One last plea to save historic home: Norris House on Main Street due to be torn down soon

The Norris Mansion, built in 1860, is one of the oldest intact historic buildings in the city of Concord. The home has a lush history and is at risk of demolition.

The Norris Mansion, built in 1860, is one of the oldest intact historic buildings in the city of Concord. The home has a lush history and is at risk of demolition.

Concord developer Steve Duprey points while discussing  the  Norris Mansion in 2023. Built in 1860, the Main Street structure is one of the only intact historic buildings remaining in the city of Concord.

Concord developer Steve Duprey points while discussing the Norris Mansion in 2023. Built in 1860, the Main Street structure is one of the only intact historic buildings remaining in the city of Concord. Monitor file

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 02-24-2024 8:34 PM

Modified: 02-24-2024 11:00 PM


With no obvious savior in sight, the historic green mansion between Concord Co-op and Bank of NH Stage on Main Street faces a demolition deadline even as a long-standing effort to save a historic brick building a few hundred yards away continues to grow.

What’s the difference? There are lots of historic homes but only one gasholder.

That was the conclusion at the latest meeting of the Concord Demolition Review Board, based on the group’s most recent meeting.

“There was a short discussion of the comparison between the Norris House and the Gasholder building,” the meeting minutes state. “It was asserted that the comparison was like apples and oranges because it is the last gasholder building, while the Norris House is not the last (mansion).”

The demolition board voted unanimously on Feb. 15 against supporting the destruction of the three-story, green Norris House, which dates to 1860 and has been associated with a Civil War bakery, the nation’s first woman-run independent movie theater, Concord’s first YMCA and a school for beauticians. But they have no authority to stop the destruction.

Owner Steve Duprey applied for a demolition permit in December, and the 60-day waiting period as established in city laws is nearing its end.

“It is my belief that the general public will be quite surprised to find the building missing on South Main Street in a month,” wrote Jim Spain, chairman of the Demolition Review Board, in a letter to the Monitor.

He is hoping that one last plea in the newspaper would produce a financial savior.“What we need now is basically a miracle. … We need a person who says, ‘I have the land; I have the resources needed to save that building,’ ” Spain said Friday.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

N.H. Educators voice overwhelming concerns over State Board of Education’s proposals on minimum standards for public schools
Former Concord firefighter sues city, claiming years of homophobic sexual harassment, retaliation
Downtown cobbler breathes life into tired shoes, the environmentally friendly way
Students’ first glimpse of new Allenstown school draws awe
Voice of the Pride: Merrimack Valley sophomore Nick Gelinas never misses a game
A trans teacher asked students about pronouns. Then the education commissioner found out.

Duprey, who bought the property in 2018, plans to construct a two-story building holding some restaurants on the site that he’s deemed “Arts Alley.”

He has said he would like to move the Norris House to a new site but can’t afford it. Duprey said he has offered to give the house away “plus $100,000 in moving costs” without any takers. Duprey said estimates at potential sites showed it would take $140,000 to $230,000, and possibly more, to move the house, partly because power lines need to be disconnected to make room as the three-story building passes by.

“Steve has made every effort to save the building,” said Spain.

The home is named after its first owner, James C. Norris.

Down the street, the multi-year effort to preserve the round, brick gas-holder seems to be doing well even though it needs much more money. It has already gotten about $600,000 to stabilize the building and most recently got a $2.4 million boost from owner Liberty Utilities, which will be using money from natural gas ratepayers.

It has received support from local and state organizations, including the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. But, Spain noted, there is a limit to money and time for saving historic buildings: “You can only put so many things on your plate.”

The gasholder project has received widespread attention from engineering and historical societies because it appears to be the last structure of its kind in the country.

America has a number of other round, brick buildings that once held “manufactured gas” made from coal, including one on the campus of St. Paul’s School. But Concord’s is the only one that still has all its internal mechanisms intact, including the multi-ton lid that floated over the gas.