Thursday, December 5, 2013
NORTH YARMOUTH - Windows shattered, hand-hewn timbers cracked and walls collapsed, sending up clouds of dust where one of the town's oldest homes had stood on Baston Road since the early 1800s.
Katie Murphy, president of North Yarmouth Historical Society, says the Yarmouth Water District’s recent demolition of the early-1800s Beckwith house in North Yarmouth is “infuriating.”
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Marvin and Ruby Beckwith bought the Cape-style house and 17 acres on Baston Road for $1,500 in 1943. The water district bought the property to protect groundwater.
When the Yarmouth Water District ripped down the late Marvin and Ruby Beckwith's former house on July 13 without town permission, it destroyed a largely undocumented but important facet of local and regional history.
Now, the backhoe is gone, the 200-year-old farm is eerily quiet, and the water district faces a significant fine for its unbridled effort to protect groundwater. All that remains at 129 Baston Road is a fieldstone cellar filled with debris and rimmed with Ruby Beckwith's lilies and lilac trees.
"It was so sad," said Mickey Thompson, a neighbor and friend who witnessed the demolition. "It was like Ruby died again when that house came down."
Thompson is one of many who mourn the destruction of the historic 30- by 36-foot,Cape-style house and hope the Board of Selectmen holds the water district accountable.
Water district officials have apologized, claiming ignorance of regulations that apply in most towns and promising to make amends. Still, some townspeople question whether the district razed the vacant house so quickly -- one month after buying the 17-acre property -- to avoid potential costs and inconveniences associated with historic preservation.
Town ordinances required the water district, which serves Yarmouth and North Yarmouth, to get a demolition permit and notify the North Yarmouth Historical Society 30 days before razing any structure built before 1900. The district didn't do either, so the society had no chance to save the house.
If selectmen seek the maximum penalty allowed under Maine law, the fine could be as high as $12,500 for each violation.
"It's an unfortunate circumstance," said Steven Palmer, selectmen chairman. "We had a historic building and it was gone in a couple of hours. Some people might say it was deliberate. I'm not going down that road. We had a permit violation and we're going to deal with it."
Selectmen will discuss the matter Aug. 21. The penalty will be negotiated with water district officials.
Under state law, violations of land use ordinances carry fines of $100 to $2,500 per day. The water district razed the house five days before Barb Skelton, the town's code enforcement officer, issued an after-the-fact demolition permit that cost $50, which was $25 more than a timely permit.
The permit gives the historical society until Aug. 18 to inventory what's left of the house before the water district can fill the cellar and finish grading the site.
"It's all about mitigation now," said Katie Murphy, historical society president. "Part of our history is gone and it's pretty infuriating. We're a volunteer board and we rely on the community to keep us informed. Part of our grief is that we never heard anything about this and we wonder why."
Lincoln Merrill, a society board member, is less guarded in his reaction.
"I'm angry," Merrill said. "It's a crying shame that building was torn down and I don't believe it was an accident. It could have been moved. They could have given it away. I've got 40 acres. I would have taken it if nobody else wanted it."
Water district officials said they negotiated the land deal with help from abutters who didn't want the property developed. They never discussed getting a demolition permit or notifying the historical society, according to Bob MacKinnon, district superintendent.
MacKinnon said he wasn't aware of either requirement, in part because he had no demolition experience. The district's board of trustees wanted to buy the Beckwith property for years, he said, and always intended to tear down the house.
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
Before the Beckwiths bought the North Yarmouth farm, it was owned by Fannie, above, and Fred Baston.
North Yarmouth Historical Society