Norwich is looking to demolish an 1810 house in historic Bean Hill

Rear of the 1810 house at 36 Huntington Ave., Norwich on Thursday August 4, 2022. The city is seeking bids to demolish the house, located in the historic Bean Hill area. (Claire Bessette/The day)

Outside the house at 36 Huntington Ave., Norwich on August 4, 2022. The city is soliciting bids to demolish the 1810 house in historic Bean Hill. The front of the house is a few meters from the street. (Claire Bessette/The day)

Norwich – Another piece of Bean Hill’s history will soon be gone, further eroding a historic part of the city that needs further research and understanding, city historian Dale Plummer said recently.

The city announced bids last week to demolish a nondescript house at 36 Huntington Ave., an oddly shaped gray house perched on the edge of the roadway where Huntington Avenue turns into Plain Hill Road. The house, listed as built in 1810 in city tax records, is warping and in danger of collapsing into the street, city building official Dan Coley said.

Demolition bids are due by 2 p.m. Friday, August 12.

The house is a National Historic District Contributing Building and as such is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city took possession of the abandoned house in 2017, but efforts to find a developer have failed over the years. Coley said city officials came under pressure to try to save the house and delayed demolition plans. But about two weeks ago, despite erecting a 4-inch square pressure-treated wood support beam in one corner, the wall facing the street began to buckle.

“We’re just trying to make sure everyone is safe,” Coley said. “We realize that some of these old houses have historical value. We tried. The placement of the structure is bad, as it is right on the corner. Once that house is gone, the lot is something the city can market.

The land is over a quarter of an acre, according to city tax records.

Deanna Rhodes, director of planning and neighborhood services, said her office has been in contact with the State Historic Preservation Office about the impending demolition. In June, the planning office hired Silver Petrucelli + Associates of New London to take exterior photos of the house and document the exterior condition and details for posterity.

The report described Bean Hill as a “local center of manufacturing and commercial activity” and called the house an early contributor to the region’s “utility structures” before commercialization.

Town historian Plummer sees more than the loss of a small house at the site. Plummer said the story of Bean Hill is as fascinating as it is fragmentary. The area was a center of radicalism as Norwich evolved after the American Revolution, Plummer said, with vocal abolitionists calling it home.

He speculated that the house was probably a boarding house for local leatherworkers in the district, which adds to the intrigue. It was said, Plummer recounts, “that you could follow radical ideas by the smell of leather.”

In the early 19th century, in Norwich and beyond, leatherworkers, shoemakers and tanners were at the forefront of radical causes, not the least of which was vocal opposition to slavery, said Plummer. Bean Hill was known to be home to black residents, including young David Ruggles, who grew up to be a leader in the Underground Railroad. The courtyard of Norwich Town Hall is named the David Ruggles Freedom Courtyard in his honour.

Even earlier, in the 1770s, Bean Hill resident Aaron Cleveland wrote letters to the Norwich Packet newspaper and preached sermons passionately opposing slavery. Cleveland wondered how American patriots could rally against slavery by the British while Americans were enslaving Africans, Plummer said.

Plummer called the impending loss of 36 Huntington Ave. “of a lost opportunity” to preserve a piece of the district’s history, he said, deserves more research.

“It’s a neighborhood that’s very important, critically important, to movements like abolition and temperance,” Plummer said. “Bean Hill had its own identity.”

[email protected]

Comments are closed.