by John Clayton
Trying to preserve a city’s heritage is not for the faint of heart.
Just this month in Manchester, N.H., that adage was demonstrated with an exclamation point when an 1850 mansion, one that had been targeted for salvation by the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, was summarily bulldozed into rubble.
The building at 269 Hanover Street was known as the Hill-Lassonde House.
The state Division of Historical Resources had described the building as “one of New Hampshire’s least altered and most typical vernacular Italianate dwellings.” It was also on the National Register for Historic Places.
The two-and-a-half story wood frame house was built in 1850 for Alpheus Dwight Burgess, a machinist. In 1855, he sold it to Varnum Hill. It would become the home of merchant and one-time Manchester Mayor James W. Hill. Later, it was home to modernist painter Omer T. Lassonde, but once it passed out of the Lassonde family, the house fell on hard times.
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In recent years, the bronze plaque signifying placement on the National Register of Historic Places had been replaced by a big red “X,” indicating its status as an abandoned building. One could argue that it was abandoned, but not unoccupied.
Demolition workers noticed needles and sleeping bags inside the structure, in spite of the fact that the building’s owners, Oklahoma City-based MidFirst Bank, had complied with city orders to board up the building to prevent squatters from getting inside.
According to Maggie Stier from the NH Preservation Alliance, the Hill-Lassonde building represented the plight of many one-time mansions in the middle of New Hampshire cities– an orphaned historic gem surrounded by commercial buildings.
Two years ago, her organization included the property in its “Seven to Save” list, an annual list of historical properties threatened for destruction, but even that could not deter the razing of the building and its adjoining carriage house.
The site, now vacant, will be converted into a parking lot for the “The Flats at Hanover Common,” a 32-unit luxury apartment redevelopment underway about half a block away.
For preservationists, the loss of the Hill-Lassonde house will sting, but we will soldier on, as the battle simply shifts to the next threatened treasure.
That next treasure is the former George B. Chandler home at 147 Walnut Street. It is an ornate Queen Anne Victorian featuring 30 rooms, nearly 10,000 square feet and detail work unheard of in modern construction. Now, its destruction is imminent.
The building is owned by the Diocese of Manchester, and after backing away from an earlier ultimatum, the Diocese once again wants the 128-year-old mansion (that served as home to three bishops and the Felician Order of nuns) to be moved from its historic location.
Demolition is the only other option.
As with the Hill-Lassonde home, an effort to save the Chandler House has been launched. We soldiers are weary, but the battle for preservation goes on.