Time's Running Out For South Orleans House Crowded With History

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Historic preservation

The historic Kenrick-Sparrow House in South Orleans may be enjoying its last season in the sun.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS The list of what didn't happen at 353 South Orleans Rd. over the last two centuries could be shorter than the list of what did.

The property at the corner of Namequoit Road and Route 28 has been home to a sea captain, a selectman, a state representative, a lay preacher, a salt maker, a farmer, and a cultivator of trees – and that's just the life of John Kenrick, Sr., who lived there for the first half of the 19th century.

His son John, who died a couple of years short of the 20th century, ran a store and post office there while teaching in and superintending the local schools and serving 25 years on the school board, all while operating a farm on the property that just before the Civil War produced wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, Irish potatoes, barley, butter, and hay. The junior John Kenrick squeezed in service as a selectman and state rep and a trustee of Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank.

In the next generation, John III upheld the family traditions: state rep and senator, postmaster, selectman and bank trustee. He added cranberries to the list of crops on the farm. After his death in 1942, the Sparrow side of the family (John, Sr. had married Rebecca Sparrow in 1803) inherited the property, first by nephew Arthur Sparrow, owner of A. Sparrow Survey Company, and then Arthur's son Kenrick Sparrow, a town moderator and probate court judge.

The old store and post office, located close to Route 28, was taken down years ago. When Jeffrey C. Kaveney bought the property in 2015, the decaying house and barn remained, with a swayback connecting building between them. Kaveney, who could not be reached for comment by press time, wants to take down the house and the connector, preserve the barn, and build a new house.

Recognizing the historic value of the residence, the historical commission ordered a one-year demolition delay on Sept. 12. The board denied a request from Kaveney to shorten that period at its March 20 meeting; both votes were unanimous.

On April 19, the owner applied to the zoning board of appeals for a special permit that will allow the new house to exceed 4,000 square feet in roofed lot coverage. “The proposed structure is very similar to the existing structure and will be located further back from the public road,” Stephanie J. Sequin of Ryder & Wilcox wrote in requesting the permit. The new building would cover about 4,689 square feet.

“The existing building is in a state of disrepair,” Sequin wrote. “Mr. Kaveney has diligently investigated the possibility of restoring the existing building. Unfortunately, the extent of structural deterioration makes it economically unfeasible.”

At the Sept. 12 historical commission hearing, according to the minutes, Jay Stradal of the Orleans Historical Society said OHS had considered purchasing the buildings and that “the expert consensus was that the main house was movable in pieces.” He said the house and barn held the most historical value, noting particularly a “hanging cistern” in the barn. The commission voted the demolition delay for both structures, excluding a shed and the connector building.

In the following months, efforts have been made to preserve the historic house. Sarah Korjeff, historic preservation specialist with the Cape Cod Commission, visited the property and told the historical commission she would arrange for an engineer to review options. Real estate agent Lisa Hassler said she would give the owner information about the post-investment value of similar properties that had been restored.

In a recent column, historical commission chairman Ron Petersen wrote that the house “embodies nearly every thread in the fabric of the history and heritage of our town of Orleans...Our heritage in seafaring, agriculture, commerce, education, government, religion, and our outsized role in our nation's wars are all ingrained within the wall of this house. We hope to use the year to work with the owner to find some alternative to total demolition. This house is one of a dwindling number of buildings that provides a tangible reminder of what makes Orleans special.”

(Information about the homestead and its owners was provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Orleans Historical Commission).