Walcott, General Store top list of key properties

Walcott, General Store top list of key properties

The former Diamond Hill General Store, a prominent fixture in a mostly residential area of Diamond Hill Road, will likely hold the second spot on the town’s list of endangered properties with historical value. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

CUMBERLAND – The Walcott House on Nate Whipple Highway and the old Diamond Hill General Store on Diamond Hill Road will likely be numbers one and two on a list of 25 properties considered to be most critical to the town’s historic fabric and most at-risk of being taken down, says Joyce Hindle Koutsogiane, of the Cumberland Historic District Commission.

Hindle Koutsogiane said she expects the commission to have its full list, requested by town officials, ready to go by March.

“It’s a task in process,” she said.

Hindle Koutsogiane wasn’t saying definitively what other properties might make the list, saying commission members want to talk to owners of the properties first.

“We just don’t want to have anything else happen to these properties,” she said of the structures under considerations.

The commission is planning to have an intern do a complete inventory of town properties with historical value, she said, and the work of finalizing the list of a top 25 will likely happen at the board’s meeting in February, held on the second Tuesday of the month.

Estimates are that there are some 200 or so properties in Cumberland worthy of special designations and protections, but the Historic District Commission is crafting a list of only the 25 most important.

Other properties that could be on the list, according to Hindle Koutsogiane, include the old House of Compassion on Mendon Road, which was supposedly part of the Underground Railroad, and a home for sale across from St. Aidan Church on Diamond Hill Road.

The message to owners of properties with historical value will be all about support for protecting the buildings, said Hindle Koutsogiane. The goal is to make sure they have enough money and resources for upkeep, she said, and to protect properties from demolition through any means possible.

Local historican Craig Johnson said the old Diamond Hill General Store at 3782 Diamond Hill Road is one of the last of its kind in the area, and “well worth any interest it can muster.”

The Breeze reported last August on the building owners’ lack of desire to sell the general store property or make any significant improvements to an 1895 building that has a living space above vacant storefronts.

Once known as the G. Whipple Commercial Block, according to “Historical and Architectural Resources of Cumberland,” the building was one of numerous business interests for the Whipple family in the area. The G. Whipple Store was the only country store in the area at the time.

That book describes the “excellently preserved” general store as a “commercial building gem,” with two original storefronts under a bracketed cornice.

Several neighborhood residents have expressed interest in buying the store property since The Breeze story last summer.

The 1720 Walcott House on Nate Whipple Highway has taken on even more importance since the demolition of the nearby Henry A. Bishop House, also known as the Colonial Cottage at 735 Nate Whipple Highway, last June, say Hindle Koutsogiane and others.

She wrote in a letter to the editor last November that she was “aghast” that the Walcott House had “been in virtual ruin for what may be going on three years,” saying numerous attempts by the Historic District Commission to get answers from the owner and his insurance company since toppled trees did heavy damage to the house have resulted in no action or repairs.

“As the year 2020 shortly looms in front of us, we should be able to celebrate the house’s 300th year of existence, not bemoan its destruction by neglect,” she wrote.

The Breeze reported two months ago on the town’s planned launch of the Preserve Cumberland initiative, an effort motivated by the destruction of several old buildings, most notably the Hawkins House next to Franklin Farm. Officials also want to save the old St. Patrick Church on Broad Street.

The initiative takes a broad approach to slowing or preventing destruction of local history, says Planning and Community Development Director Jonathan Stevens.

Preserve Cumberland is designed to establish financial incentives for appropriate restoration of old buildings deemed significant. Town Council members, who will ultimately consider the plan due to its financial implications, previously expressed some reservations about how those incentives might impact other town taxpayers.

“The tearing away of Cumberland’s historic fabric is not necessary. It is not good for our quality of life, and it erodes our sense of place and community character,” said Stevens in presenting the plan.

The council could also enact historic districts to add a layer of protection for old buildings, said Stevens in November. Within those districts, all demolition, new construction, and exterior alterations, but not interior changes, would have to be approved by the Historic District Commission.

Once the list of 25 most significant properties in danger of being destroyed is finalized, letters will be sent to homeowners notifying them of the town’s desire to keep them in place. According to Stevens, the council should consider an ordinance authorizing a modest property tax reduction for those owners who undertake substantial exterior maintenance or restoration projects through the Historic District Commission’s property owners’ guide.

Other planned actions include approaching the General Assembly about a bill authorizing the town to stall demolition of significant properties not on the National Register of Historic Places, similar to what is done in Pawtucket, and enforcing local “demolition by neglect provisions” to keep properties from falling into disrepair.

The 1720 Walcott House, also known as the Colonial Cottage, tops the list of properties that are important to Cumberland’s history but most in danger of being torn down. The antique home, previously damaged by trees, was built by Capt. John Walcott, son of William Walcott, brother of Mary Walcott, one of the accused witches of Salem.