By Julia Purdy
RUTLAND—The small white house at 38 West Street, familiar to many as the Good Cent$ thrift store, was demolished Thursday, Sept. 29, and is now an empty lot ready to receive the winter’s snow piles from the parking lot of Grace Congregational Church. The house’s disappearance came as a surprise to many.
The house belonged to the church, and the decision to tear it down was not made lightly, according to church property committee members Jeffrey Freeman and Susan Bassett.
The house, built in 1787 in Rutland’s hilltop “east village” and regarded as possibly the oldest remaining house in Rutland, was known as the Hale-Bole house for both its builder, Thomas Hale, and church member Rita Bole, whose bequest enabled the purchase of the property. The church refers to it as the “Bole house.”
The Hale family moved to the Rutland area from Glastonbury, Connecticut, purchasing extensive land “rights” along present-day Main Street in 1769. Ten years later Moses Hale was a selectman, and the next year his son Thomas was elected tax collector. Thomas sold off portions of the Hale holdings for the town green (now Main Street Park) and the jail. A veteran of the Revolutionary War, he is buried in the North Main Street cemetery.
BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont had operated a thrift store in the house for on-the-job training until this year, when both the federal grant for that program and BROC’s lease ran out. Prior to BROC’s tenure, the Rutland Realtors Association rented the house for offices. In 1990, the church bought the house from Dr. Wolins, a local obstetrician-gynecologist, who had used it as his office since 1974.
The property committee explored several avenues to try to keep the house. They met with the then Rutland County Community Land Trust. They also hired a historic preservation consultant, 106 Associates of Burlington, to do a thorough examination and evaluation of the house. The cost-benefit calculation pushed the committee toward the decision to demolish.
Susan Bassett was a member of the ad hoc committee to determine the fates of both the Hale-Bole house and its neighbor at 6 Court Street.
“The church has wrestled with this since 2008,” said Bassett, adding: “The issue was twofold: the house’s condition, and how it might be continued in service—parsonage? Mission purpose? Income-producing? Control the corner?” Ultimately, Bassett said, the committee concluded that “We’re a church, not a landlord.”
Jeff Freeman, retired Castleton faculty member and the former chair of the church’s property committee, “tended Bole for 16 years.” He has studied the house extensively.
As manager of the Bole house, Freeman’s budget was $4,000 per year and “always got eaten up” by taxes, maintenance and code compliance. He often had to rob Peter to pay Paul. While praising the antiquity and historical value of the house, the Conditions Assessment developed a to-do list with an estimated total price tag of $75,000 plus a recommended “20 percent contingency” to cover any nasty surprises. The committee looked into a preservation grant from the state of Vermont, which might provide $50,000, but the one-to-one match was a deterrent.
“It starts out having to assess your ability to match,” said Freeman, when the end result was not certain. “The ‘what’ was always in doubt,” he remarked.
Taken altogether, the committee concluded that the house’s historic value notwithstanding, “the running of Bole house was never sustainable,” in Freeman’s words.
Nevertheless, the house had acknowledged historic value to the city as the Hale house. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a “contributing structure” within the Rutland Courthouse Square Historic District and has been described in “Early Houses of Rutland,” an article in the Rutland Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 13. The Conditions Assessment report describes the house as a “highly significant historic structure, a rare survivor from the 18th century Rutland during its initial period of settlement.”
Because of the house’s location within the historic district, the church’s proposal to demolish was brought before the architectural review committee for design control, chartered as an advisory body to the Development Review Board (DRB). The purpose is to prevent actions that might “negatively affect the character of the neighborhood in question, for example, downtown,” explained review committee member and architect Ed Clark. The committee voted against demolition and made a detailed report.
On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, the DRB, chaired by Stephanie Lorentz, heard the request by the church to demolish 38 West Street, on the grounds of “financial/economic conditions and the physical condition of the property,” according to the minutes of the meeting.
On June 15 the DRB rendered its decision in favor of demolition. While acknowledging that alternatives had been suggested, such as the availability of preservation grants, moving or selling the house, the decision stated that “the building is not well enough preserved to be any longer of significant historic or architectural value” and noted that “No evidence of historical significance was presented at the hearing.”
“This has happened a number of times in Rutland for the sake of parking,” said review committee member and retired architect Alvin Figiel, adding, “We’re turning our back on history.”
From the church’s perspective, “Nobody famous lived there,” Bassett said.
Photo by Julia Purdy
Church building committee member Jeff Freeman checks on the cellar hole.