A prominent opponent of building a fire station at 139 The Great Road is challenging an architectural historian’s assertion that the current building on the site is not historically significant.
Don Corey contends that not only is the building a repurposed 19th century carriage house, but is also “a contributing element to the Old Bedford Center National Register Historic District.”
And as such, “under the National Historic Preservation Act and state laws, and regulations, demolition of the building would be prohibited if federal or state funds, permits, licenses, or other approvals were involved.”
Corey, a former selectman and Planning Board member, has been a member of the Historic Preservation Commission for more than 25 years. He put forth a similar argument in presenting a petitioners’ article at Special Town Meeting in November 2022, which failed during a session that was dominated by a proposal to extend the Minuteman Bikeway.
This month, Corey shared his assertions in a five-and-a-half page, single-spaced “documentation report” – with a five-page appendix – to the Historic District Commission, which has jurisdiction over the exterior of buildings in the Bedford Center Historic District and thus can deny the demolition needed to make room for the fire station.
The commission will not decide about demolition until it considers the appearance of the proposed firehouse and its impact on the surroundings. The building is currently under design by the architectural firm Kaestle Boos Associates.
One of the first steps local officials took once Town Meeting approved purchasing the site for a fire station in March 2022 was engaging the Preservation Collaborative of Medford to determine the historic significance of the building at 139 The Great Road, a former residence that most recently was used for offices and research.
After an investigation over several months, the head of the consulting firm, Ryan Hayward, reported that there was, at one time, a carriage house on the site, but this was removed and replaced with the current building early in the 20th century. The report’s executive summary declares, “It is a non-contributing resource to the Center Historic District.”
The Preservation Collaborative acknowledged that the building is listed in a National Register Historic District, but labeled that an honorary designation. “It is a formal recognition of a property’s significance and integrity, but in no way limits the owner’s use of a property,” the report said. “It also places absolutely no restrictions or conditions on changes made to private property.”
But Corey maintained that “all elements of the streetscape/landscape that retain historic integrity dating to the period of significance are contributions in National Register historic districts.”
“Early 20th century modifications to the building are well within the National Register District’s period of significance; a contributing building is not expected to maintain its original appearance.”
He alleged that Hayward “concocted a system to determine contributing resources based on his subjective personal opinion of the building’s integrity,” and questioned his “knowledge of basic National Register requirements.”
Corey wrote that local, state, and federal reviews all have agreed that the building is “a contributing element to the National Register District.” He maintained, “Meaningful discussion of the critical importance of maintaining the entire historic district’s integrity, specifically the integrity of the entire streetscape, is absent” from the Preservation Collaborative report.
Much of Corey’s communication contests Hayward’s conclusion that the building is not historic. “Mr. Hayward’s conclusion that the current building’s elements date to the last quarter of the 19th century and historical evidence support the opinion long held by Bedford town historians that framing of the current building is the residential conversion of the 19th century Bacon carriage house,” he wrote.
He said “there is no historical evidence” to support Hayward’s conclusion that the carriage house was moved, dismantled, or demolished after 1906.
“Carriage houses, barns, and stables that were adapted for residential re-use seldom had any original interior framing elements,” Corey explained. “Therefore, finishing methods and materials cited by Mr. Hayward in dating the house’s construction apply to dating rehabilitation of the building.”
The writer urged the commission to deny a demolition permit because construction of a fire station on the property “would cause a major irreparable loss of integrity to the entire eastern portion of the district.”