Pelham - Windham News 8 - July 22, 2011
Historic Home Being Used for Training Firefighters by Barbara O’Brien
Although the barn that sits on the same property will be saved for future generations to appreciate, the battle to preserve the historic Fellows House has been lost. The old house and barn, located at the corner of Lowell Road and Route 111 in Windham, have stood at that site for nearly two centuries, watching steadfastly as the world changed around them. Despite their historic significance, however, the white clapboard house will be falling victim to a developer’s ball and chain, in the very near future.
During the selectmen’s meeting on July 11, Windham Fire Chief
Tom McPherson announced that the property owners, Anthony and Susan Mesiti, had given permission to the fire department to conduct training exercises inside the house. After which, the developer will demolish the house. “We had spoken to the property owner, Mr. Mesiti, and asked what was going to happen to the Fellows property,” Chief McPherson said. “ Mr. Mesiti stated that the barn was to be saved, but that, within the next few weeks, there was a plan to raze the house.” Firefighters then asked if, prior to the demolition, there would be a chance that the fire department could use it for some valuable training. “Mr. Mesiti graciously agreed,” McPherson stated. Earlier this month, while firefighters were on the premises,
New Sessions Starting Soon!
readying the property for training, members of the Historic District Committee/Heritage Commission, saw the activity and stopped to inquire about their presence. “Some members were concerned and upset,” McPherson said. “After hearing this, we decided to place the training on hold until we could meet with all involved, to come to a mutual resolution. We met with everyone, including Mr. Mesiti, after which, members of the Historic District/Heritage Commission were allowed to remove some items from the property. These items will be displayed in the town museum, next to the old Town Hall. At this point, McPherson said, “Everyone’s in favor of the training moving forward.”
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Due to the close proximity of Route 111, firefighters will not be conducting live fire training, McPherson explained. This will not be a controlled burn. Instead, an inert smoke machine will be used to simulate smoke-filled conditions. Training sessions were scheduled for July 12, 19, 21, and 30. The building is to be demolished by the developer once all training is completed. As for firefighter training on the afternoon of July 12, when
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temperatures approached the mid-90s and the humidity resembled that found in much more southern locales, McPherson commented, “It was brutal, but conditions would be no better if it were a real fire, and we all survived!” Hopes are, however, that the next three sessions will find the weather a bit more tolerable, McPherson said. Upcoming training exercises include the use of a thermal camera and employment of a Rapid Intervention Team. Carol Pynn and Jerry Parsons, members of the Heritage Commission, were allowed to enter the house prior to firefighter training getting underway. Pynn said that they were able to remove a few items from the house, including two different samples of plaster and lath, each indicating that portions of the house were built at different times. One side of the house was built using a “riven” lath, on which can be seen uniform up and down marks on the wood. This technique was popular after the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The other side of the house was found to have sawn lath in the walls, most likely hewn in a sawmill powered by a waterwheel. “These are two different building techniques, indicating different eras in the building trades,” Pynn stated. The plaster that was salvaged is of the animal variety, with hairs still visible. Pynn said the animal hair could be horse,
hog or cattle. Pynn and Parsons also removed one door, which they believe is an original part of the house, as well as several door and window latches, and one hand-cut nail circa 1825. The oldest section of the house was built around 1750; the “newer” portion in 1865. ‘We are pleased with the fire department’s training aspect of the
whole scenario,” Pynn said, after having attended the initial session on July 12. “It was absolutely fascinating,” she said, referring to the smoke simulation. As for the upcoming total loss of the house, however, thoughts are not so positive. “Obviously, the house is going to be demolished,” Pynn commented. “And I am still very sad that it’s going to go.” “A lot of townspeople feel the same,” she added. “But things don’t always turn out the way we want them to and we have to learn to live with the way it is.” ‘Still,’ Pynn continued, “we all put a lot of time and effort into trying to save one of Windham’s most historical buildings and we are all very disappointed that it will soon be gone, forever.” The Fellows House would be eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic homes, but the current property owner must make the application. Mesiti has shown no interest in acquiring that status for either the house or the barn. The Heritage Commission is an arm of the Historic District Committee, but does not have the regulatory powers granted to the Historic District Commission. The Heritage Commission’s purpose is to listen to public testimony regarding historic properties and to assist the Planning Board with related issues. The Mesitis, reportedly, bought the Fellows property about eight
years ago from Carol Wilen Yennaco, at a cost of $1.3 million. According to Attorney Bill Mason, Mesiti has plans of developing the Fellows property into a mixed commercial, retail and residential district and the old house is just not included in those plans. Mesiti’s proposed project is to be located in Windham’s Village District, which includes the original town center. The property in question extends from land adjacent to the old Town Hall to Hardwood Road. Mesiti wants “to create a village center; a downtown nesting area, so to speak,” Mason said. The concept has been in the works for about seven or eight years, thus far, according to Mason, and little forward progress has been made up to this point. Pynn said that all the buildings along this stretch of what is now Route 111 made up the original town center of Windham and each of them once housed a small business; a doctor’s office, a lawyer, a blacksmith or a cobbler’s shop. Mesiti had offered to sell the house to the Town of Windham for one dollar, but the cost to the town of moving the structure from its current site was prohibitive, with the price tag ranging from $40,000 to $50,000. The house has been standing vacant for approximately a year and a half. As for the adjacent red barn, Mesiti no longer plans to demolish that structure and, reportedly, does have plans to move it a short distance from its current site and incorporate it into his new development. No information was made available as to when that might occur. Pynn said she asked if the original cellar hole from the barn could be maintained and used as a historical focal point for the entrance to the new “village concept” development, but that Mesiti had declined the suggestion.
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