Opinion: Preserving our historic properties

The Norris Mansion, built in 1860, is one of the only intact historic buildings remaining in the city of Concord.

The Norris Mansion, built in 1860, is one of the only intact historic buildings remaining in the city of Concord. Monitor file


Published: 05-10-2024 3:39 PM

Sarah Mathieu lives in Concord.

I am a Concord resident that has renovated apartments in a historic multifamily house downtown. The house was built around 1850 and occupied by Steven K. Blaney, a Concord Coach painter for the Abbot-Downing company.

It has taken a lot of work to make the renovations needed while keeping and restoring original features, such as the old wooden windows, which I am rehabbing myself. I value old buildings, their history and architecture, and historic preservation and I understand our community’s need for responsible landlords and quality housing. I work hard to be a good steward of my historic property, and I’m encouraged when I see others striving for that goal as well.

A few months ago I decided to explore the option of moving the Norris House (20 South Main Street) to a new location. I love the Norris House — it brings warmth and vibrancy to downtown Concord and it’s still in remarkable condition. The house currently has two apartments on the upper floors. I wanted to add more apartments, to help with our current housing crisis, and bring the house back to life. I knew we had to work quickly because the owner had a tight demolition and construction schedule at the house’s current site.

Starting with ballpark cost estimates, I contacted building movers, contractors, and city staff. I negotiated with property owners including on and off-market plots to try to find a piece of land to move the house to. I met with the Concord Heritage Commission and asked for help finding alternatives.

I dug into financing, zoning, moving utilities, and everything else needed to move a building of that size. Unfortunately, the relocation costs were much higher than originally estimated and now the house is scheduled to be demolished around May 20, according to the city planning department.

I still really hope we can save the Norris House. It’s a prominent piece of Concord history and relocation is a real possibility if only there was more time.

It would be great if the city could offer more coordinated assistance for people who want to save and repurpose historic buildings. The downtown is all part of a National Register Historic District, but the individual buildings that contribute to the district are not protected. The City of Concord has little say when property owners want to demolish historic buildings.

Maintaining our historic properties and reusing them is fiscally the better choice — this adds to our tax base, forgoes the “end-of-life” cycle of demolishing and rebuilding every 50 years, and keeps our historic downtown a place on the map to visit. A city with so much history and unique, beautiful buildings should pay more attention to preserving these assets.