In announcing its plans to demolish a historic home on Route 28 in West Harwich, the Bishop of Fall River displayed spectacularly bad timing.
Yesterday, the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates was scheduled to vote on a district of critical planning concern designation for the corridor of Route 28 from the Dennis town line to Herring River, driven largely by the efforts of residents concerns about preserving the area's historic homes. The Captains' Row initiative has raised the profile of the architecturally and historically important homes within the corridor, and the DCPC, which is likely to be approved by the assembly, enjoys wide support in town. Its implementation will provide the town with the time needed to craft regulations to protect those and other resources.
The DCPC proposal has focused attention on the area, but unfortunately the former Holy Trinity Church rectory and thrift shop falls just outside the district. Of course, historic significance does not know boundaries, and the 105-year-old Victorian house is part of a streetscape continuum that could, easily, be folded within the West Harwich DCPC.
Church officials say the building is in poor condition and no longer has a use within the parish. While others dispute that, if it's so, there's no one to blame but the church. Unoccupied for five years, the building appears to be headed toward what some preservations call demolition by neglect. At a recent historic district and historic commission meeting, a number of people said the building is not so far gone that demolition is the only option. There was also considerable support for using the structure for affordable housing, or, as a last measure, relocating it elsewhere, ideally for that same purpose.
There's no doubt that the attention surrounding the DCPC and Captains' Row means that saving the Holy Trinity house is not out of the question. It will, however, require the church to work closely with the town, housing advocates and community members. To provide time for this to happen, the local commission should impose a demolition delay. It may be too late to amend the boundary of the DCPC, but there's no reason that this historic home cannot be preserved, if that spirit of cooperation prevails.