pond Rd. in Newcastle plan to renovate the building instead of demolishing and replacing it. (J.W. Oliver photo)
The owners of this late 18th century house at 21 Pond Rd. in Newcastle plan to renovate the building instead of demolishing and replacing it. (J.W. Oliver photo)
By J.W. Oliver

The owners of the 18th century house at 21 Pond Rd. in Newcastle plan to renovate the existing structure instead of demolishing and replacing it.

The proposal to demolish the house in the historic village of Damariscotta Mills faced strong opposition from some in the community and delays as a result of local and federal regulations.

The owners, John and Mary Homan of Marblehead, Mass., will repair the historic part of the house and make minor changes to a 1970s addition, according to Tor Glendinning, the chairman of the Newcastle Design Review Board.

The Homans plan to move a door and replace some windows on the addition, Glendinning said in an email.

The Newcastle Design Review Board unanimously approved the new application June 6.

Meanwhile, a report by a local archaeologist dates the house to the 1780s or 1790s, not the 1730s, as some residents believed.

John Homan was already at work on the interior renovations June 25.

"Ideally, I think what we would have done would have been very nice and everybody would have been very happy with it," Homan said in an interview at the house.

He said he understands his neighbors' concerns. "There's a certain ambiance about the neighborhood, and a brand new house, in a lot of people's opinion, probably wouldn't have fit in," he said.

He said he and his wife would have been cautious and replaced the building with a period structure instead of a contemporary design.

Eventually, however, his attorney, Newcastle resident Jonathan Hull, and his friend and neighbor, Bobby Whear, talked him into the change of plans.

"I could have fought it and won, but it had already cost me about $4000 and I didn't want to be the most hated person in Lincoln County," Homan said.

Hull and Whear "laid everything out and convinced me that this is probably the best thing for all parties concerned," he said.

Now, he said, he intends to renovate the ell to make it livable and work on the old side of the house as time permits. He and his wife, who currently split their time between homes in Florida and Massachusetts, plan to spend time at the house during the summer.

"It's a nice spot," Homan said, with the historic Kavanagh House next door and Damariscotta Lake just a short walk away. "We love the area."

Mic LeBel, a neighbor and vocal opponent of the proposal to demolish the structure, said the Homans' change of plans is "good news" for the neighborhood.

"The reason people come to this area, oftentimes, for tourism, I'd say 50 percent or more of it, is because we have really cool, historic-vibe-type neighborhoods," LeBel said.

The architecture and history of areas like Damariscotta Mills, Glidden Street and Sheepscot attract visitors to the area and benefit the local economy, LeBel said.

LeBel said he thinks the decision will also benefit the Homans in the long term. "I think that house, standing, has a lot more value than what he originally proposed," LeBel said. "I think they're going to find it'll command a good price."

The town should consider changes in regulations to preserve the historic villages and avoid a repeat of the months-long controversy around the property, LeBel said. A change would also provide clarity for homebuyers and real estate agents, he said.

The Newcastle Board of Selectmen briefly considered a zoning amendment regarding historic buildings this spring before deciding to delay any change until 2014.

The Homans filed paperwork with the town in November 2012 to start the process necessary to acquire the town's okay to demolish the building. The protests from some members of the community began shortly thereafter.

The Design Review Board tabled the application in March pending an archaeological survey of the site. A nearby bald eagle nest also delayed the project, as federal regulations prohibit construction within 200 meters of active bald eagle nests from Feb. 15 to Aug. 15.

Local archaeologist Tim Dinsmore began his survey of the site in April, before the Homans' change of plans.

The fragments of ceramic materials, clay tobacco pipes and nails present at the site constitute "irrefutable evidence" dating the earliest occupation of the house at its present site to the 1780s or 1790s, according to Dinsmore's preliminary report.

A series of architectural historians and 18th century building experts examined the house and came to similar conclusions.

"In short, the overall consensus ... is that the house appears to date to the late Colonial to early Federal Period based on moldings around the frames to doorways, windows and the parlor fireplace," Dinsmore said in the report.

"There's nothing that crucial there, archaeologically speaking, because there are a lot of sites from the 1780s and '90s," Dinsmore said in a phone interview.

The report does not, however, diminish the historic significance of the building, Dinsmore said.

"As far as the building goes, it's still a pretty early house," he said. It also represents a style of architecture that would fall out of favor shortly after its construction. "It's more rustic. It's more of a cottage-style house. It's not your typical house."

The popular style was about to shift to "the Georgian style, which emphasizes symmetry," Dinsmore said, a style still prevalent in the historic architecture of the area.

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