Connecticut Trust For Historic Preservation

Historic Properties Exchange

HPX Update: Ernst House, Norwalk

In an exciting reversal, Norwalk Hospital has agreed to sell the Ernst House and pursue parking alternatives suggested by the Norwalk Preservation Trust. The 1908 Neoclassical mansion stands next door to a hospital parking lot and was under threat of demolition for expanded parking. The building was listed in the July/August 2003 issue of the Exchange after efforts of local preservationists resulted in a short reprieve. The hospital decided that it would forgo using the site and would expand its parking capacity elsewhere, if it could sell the property quickly and recoup its purchase costs. The price tag exceeded $900,000, a large sum to attain in a lackluster economy within a tight time frame.Amidst the publicity on the plight of the building, a qualified buyer emerged who wanted to preserve and reuse the house as mixed-income housing with 30 percent allocated to affordable housing. Although promising, there was a serious gap between offer and asking price. The Norwalk Preservation Trust mobilized immediately and raised $27,000 in pledges in 48 hours. Paul Newman, a resident of next-door Westport, stepped in with a generous gift of $20,000, helping the cause with both his money and his name. Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp aided the effort immensely by facilitating the use of $150,000 in affordable housing funds through the Norwalk Redevelopment Authority.State Senator Bob Genuario served as the attorney for the buyer, Andrew Kydes, and helped to produce a successful outcome. The stately mansion was built for George Ernst, an important collector of early American furniture. Constructed of brick on a granite base, the building was designed to provide a setting for Ernst’s extraordinary collection of early American furniture and decorative objects. An impressive two-story portico with four Doric columns lends grandeur to the facade. A second-story balcony rests above an elaborate front door. Dentils trim the pediment, which contains a semi-elliptical window. The interior retains many interesting features including a mantel derived from the work of Christopher Wren and accurate Federal style moldings. Ernst was a pioneer in the appreciation of American decorative arts and amassed his collection before it became fashionable.Mr. Kydes is an experienced local contractor and is committed to preserving the building’s historic character. The Norwalk Preservation Trust will have input on the rehabilitation plans. This public/private bipartisan effort saves not only an important building, but a historic neighborhood, as well.Loss of the Ernst House would have endangered two significant Queen Anne houses on adjacent properties.The row of three large houses built in the late nineteenth-century, starting with the Ernst House, is known locally as the “Three Sisters.” Now these reminders of the grand architecture of a once wealthy and prestigious residential neighborhood are safe.

Deming House, Litchfield

This house, built in 1884, stands in a land-locked position behind a nursing home in the Litchfield Historic District. The district is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The house originally fronted North Street, but was moved back in the 1960s, when the bank next door acquired the site for parking. Apple Health Care now owns both the Deming House and the skilled nursing facility, Rose Haven. The company plans to build an addition to the nursing home and would like to find someone to remove the Deming House from the property and restore it at another location. Although aluminum siding hides the window surrounds and other architectural details, the Deming House retains its graceful form and asymmetrical massing. The aluminum siding covers the first and second stories, but dormers at the attic level are still sheathed in board and batten siding. Originally, the dormers were also accented with Stick-style decorative trusses. At present, the interior contains three rental units. Apple Health Care will allow approximately six months for removal of the Deming House from the Rose Haven property.Price: $1. Contact: Jamick Szefer, 860-678-9755.

Hamlin House, Plainville

The Town of Plainville is looking for someone to save this eighteenth-century house from demolition by moving it to another location.  Its present site is slated for commercial development.  The two-story house has a gambrel roof, which creates a spacious attic.  The building is of post and bean construction and much of the framing is oak.  The dimensions are approximately 25 by 40 feet.  The photo was taken around 1918.Phineas and Rhoda Hamlin moved into the house in 1785.  Chauncey Porter, a community leader, occupied it in 1816.  It was the scene of a murder in 1943, giving an unfortunate aspect to the history of this interesting building.  Most recently, it served in a much happier role- as a bookstore.Several additions have been built over the lifetime of the house, which may not lend themselves to being moved with the original structure.  The site must be completely cleared and the basement filled in by June 1 of this year.The Town of Plainville does not own nor does it have any financial interest in this property.  It is the intention of the town to assist the private owner in finding a qualified party to move the building off site.  Price: $1.  Deadline: June 1, 2006.  Contact: Plainville Town Manager, Robert Lee, 860-793-0221.

Lockwood Outbuilding, Norwalk

This nineteenth-century outbuilding was part of the Deacon Charles Lockwood homestead in the old Borough of Norwalk. It needs to be moved to another site due to a development plan that will save and rehabilitate a row of three historic houses located at the front of the property. Two of the houses are associated with the Lockwood family, one of Norwalk’s founding families.

At present, the outbuilding contains two apartments. Its former use is not known with certainty. Built into the side of a bank, the one-and-a-half story structure may have served as a stable or as servants’ quarters or a combination of both. The basement level has a small fireplace with iron fittings for cooking, which indicates that at least part of the building has a residential use historically.

The building is approximately 40 feet long and was probably constructed in two stages, with the section to the right being earlier. It is sheathed in clapboard and is of post and beam construction with house, an in-law apartment, a barn or a garage. While the owner would like to see the building saved, due to practical considerations, quick responses would be greatly appreciated. Price: $1, Contact: Bill Kraus, 203-899-0480.