FALMOUTH – Caleb Rawstron’s question to the Falmouth Historical Commission was simple and direct.
“Does Falmouth have so much history that it can afford to throw some of it away?” Rawstron asked. (See also, The Rocket’s Red Glare, An Essay About The Nimrod)
Rawstron, who lives in Falmouth center, was one of about 20 people who attended the commission’s meeting this week for an agenda item billed as a discussion of the Nimrod, the historic building located on Dillingham Avenue that most recently housed a restaurant and that is planned to be demolished later this summer.
“Let’s recycle this building,” Rawstron suggested.
He and the others at the meeting offered suggestions about saving the structure, which is one of three remaining buildings in town with cannonball holes left over from the British attack on Falmouth during the War of 1812.
At the end of the meeting, people interested in saving the building exchanged names and numbers. (Their group website is www.SaveTheNimrod.org and their email address is [email protected].) The developer, Warren Dalton, said he would keep in touch with them and was open to saving a small section of the building on his site or giving the building away to whomever wants to take it.
Rawstron suggested the developer donate the building to the Falmouth Historical Society, which could turn it into a museum about the War of 1812.
Barbara Weyand of West Falmouth, who agreed to be a liaison between Dalton and the group hoping to save the structure, said, “I’m passionate about historic preservation.”
She suggested “detaching” the building from the location and moving “the essence of the building,” the parts deemed worth saving, to town-owned property somewhere else in town.
“We can have our own 1812 souvenir,” she said.
Clara Hennessey Gilbert of West Falmouth has taken her research of the building to the highest level.
On a trip to England, she tracked down the captain’s log for the original Nimrod, the British ship that fired the cannonballs.
She read from the “Captain’s log of His Majesty’s Brig-sloop of war Nimrod,” from January 28, 1814.
The log described the weather that day as ‘moderate breezes and fine.”
It also described the attack most succinctly. From 1 to 4:30 p.m., the log notes, the Nimrod was “firing on the town to destroy it.”
But they did not destroy the town, Gilbert said.
She said the history contained in the building is worth saving.
Dan Small, a lifelong resident of North Falmouth, said people have approached him who are interested in saving the Nimrod.
He and others at the meeting agreed to meet to develop a plan.
In the meantime, Dalton, who has a purchase and sale agreement on the building, said he is open to helping however he can.
Dalton showed his new conceptual plan to save a 28 by 28 square foot section of the building including the cannonball hole and place the structure on the lot near Dillingham Avenue, with perhaps a bench and a plaque.
The rest of the lot, according to preliminary plans, will have three buildings containing offices, retail space and seven apartments.
But several people said they believed the tavern section of the building with its old fireplace should be saved as well.
Historical Commission vice chairman Nancy Hayward, who was acting as chairman in the absence of Heidi Walz, said that the vote at last month’s meeting to waive the Demolition Delay Bylaw may not have been valid after all.
She said she recently reread the bylaw and noticed that it states that the board shall hold a public hearing for abutters and other members of the public before voting to grant a waiver, which delays demolition by six months.
She said she does not believe the June meeting where the waiver was granted was properly noticed for abutters and the community.
James Fox, who is the representative of the owner of the property, the bank that foreclosed on it, filed paperwork asking to demolish the structure in March. Whether or not the commission needs to revote the waiver, the building can be torn down in September.
That gives the people who want to save the structure about six weeks to find a way.
“I’m hoping someone will have a viable suggestion that will lead the owner of the Nimrod to reconsider his desire to demolish the Nimrod,” Hayward, the only commission to vote against the waiver, said at this week’s meeting.
Hayward said the commission had received some letters from owners of condominiums at Dillingham Place next door to the Nimrod in support of saving at least some part of the old building.
Valerie Burns, who owns a condominium at Dillingham Place, said she wanted answers from commission members about the waiver.
“Why was it given a waiver is what I’m asking,” she said.
Commission member Richard Sacchetti said that he is a novice at historic preservation, but that the committee has a balancing act when it comes to granting a waiver.
“For my vote, I felt the building was far beyond economic repair. As much as I’d like someone to fix the building, I’d like to own a pony,” Sacchetti said.
He said it is unrealistic to think anyone would take on the repair of the building.
In response, Burns brought up Highfield Hall, the Falmouth mansion that was saved from demolition with a major fundraising effort.
George Hampson of North Falmouth said his house dated 1810 was moved from Hatchville to North Falmouth. He said he and his wife consider taking care of the old house an obligation. “We don’t own it. The town does,” he said.
His wife, Barbara Hampson added, “To lose the Nimrod I think is unbelievably sad.”
– Laura M. Reckford