ORLEANS – The historical commission, in the midst of an effort to promote historical districts that could preserve the town's built heritage, faced another request to demolish a part of that heritage last week. The board imposed a one-year demolition delay on the 1810 Alice Collins Hanvey house at 21 Great Oak Rd. in East Orleans. Members did the same for the historic Kendrick-Sparrow House more than a year ago, but that building was later demolished.
“Of particular importance to the commission in imposing the delay,” chairman Ron Petersen wrote in an email to The Chronicle, “is the fact that Great Oak Road is in the heart of East Orleans, perhaps the largest area in town that maintains a coherent and consistent sense of our heritage and the 'sense of place' that makes Orleans special. Located between Main Street and Brick Hill Road, two iconic historical roadways, the three-quarter-mile long Great Oak Road has nine properties on the Orleans Historical Property Survey. The non-listed properties on the street are consistent with the look and feel of the historic properties and make the roadway a special place.”
The new owner, Hydrangea Properties LLC, was represented at the hearing by Yarmouth architect Erik Tolley, who informed the commission that his client wants to demolish the 1810 house and build a large “summer getaway” residence for his extended family.
Vince Ollivier, who spoke for the demolition delay at the hearing, was raised in and lives in the house across the street, which dates back to the 1870s. “Why not contribute to the history of a town rather than take away from it?” he asked during an interview last week.
That's what Ollivier has done with his own house and others in the neighborhood, and he says he's not the only one who feels that way. Ollivier said two recent purchasers of properties on either side of 21 Great Oak Rd. told the historical commission how happy they were with the look of the area and how they worried that the demolition plans would change the fabric of the neighborhood.
A demolition delay provides a time-out in which alternatives can be explored. That was discussed in a letter to the commission from Steve O'Grady, director of the Orleans Conservation Trust. He noted that Alice Hanvey left 21 Great Oak Rd. to the French Cable Museum, which sold the house to Stephen Hobday in the 1980s. Hanvey also left land to the conservation trust.
“Preservation of historic buildings is generally much less impactful on the surrounding habitat than demolition and construction of an entirely new structure,” O'Grady wrote. “As we have seen many times in Orleans, new 'single-family' homes are excessively large and do not fit appropriately into the landscape and into Orleans Scenic Roads. The property at 21 Great Oak Rd. currently serves as an extension of the preserved land on OCT's Hanvey Gift, remaining largely in its natural state.”
O'Grady wrote that “OCT intends to reach out to the property owner to discuss the conservation value of their land, and we hope to provide opportunities to permanently protect such values through land conservation and historical preservation, while at the same time minimizing the impact of development.” A demolition delay, he wrote, “would provide an opportunity to further educate the current property owner on the historical significance of the property and its importance to the character of Orleans.”
Ollivier has plenty of that history to share, including photos of the house a century ago and diaries that detail the life lived there. He has fond memories of the Collins sisters, Alice and Georgie, who tracked his increasing height from the age of 4 with marks on a door trim.
The past has a future, in a way, and Ollivier is hoping that the property across the street can be re-purposed while retaining its historic character, including a barn that's “a landmark in itself.” After all, he notes, 21 Great Oak Rd.'s chicken shed was once an outhouse.