RICHMOND — Members of the Town Council on Tuesday considered a notice to the town that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management plans to demolish the lodge on the former DeCoppet estate, now known as the Hillsdale Preserve Management Area.
The 1,825-acre property on Hillsdale Road was largest donation of land ever made to the state. It was bequeathed by Theakston DeCoppet, who not only donated the land, but in the first-ever endowment of its kind, also left $20,000 per year for the preservation and care of the property.
DeCoppet, a New York stockbroker and nature lover, retired in 1916, came to Richmond and began buying land for his estate. He died in 1937, and his will stipulated that the land be transferred to the state after all heirs and life tenants of the property had died.
In a Sept.19 letter signed by Megan DiPrete, chief of planning and development, the DEM told Town Administrator Karen Pinch that it plans to demolish the lodge, the only building on the property. Built in 1911, the large wood and stone structure has been vacant for several years and has been heavily damaged by vandals.
Michael Healey, DEM chief public affairs officer, said that repairing the damage would be prohibitively expensive, about $2 million.
“The lodge is in serious disrepair,” he said. “With significant foundation and structural issues, it’s estimated to cost between $800,000 and $980,000 to fix. This estimate is two years old and notably does not include remediation of hazardous materials (lead, asbestos, mold). We’ve seen labor and materials costs increase in the past two years.”
DiPrete said the DEM planned to document the historic elements of the lodge before it is demolished.
“In order to properly manage the materials, RIDEM intends to move forward with demolition of the structure,” she stated in her letter to Pinch. “Prior to doing so, and before historic elements of the DeCoppet Lodge are lost to further vandalism, RIDEM intends to photograph and document those important historic elements.”
Pinch said that some residents, including a former resident of the lodge, were dismayed to learn that the DEM planned to tear it down.
“Several members of the public attended our Town Council meeting and expressed dissatisfaction that DEM is intending to demolish this building,” she said. “One of the attendees was a descendant of Mr. DeCoppet and actually lived in the home for 42 years.”
Pinch said she had contacted the state to determine whether the building might qualify for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
“Prior to the meeting, we reached out to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission and they let us know that DEM had already contacted them about this property,” she said. “They shared a letter sent to DEM indicating that the building didn’t meet National Register criteria.”
The town has been given two weeks to provide input regarding the plan, but it does not have the authority to amend it. The DEM plans to develop a network of trails on the property.
“Although DEM doesn’t have the estimated $2 million needed to rehabilitate the lodge, we do have a vision and a plan, through which we will continue preserving and caring for Mr. DeCoppet’s property, which is a magnificent gift to the state of Rhode Island,” Healey said.
DePrete said a DEM representative would be available to present the plans for the property at an upcoming council meeting and Pinch said she had requested a presentation at the next meeting on Oct. 15.