It was a little over two years ago that our team from the Historical Society of Easton approached First Selectman Dr. David Bindelglass with a proposal to create a demolition delay ordinance for the Town of Easton. Unlike the majority of the communities within Fairfield County, Easton provided no protection from demolition for its historic homes. The proposal, based on Redding’s ordinance that had been in effect since 2014, was laid out in detail while Dr. Bindelglass listened intently. The discussion that followed included numerous questions about how the ordinance would work and exactly which historic homes would qualify for a town-imposed delay for demolition. While our team from the historical society couldn’t provide answers to every question that had been raised, that first meeting proved to be productive in that we learned the hurdles we would face and Dr. Bindelglass came away with a good idea of the scope of protection such an ordinance would provide to those buildings most residents deem to be historically important.

Several more meetings were held. The Society’s team made adjustments to the ordinance based on the feedback from the entire board of selectmen as well as the building inspector and a couple of other town officials that sat in on the negotiations from time to time. The goal was to make the ordinance as fair as possible for everyone involved. Once everyone was in agreement that we had come up with a proposed ordinance that would provide adequate protection from a hasty demolition without terribly infringing upon a property owners’ right to use their property as they see fit, the final draft was approved by the board and sent to a townwide machine vote in 2022. Passing by an almost three-to-one margin, Easton’s Demolition Delay Ordinance became law.

Easton is very fortunate to have a population that sees the value in preserving the town’s history. There have been less than dozen structures of any notable historic provenance demolished over the past ten years. The current ordinance was never designed to completely prevent demolition, but rather to delay it so that reasonable people could take a hard look at viable options that might result in saving a worthy structure through re-use, re-purposing, or re-evaluating the need to completely tear down and start over.

The property owners always have the right to demolish a building as long as the normal requirements needed to obtain a permit are met. If the town’s Historic Review Committee deems a structure to be historically significant, it can apply a 90-day delay so that the building can be photographed and properly recorded for historical purposes. The committee can also request – but not require – that the property owners make a reasonable effort to salvage some parts of the structure should they decide to proceed with the demolition at the end of the delay period. Once the interested parties have reached an agreement as to how to proceed with the demolition, any remaining time on the delay can be waived at the discretion of the Historic Review Committee.

Our first test

Thankfully, the first application for demolition of a structure listed in the town’s Historic Resources Inventory didn’t come until about a month ago. Driving by that house offered no indication that it wasn’t a good candidate for restoration as opposed to demolition.  

433 Center Road as it appeared recently.

As it turns out, 433 Center Road proved to be one of the more difficult properties to accurately assign a build date. While the Easton Historic Resources Inventory compiled in 1996 lists the probable construction date as being c.1810, the information for that survey was obtained from the research of Francis P. Mellen compiled during the early 1970’s. Unfortunately, at least some of that information has proven to be inaccurate.

Mellen assigned the first ownership of this house to David and Pricilla Osborn(e). Mellen also attributed the prior ownership of this property to Moses Oysterbanks. The only records showing a land transaction between Oysterbanks and Osborne occurred in February of 1798. That property was landlocked with no access to the highway that the house then faced (Weston Land Records Volume 5, page 304). The more likely parcel that held that house was purchased by Osborne from Zachariah Lyon on November 29, 1808 (Weston Land Records Volume 9, page 250). That transaction showed a dwelling house already on the land in question, an indication that the house there predated the assumed 1810 build date.

433 Center Road c. 1905

The house remained in the Osborn family until 1900 when it was sold by Orlando & Edith Osborn to Aurel Ruman Sr. and his wife Amelia. Aurel, a wheelwright by trade, likely constructed the little red barn that sat next to the house for his business. The Rumans raised their four children there, with sons Aurel Jr and Albert becoming the proprietors of the current Greiser’s store for a short while in the early 1900’s. Prior to the Aspetuck Reservoir being built in 1914, the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company would have taken some of the original land that would have once comprised the original working farm.

The elder Ruman’s daughter, Anna, along with her husband, Clarence Logan, later took possession of the house from her parents and they retained ownership until approximately 1960.

Aurel, Amelia, & Anna Ruman

Described by Rossano and Baldwin in their 1996 HRI report as a vernacular residence “typical of the many three bay, side-hall, half-houses constructed in Easton between 1790 and 1840,” the structure had several indications of an earlier existence. The chimney base in the basement was constructed of stone and some timber. While much of that base had been painted with white paint, it appeared that at least some of the mortar was clay based. Several of those who participated in a field visit to this house in May of 2023 were of the mind that this chimney base may have dated closer to 1770-1780 than 1810.

While the outside of the house had a similar look to the typical side-hall variety of the early 1800’s, the interior belied that design, with no staircase on the outside side wall just inside the front door – a feature typical of that design. Rather, the stairs were at the far end of the parlor. They were extremely narrow, extremely steep, and they made an immediate turn with no landing near the bottom. They were also accessed through what appeared to be a period correct wooden door that would have prevented warm air from escaping from the first level in an era when the only source of heat would have been from the fireplace. Again, this was in keeping with the stair design of an earlier structure.

The framing – at least what was currently exposed enough to be examined – was an odd mixture of hand-hewn beams, some with tree bark still attached, and some professionally milled floor joist that reflected carved joinery with no fasteners that were visible. Some of the other hand-hewn pieces exhibited traditional post and beam joinery with the use of pegs. In short, construction and materials indicated alterations and reuse of earlier materials whenever possible.

Many of the remaining floorboards on the first level appeared to be rough sawn and non-dimensional and often showed signs of patchwork – most notably in front of the hearth of the fireplace in the parlor – indicative of a major change, as the present fireplace was much smaller than what would have been normal in the late 18th or early 19th century. However, the were no indications of a former fireplace large enough for cooking and no signs of the traditional masonry Dutch oven.

Patched floorboards and the unusually small fireplace in the parlor don’t fit the original build date assigned to 433 Center Road.

The house showed obvious evidence of several additions and more than a few major alterations. Evidence of sagging beams that were sistered with modern lumber to add support was evident in several areas. Damage sustained over time from a long leaking roof had resulted in high levels of mold and obvious signs of rotting floorboards.

While the house appeared to sit squarely on its original rubblestone foundation, signs of neglect, poor workmanship on alterations and additions, and structural framing that appeared dubious at best, led the committee to conclude that the home would be prohibitively expensive to restore and that no significantly historically important features remained that would have been worth saving. The representative of the property owner had already shown his willingness to salvage some of the original flooring and was also willing to rescue as many old beams as possible once they were determined to be sound enough to be repurposed.

In the end, photographs were taken, a house history was compiled, several items were slated to be saved and repurposed and the home owner was given his demolition permit without further delay. In all, it took about twenty days from the time the permit was applied for until it was issued.

Post Script

This past week, 433 Center Road was demolished. What was uncovered seemed to prove that everyone had reached the correct decision. Many of the structural beams showed advanced signs of major decay due to the damage inflicted by insects, most likely powder post beetles, and rot. Many more exhibited signs of cracking and weakening that had resulted from deep cuts and holes drilled too close to the edges to accommodate modern wiring and plumbing. In short, even the bones of that house were too weak to properly support the weight that a modern kitchen, tiled bathrooms, and new mechanicals would have added to the structure.

Mixture of framing seen after demolition: 1: Hand Hewn framing with severe insect damage. 2: Milled framing from a later date. 3: Modern framing from the 20th century.

While it is sad that a building that had stood for so long is no more, it was time to say goodbye. As a member of the team that crafted the Demolition Delay Ordinance and as the consultant to the Historic Review Committee that decided to waive the 90-day delay after a thorough and exhaustive inspection, I am pleased that our efforts appear to have accomplished exactly what we intended. The house may be gone, but its history is alive in our photographs and reports.

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By Bruce Nelson

Director of Research for the Historical Society of Easton Town Co-Historian for the Town of Redding, Connecticut Author/Publisher at Sport Hill Books