NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 15, 2012

On borrowed time

Interior removed at historic Newbury house

By Dave Rogers
Staff writer

NEWBURY — After several weeks' delay and a citizens' drive to save it, workers began removing the interior features of the circa-1800, Federal-style home on Little's Lane known as the Tappan House earlier this week.

A salvage crew has been busy the past couple days removing fixtures and other interior elements. Yesterday there were piles of debris outside the house, and piles of salvaged wood could be seen inside. Workers could be heard using tools to remove interior features.

However, it is not clear when the home itself will be demolished. A member of the salvaging team declined to speak to a reporter yesterday about the amount of time it would take for his team to complete its job. He said the Patricans did not want to comment to the press. When called by The Daily News, the Patricans declined comment.

The home, located along the dirt entry road to Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm, is owned by Brian and Tara Patrican, who bought the property in October 2011 for $1.6 million. In addition to the Tappan House, built by Revolutionary War privateer Offin Boardman for his son-in-law, Amos Tappan, the property includes a 4,276-square-foot barn.

The Patricans received a demolition permit in November, but word of their plans to tear down the building didn't surface publicly until January. The outcry that followed from local historical groups and neighbors prompted the Patricans to delay the demolition of the house, but a shed on the property was torn down.

In February, the Patricans withdrew an application before the Planning Board to redraw the property lines around the 1 Little's Lane lot and their residence on the adjacent lot at 53 High Road. The change would have expanded the Patricans' backyard. The withdrawal of the application led many to believe that the Tappan House might be spared from destruction.

The Tappan House sits on 5.16 acres that abut conservation land and the Patricans' home.

Earlier this year, Brian Patrican said he tried to donate the Tappan House and 2 acres of land to Historic New England, the caretakers of the neighboring Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm. But Patrican said that option fell through when Historic New England declined the offer.

Susanna Crampton, public relations officer for Historic New England, at the time would not confirm or deny the Patricans' offer.

Another attempt to save the house came from a collection of area design professionals who put together alternative options and submitted them to the Patricans for consideration. Among the plans submitted by the group called for leaving the house where it stood and screening it from the Patricans' backyard and moving the house to another location on the property.

Retired Newburyport lawyer Bill Harris, spokesman for the design professionals, called the demolition a needless loss, saying there was plenty of room to move the house to another location on the property.

"I'm thinking it was worth the effort to provide additional planning options, even if they declined to use them. Our goal was to increase the likelihood that the building would be retained. So, of course, we're disappointed," Harris said.

Harris called the Tappan House's demise a reminder that without improved protections in place, people will continue to buy property with houses that are entirely feasible to preserve but will destroy them anyway.

Another issue that has complicated the Tappan House matter is a 2004 covenant that Historic New England secured on a portion of the Little's Lane property. The covenant is meant to protect the appearance of the entry road to Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm. One of those fields belongs to the Tappan House, and the covenant prevents anything from being built on its 3 acres. It also prohibits subdivisions of the land.

Historic New England opposed redrawing the lot lines on the Little's Lane and High Road properties, requesting that the town's Planning Board take no action on the Patricans' request to do such, citing the covenant. It does not appear the lot redrawing request has been brought back to the Planning Board since the original application was withdrawn.

Daily News correspondent Michelle Pelletier Marshall contributed to this report.