Badge of honor for historic buildings

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 8:45am
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Every house has a biography.

It has a birth date; most have an end date. Each home has a personality, and many stories to tell.

It’s difficult to find out too much about a house just by looking at it, but one project initiated by Scenic Block Island is designed to speak a little bit about some of the older houses on the island. 

These homes are now adorned with an oval plaque that tells a passerby the year the house was built. It’s a symbol of their historic value.

Cindy Lasser, a member of Scenic Block Island, said the impetus behind the Preservation Plaque Program was the desire to bring attention to Block Island’s historic homes after losing more than a few older homes on the island to demolition.

“One last house went and I thought we need to honor these historic structures,” Lasser said. “That’s what Block Island is all about.”

The plaque is also a reminder of the original names and owners of the homes. There is the home of Lemuel Dodge, built in 1879, or The Woonsocket House, which is now the location of the Block Island Historical Society, also built in 1879.  The Huggins family has owned the same home since 1760.

Lasser said the criteria by which a home is eligible for a plaque is quite simple: 

- The structure has to be 50 percent original; and

- It had to survive the Hurricane of 1938.

She guessed that there are still hundreds of homes on Block Island that could qualify for this symbol of its local historic significance. 

To see if your home qualifies, check the online (or hardcopy) version of “Block Island Historic and Architectural Resources” that was compiled by several researchers. (Visit here: https://bit.ly/2rvfjo7)

Lasser also said there are records at Town Hall where homeowners can research the history of their property. 

On scenicblockisland.org, the Preservation Plaques link at the top right of the page brings the visitor to pages providing information about the program, how to qualify, as well as stories about homes that have received a plaque. 

The Nicholas Ball House, which was built in 1886: “Ball, an islander, first went off to sea at age nine. He sailed many trips along the Atlantic seaboard and across the Atlantic.  After many adventures including mining in the California Gold Rush, he came back to Block Island. Nicholas Ball was responsible for the construction of the Old Harbor breakwater, the life-saving stations, and the Southeast Lighthouse. He also built the largest hotel on the island — the Ocean View Hotel.”

The Alvin C. Ernst House (1910), known as Star Cottage: “Alvin C. Ernst was a blacksmith who worked with the Negus Brothers.  In the 1930s, Miss Esther McCarthy ran a boarding house... The location of the home between the two harbors made it a popular spot for guests. It was said to have an ‘excellent table’ for 20.”

Lasser also wanted something to be clear: there would be no restrictions in any way placed on any home that receives a plaque.  

“You are free to do with your home what you want,” said Lasser. “Our goal is to have these houses survive.”

Scenic Block Island also has a Facebook page on which more information and photos of participating homes can be found.