Historic Bristol farmhouse will come tumbling down

Historic commission grants demolition permit for the Usher family farmhouse

By Kristen Ray
Posted 2/12/20

The historic but decrepit Usher Farmhouse will soon become a pile of rubble after the Historic District Commission voted to approve Patrick Usher’s request for demolition during its meeting …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Not a subscriber?


Start a Subscription

Sign up to start a subscription today! Click here to see your options.

Purchase a day pass

Purchase 24 hours of website access for $2. Click here to continue

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.


Historic Bristol farmhouse will come tumbling down

Historic commission grants demolition permit for the Usher family farmhouse

Posted

The historic but decrepit Usher Farmhouse will soon become a pile of rubble after the Historic District Commission voted to approve Patrick Usher’s request for demolition during its meeting last Thursday, Feb. 6.

The decision comes four months after Mr. Usher first applied to tear down the two-and-a-half-story, Federal-style, post-and-beam structure, located at 616 Metacom Ave. Though listed locally as a historic structure, the 1840s-era farmhouse has remained unoccupied for four decades, its condition only worsening with time.

Speaking to the board last Thursday, Mr. Usher’s attorney, Paul Ryan, argued that unlike other historic structures along Metacom Avenue, there is no value in restoring the Usher Farmhouse. Mr. Ryan said that the working farm does not generate enough revenue to justify the cost of rehabilitating it — which based on one estimate, could cost “easily $1 million.”

“It takes a lot of tomatoes just to do the cost/benefit analysis, never mind to put the money to restoring this structure,” Mr. Ryan said.

While the Ushers may not be able to restore the farmhouse themselves, the historic district commission held out hope that someone else would. At their Jan. 2 meeting, board members voted to set a noon Jan. 21 deadline to see if any willing and able parties would come forward to move and rehabilitate the farmhouse.

During that time, both the Ushers and Historical Preservation Society executive director Catherine Zipf reached out to various contacts, but only one expressed any interest. Robert Major, a former 14-year veteran of the commission, came and took a look at the Usher Farmhouse nearly two weeks later, and informed Mr. Usher two hours before the Jan. 21 deadline that he thought he had found someone willing to do the work. After telling Mr. Usher he “would have no problem” getting a letter of intent submitted by the Feb. 6, he was not heard from again.

After receiving a letter of interest from a Paul McCarthy of Honey Bee Holdings, LLC earlier that day, town solicitor Andy Teitz suspected that this was the party Mr. Major might have been referring to. Yet that did not change the fact that Mr. Major was never in contact with the historic district commission or Mr. Usher following that Jan. 21 conversation, and nobody from Honey Bee was in attendance. To Chairwoman Oryann Lima, enough time had passed to find an alternative to demolition, and the commission needed to make a decision that night.

“This isn’t something that nobody in Bristol is talking about,” she said.

In the eleventh hour

While Ms. Lima was ready for a vote, board member Ben Bergenholtz believed the commission should delay another few weeks in order to give Honey Bee a chance to make an offer to the Ushers.

“The house has been there for 200 years – what’s another two weeks?” Mr. Bergenholtz asked.

As a compromise, board member Gerald Walsh suggested that they allow Honey Bee until the following day to get in contact with the Ushers and make an offer, otherwise approving demolition. But what concerned Mr. Usher about that letter — only seeing it for the first time that night — was that Honey Bee would likely have problems finding a suitable lot in Bristol to place the 70-foot-long house without first having to go to zoning for front- and backyard setbacks. Plus, Mr. Ryan added, there was no guarantee that Honey Bee would ultimately come through, warning: “Until the closings over, it’s not a deal.”

Next steps

Despite Honey Bee’s 11th-hour expression of interest, a majority of board members agreed with Ms. Lima in moving forward with a decision. John Allen remarked that the letter was sent “well beyond” the Jan. 21 deadline, while Chris Ponder stated that if Honey Bee were “serious” about moving and restoring the Usher farmhouse, “they would be here.” Gerald Walsh questioned whether it was safe to even move the house at all, while both Victor Cabral and Mary Millard commented that while preservation is always preferable, it is not always possible.

“You can’t save everything,” Ms. Millard said.

The commission voted (Mr. Bergenholtz dissenting) to grant Mr. Usher his demolition permit, expected to be ready the following Thursday, Feb. 13. As soon as it is ready, Mr. Usher said after the meeting, his family intends to begin demolition immediately.

“My father and I would like to give a big thank you to all the people who came to support us,” Mr. Usher said.

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.