November 9, 2012

Augusta seeks proposals for run-down, historic Bond Street home

Structure is not beyond preservation, but offers aren't pouring in, either, says city manager

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The city will look for a preservation-minded new owner for a small, single-family home on Bond Street, considered by experts to be a remarkably intact example of the type of millworker housing once common.

click image to enlarge

Doug Grant climbs out his pickup truck Tuesday, in front of 25 Bond St. in Augusta. The Augusta City Council has opted to sell the property to a preservation-minded owner. Grant was working on the nearby storm and wastewater treatment project.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Such housing is rapidly disappearing from the New England landscape, officials say.

City councilors have given City Manager William Bridgeo the go-ahead to put out a request for proposals and try to sell 25 Bond St., a vacant, mustard-yellow home owned by the city since the previous owner died in 1999.

Bridgeo said there are widely divergent views about what to do with the historic but neglected structure, ranging from tearing it down to preserving it as a museum.

Taking the middle road, the city will try to sell the property but with restrictions in place to prevent any new owner from tearing it down or making major changes to its exterior appearance.

Bridgeo said he was surprised to learn from experts who toured the building recently at the city's request that the building is likely in good enough condition to be preserved.

He said Zachary Violette, a college student from the area studying for a degree in historical architecture, and Ron and Pam Kenoyer, Windsor residents with expertise in restoring old homes, both said the structure has the potential to be restored.

"Frankly, that surprised me quite a bit," Bridgeo said. "I was always under the impression it was beyond repair, and a liability for the city. It's probably time to see if there is somebody in the world, somewhere, interested in purchasing the building, probably with some deed restrictions preventing it from being demolished."

Bridgeo said at least one property owner in the area expressed some interest in bidding on the building.

As the city has found with other older buildings, however, including the former old YMCA building on State Street and the Cony flatiron, it can be challenging to find the right owner willing to take on the challenge of refurbishing historic structures.

"Don't get your hopes up too high. No one has come knocking down our doors about it," Mayor William Stokes cautioned city councilors at a meeting on Thursday.

The building, according to Violette, was built on rented land in the 1870s as an income property. It was later bought, and owned throughout much of its existence, by local mill owner Edwards Manufacturing Co. The company bought the house and more than 400 surrounding acres in 1882 as part of an expansion that would see it become the city's largest employer. The mill then rented the building out to employees and their families.

In his written assessment after touring the building, Violette wrote, "The corporation, therefore, effectively controlled both the livelihoods and living conditions of its employees; the material manifestation of this control is the rigidly unified streetscape of tenements along Bond Street, built in the 1880s. The smallest of three such clusters of mill tenements in Augusta, it is the only one that remains."

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com

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