The Historic Commission is hoping to save two or three 19th-century mill houses for a museum.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Historic Commission is hoping to salvage a set of 170-year-old mill houses as museums.
The properties on Houghton Street dating from between 1840 and 1870 were set for demolition, which the commission signed off on in April.
But Commissioner Alan Horbal, who initially motioned for the demo approval, had a change of heart, he said.
"I went to the mayor for a one-year stay," he told the commission on Thursday. "Converse to my own recommendation to the board, because we didn't have all the facts."
Horbal said had carpenters check the first two "Hodge" buildings and found that "they're sounder than my house."
"They were physically sound. They look like hell, but they were physically sound," he said. "I would like to make them into walk-in museums.
The mayor agreed after several meetings, including with other board members, to delay their demolition to give the commission time to raise funds to save them, Horbal said.
While sound, the two-unit structures would still require work, including repointing the the foundations, repairing joists and replacing or restoring any original siding.
Two, possibly three, of the four buildings could be restored, with the one or two in the worst condition used for salvage.
Horbal said he envisioned something along the lines of Sturbridge Village with protected period presentations that people could view.
"It's a big project," cautioned Commissioner Joanne Hurlbut in voting approval.
Horbal said members of the Historical Society were supportive and there were people who could write for grants and help raise money. He hoped that local organizations and schools could get involved and that volunteers could help with cleanup and removing the asphalt siding before winter.
The buildings have been vacant for some years and are part of an estate.
"I talked to attorney of the estate," said Horbal. "They're determining what has to happen to transfer that property to us."
A fifth property — a former corner store at Houghton and Liberty — will come down.
"I'm sick and tired of them tearing buildings down," Horbal said. "If it doesn't work out, I'll go up with a sledgehammer next year and knock them down."
The commissioners did, however, approve tearing down a half-dozen vacant buildings on Edgewood Avenue, Hall Street and at 408 West Main because of their derelict condition. But they declined to pull the trigger on 24 West Main St. or 116 Pleasant St.
The demolition of
24 West Main 11-15 Furnace St. was being requested by Greylock Market, which is planning to revamp Western Gateway Heritage State Park, including connecting the north entrance to Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts.
"I think there's so much uncertainty in what they're doing," said Hurlbut.
Chairwoman Justyna Carlson noted the city's master plan calls for more downtown housing: "I think it's a shame unless it's absolutely necessary."
The Pleasant Street home is a Victorian with a dangerously dilapidated porch in the Cady Hill Historic District.
The commission recommended against its demolition with the hope some way could be found to help with its repairs.
"This would have been a perfect example of a home that could have benefited by a Local Historic District," said Carlson.
The city is looking into establishing such districts that could help homeowners and businesses access state and federal funding for repairs and restorations.
The commission is recommending the city establish a study committee in accordance with MGL 40C to develop such districts.
The effort is being spearheaded by City Councilor Benjamin Lamb, who appeared before the committee to get a formal endorsement.
"We are definitely strongly supportive of local historic districts and the economy," said Carlson.
She provided the commission and made copies for the City Council of recent articles showing local historic districts can be economic boosters and stabilize and increase housing prices.
"I'm pushing this schedule as fast as I can," said Lamb. "We're trying to persuade people who are on the fence. This is proof."
Correction: The West Main Street building was approved for demolition some time ago; the Furnace Street building is the one right before the pedestrian bridge. The market had done a study indicating only one of the three buildings would be worth rehabbing but since it has not signed a lease yet for the park, the commission did not want to OK razing a house someone might be interested in.