Restoration Of Historic Old Village House Stumbles Over New Addition Size

By: Tim Wood

A plan to restore “Breathwood,” at 305 Main St., ran into opposition from the historical commission over the size of a proposed addition. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – A plan to restore and renovate a 170-year-old Greek Revival house in the Old Village ran into opposition from the historical commission last week over the size of a proposed addition.

Though they appreciated the effort to save the main house at 305 Main St., known as Breathwood, commission members said the addition to the rear would overwhelm the original structure.

“To me it dwarfs the historic structure in front,” said commissioner Jane Moffett.

The volume and scope of the proposed addition overpowers the property, located at the corner of Main and School streets, said chairman Frank Messina.

“It's a significant change to a very dominant corner in the Old Village,” he said. The house is considered a contributing structure to the Old Village National Historical District. At its hearing March 2, the commission considered whether to invoke the town's demolition delay bylaw or refer the project to the Cape Cod Commission, which has jurisdiction over properties within National Register Historic Districts.

The property is owned by the estate of Timothy Emerson, whose family has a long history in town, said his brother Peter. Timothy Emerson bought Breathwood in 1980, and for many years it was used as a summer home and, more recently, served as seasonal and year-round rentals for local service industry workers.

Before his death, Timothy Emerson discussed restoring the old house, Peter said. The family is very much aware of the ongoing threat to historic homes, he said, and wish to honor Timothy's memory by protecting the house.

“This commitment is important to our family and we all think it's a long-term benefit to the village and the town,” he said.

Restoration and renovations to the main house would include new windows, dormers and a new porch. The new addition would replace one built post-1900 that is not considered historically significant. Attorney James Norcross, said the new addition was designed to blend in with the historic home and provide modern living space for the Emerson family. Because it is at a lower elevation, only a small portion of it will be visible from Main Street, he said. The new addition is only 144 square feet larger than the existing structure.

“When all is done,” said building designer Steve Hart, “the addition will look like it may have been original.”

Commission members didn't see it that way. Although it sits lower on the property than the main house, it is essentially three stories and will dominate the older house, Messina said.

“Even though you have made a lot of changes to try to minimize it, it still looks like a three-story addition to the back of the property,” he said. The view from School Street, he added, would reveal that better than the view from Main Street.

The addition will be 100 feet from School Street but only 40 feet from Main Street, Norcross said, and this is the only location it can be placed on the lot, which has considerable wetlands. The elevation change should mitigate the concern over the size, he said. “Once it's there, I don't think your going to notice any change,” he said.

Members of the Old Village Association also opposed the addition. President Winnie Lear, in a letter to the commission, wrote that a four-foot notch between the addition and the original house is not enough to provide a “meaningful distinction” between the structures. The association recommended that the commission impose a 540-day demolition delay and refer the project to the Cape Cod Commission.

While the commission voted to declare that the original house is historically significant, at Norcross' request the hearing was continued until April 6 so that the owners can explore making adjustments to the plans.

Also known as the Sparrow Snow House, the home was built between 1840 and 1850 by Sparrow Snow Jr. He was lost at see in 1857, along with his brother and two cousins, according to the historical inventory form on file for the house with the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Sparrow's wife was forced to sell the house at auction in 1872, the result, according to the historical form, of the loss of her husband and four sons at sea. The subsequent owner, Francis Brown, was a Civil War veterans who kept a shoe and boot repair shop in a building next door to the house. That structure was later moved to Eliphamet's Lane by boat builder Spaulding Dunbar. The property passed through numerous hands before it was purchased by Emerson.