STONINGTON — The Mystic River Boathouse Park Implementation Committee Monday approved a draft memorandum of understanding to be presented to the State Historic Preservation Office regarding a historic house on the park property based on suggestions in a report from a historical consultant.
Historical consultant Bruce Clouette of AHS, a cultural resource management company based in Storrs, Conn., met with landscape architect Chad Frost and two members of the boathouse committee on June 26 to view the 1.4-acre property, which includes a two-story gable-roofed house with a frame garage.
Because the house is a contributing structure in the Rossie Velvet Mill Historic District, it must be preserved, but plans have been developed to relocate the house to the north and construct additions for training and boat storage.
At the meeting, held at Stonington Police Headquarters, Frost read through Clouette’s report for the committee, highlighting Clouette’s suggestions, one of which was to classify it as an “adaptive reuse” property, which involves rehabilitation rather than restoration or preservation. Rehabilitation involves “making changes to the building in order to make it function in its new role.”
"We don’t want to move this historic structure and then build a fake-looking building right beside it, or put an addition on it that mimics the house that’s there right now," Frost said. "It needs to be appropriate in feel and material but not be a fake structure.”
Frost said Clouette also suggested that photos be taken of the building prior to demolition and relocation so that there can eventually be “some sort of interpretive signage that tells a story of how the house fits into the site.”
Clouette’s report also included his research on the history of the house, which found that it was first owned by John and Josephine Ward, and that the family with the longest association with the house was that of Walter Lovelace, who lived there from 1912 to 1950. Lovelace was the Rossie Velvet Company’s engineer and operated the mill’s steam engine and supervised the firing of the boilers.
According to Clouette’s report, the house was later occupied for 10 years by the family of Alphonso and Idella Balestracci.
Clouette also wrote in his report that the house, which was occupied by immigrants and children of immigrants, “can stand as a reminder of an age when manufacturing jobs allowed working-class people with limited formal education a chance to prosper.”
“We didn’t initially start off this process thinking we wanted to keep the house,” Frost said. “Two years ago we looked at it as a pretty deteriorated old home that didn’t have much significance. Now with digging, we realize it has some significance … and by celebrating and embracing the house’s history we might actually engender local interest and support for the project.”
Committee members unanimously approved the finalization of the draft memorandum of understanding, to be written by Frost and Clouette, based on Clouette’s suggestions, that will be presented to the State Historic Preservation Office, which must approve the town’s plan for the historic dwelling.
In September 2016, voters approved a $2.2 million bond to purchase the 1.2-acre boathouse park property, and the town purchased the land for $1.67 million in January 2017. Called the Hart Perry Boathouse project, its purpose is to provide public waterfront coastal access and the space for a privately funded boathouse for the Stonington High School crew team and community rowing programs.
Located at 123 Greenmanville Ave., the site was formed by coal slag dumped from the J. Rossie Velvet Mill, which opened in 1898 across the street.