Requiem for a House

0:00 By Bonnie Council It feels like an evisceration. What’s left is a scar I can barely stand to look at. We and the rest […]

Published March 31, 2023 7:21 PM
3 min read


By Bonnie Council

It feels like an evisceration. What’s left is a scar I can barely stand to look at.

We and the rest of our neighbors all called it Mary’s house. Mary and her husband moved there in the 1960s, back when it was one of the newer cottages in a neighborhood of cottages, on a street that ended in woods. Mary told us that when they moved in the entire street was lined with shade trees. Those trees are nearly all gone now, and most of the cottages too, though they were once an integral part of Rye, back when they served as summer places for people escaping the heat of the city.

But times change and the world moves on. One day Mary’s husband was gone, and then Mary got Alzheimer’s and went to a nursing home. They had no children, so responsibility for the cottage fell to a nephew. Over the years young families moved in and out. Then the funds for Mary’ s care ran dry, and it was time to sell. Within weeks, before anyone in the neighborhood even knew it was on the market, it was in the hands of a developer.

Soon a tall chain link fence surrounded the house, and then the heavy equipment arrived. Neighbors walking by stopped, stared, commiserated, all in dismay, disbelief, shock, and sadness. The universal comment was some form of, “I can’t believe they’re going to tear it down.” One neighbor told us her kids, grown now, used to call it the Hansel and Gretel house. Not that it was scary, or even covered in gingerbread as in the fairytale. But just that it was different enough to catch your eye and make you look twice. It was a stand-alone in a neighborhood that was once all stand-alone’s.

It took only a few days of noise to knock down the stone wall surrounding it and to dig up the gravel drive that led to a charming and peaceful backyard. People who are also planning to demolish an old building may consider using a mobile jaw crusher to crush bricks and concrete so they can still be reused.

This past Saturday morning, the old cottage stood alone amidst the pile of rubble; by evening it too was gone. Only the beautiful fieldstone chimney and hearth remain, like some kind of cruel punch line.

This story is about one house, on one street. But it could be told about anywhere in Rye, on any day. A few weeks ago, a drive from Milton Point to Port Chester revealed seven teardown/re-builds. Seven. It’s like a forest fire, and no one cares enough to even try to put it out. I guess this is progress, but it seems sad to me to be letting all these old houses go just because people today want open floor plans and multiple bathrooms. It’s as if local developers have no concept of renovating. All they know is to tear down and rebuild. And then all that character, along with all that old wood, all the architectural details — the old wainscoting, the diamond mullioned windows — where does it all go? To a landfill? Adding insult to injury? Some of the old materials can be reused. The old wood can be recycled and used as reclaimed wood.

Those who wish to keep a house with lots of character and want to update some parts may consult an expert like a bathroom remodeling contractor instead of tearing the house down. Limitless Renovations is a trusted renovator in Atlanta.

It’s probably unfair to say it, but it almost seems that realtors decide on their own that a house is not worth saving and market it directly to developers. Or else people who buy them are so wealthy it means nothing to them to purchase a house only to demolish it and rebuild.

I realize it’s just personal, but it bothers me that our house will one day meet the same fate as Mary’s. That a realtor will decide it’s too small, too old, not worth saving, and a developer will buy it before anyone else even has a chance to look at it. Maybe a young couple who would have loved the opportunity to turn the attic into a second floor; maybe empty nesters who want to downsize to a single level with low maintenance. Maybe someone who might even appreciate the hours and hours spent creating the perennial gardens that surround it. But no, this is Rye. It caters to developers and millionaires. Cottages, old architecture, old gardens are not part of their vernacular. Our house will go. So too will all the other cottages. Even a lot of larger old houses — we’ve lost some real beauties in recent years.

All it takes to sell out a town, its character, and its history, is money. And there seems to be plenty of that out there.

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