Letter: Bristol must intervene to save historic home

EastBayRI.com ·

The historic and architecturally significant house at 1200 Hope St. is in a terrible state of repair, with the front entrance porch in imminent danger of collapse, the exterior siding and windows visibly deteriorated and the interior abandoned and gutted. The house has been in this unsound condition for at least five years.

This property is listed on the federal National Registry of Historic Properties as the “historic Longfield House (or Charles Dana Gibson House)” and makes up part of our common Historic patrimony.

The large house was designed in 1848 by architects Russell Warren & Son on 60 acres of DeWolf family land; it was given to Charles Dana Gibson (the grandfather of the famous artist and namesake) upon his marriage to Abbey DeWolf, the daughter of the late U.S. Senator James DeWolf.

Warren had built many other important buildings in Bristol for the DeWolf family, who rose to prominence through wealth gained from the Atlantic slave trade.

This historic property has been allowed to become a serious eyesore on Hope Street and tarnishes our reputation as a “historic” town. The own did some investigations last year at my urging, and concluded not to intervene.

The reason for the abominable state of repair seems to be a totally botched attempt at renovation by the current owners, who ran out of funds to complete the work. The plan was to convert this property to a bed and breakfast, but the economics of that idea was very unrealistic.

Our good town has ample volunteer committees, including the Redevelopment Commission, the Planning Board, the now defunct Bristol EDC, and several paid bureaucrats, including the town administrator, the Community Development officer, etc. etc.

The property is outside of the historic district, so everyone seems to have an excuse for not doing anything about this situation.

The blighted condition and lack of interest by the owners or new buyers for such a lengthy period should be reason enough for the very timid Bristol Redevelopment Agency to intervene, perhaps declare this a blighted property, move to “take” the property by eminent domain, and proceed to carry out the restoration with state and foundation funding to assist with the work.

Waiting more years for a private buyer/savior to show up is not an answer, nor is lack of public funds a valid enough reason for this inaction. This is a disgrace, so let’s find a way!

Sure the die-hard conservatives will scream about private property rights, but these do not outweigh the impending loss of an irreplaceable town treasure.

This property is located in a very prominent place at the head of Gibson Street, and very visible at the entrance to the town. I wrote to town officials on April 9, requesting that the town intervene, and a technical study was conducted that got nowhere. Now is the time for some immediate action, before we lose another irreplaceable  relic from our past.  

George S. Burman, AIA

66 Highland Road, Bristol