MADISON — A local developer plans to convert the dilapidated “General’s Residence,” a 1730 home with a storied past, and the surrounding property into a condominium complex.
William Plunkett’s proposal, under the business name Capt’n Griffin, LLC, to develop the land around the General’s Residence at 908 Boston Post Road and the adjoining property at 916 Boston Post Road, was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission. Plans include merging the two lots resulting in more than 2.5 acres.
The property at 916 Boston Post Road sold for $580,00 in June 2018 to Frederick J. & Margaret M. Lyle. The General’s Residence, currently off the market, was listed as a redevelopment project for $1.4 million, owned by the estate of Dorothy Staley and Frederick J. & Margaret M. Lyle. Plunkett is under contract to purchase both pieces of property.
Plunkett’s other local projects include “The Black House” at 875 Boston Post Road, a commercial building converted into three, two-bedroom apartments; Moxie restaurant, opened in late 2014 and Scotland Avenue’s French, Bar Bouchee, opened in 2010.
The 3,600-square-foot General’s Residence, at the corner of Boston Post Road and East Wharf Road, has sat vacant for many years and is considered an eyesore. Plans are to preserve the home and build nine, free-standing condominiums on the property.
Plans presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission include “significantly cleaning up the house and fixing obvious problems to maintain the character, such as removing storm windows, retaining a bay window in the back, scraping, sanding, priming, and maybe fixing 20 to 25 percent of the clapboard.”
While the majority of the structure will remain vacant, a small addition on the west side will be converted into a two story, two-bedroom unit.
Bob Gunderson, a Madison Historical Society Trustee, wrote about the history of the building for the ShoreLine Times when the house went into foreclosure March 2017 (bit.ly/2WkHh7B).
“In 1799, Capt. Edward Griffin, formerly of Killingworth, bought the house and either rebuilt it or built around it. The architectural studies are uncertain, but the assortment of stories about Griffin himself are noteworthy — and often sordid,” wrote Gunderson.
“Part of Capt. Griffin’s substantial income may have derived from the slave trade. The story is told that he was holding two slaves in the basement of his house when he heard revenue officers were coming to assess his property. He walled the slaves up in the cellar and left them to die. When his estate was sold off, the wall was removed, and two skeletons were found. Some say that these two poor souls haunt the place still.”
Continuing, Gunderson wrote, “The house changed hands frequently and was unoccupied from 1895 until 1909. In that year, the house was opened by newlyweds Martha Hale (whose family owned it) and Lt. William Wright Harts.
“Used primarily as their summer residence, the house presumably offered relief from the heat of Nashville, where the lieutenant was posted. Harts, who graduated from West Point in 1889 and began service with the Corps of Engineers, ultimately became a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army. He was involved in a large variety of construction projects, including river and harbor improvements, locks and dams, and army camps.
“During WWI, he acted as military aide to President Woodrow Wilson, and he served with the British and French in the 6th U.S. Engineering Regiment. Highly decorated, he also served as chief of staff in the Army of Occupation, in Germany, in 1919 and 1920, and as military attaché in the American embassy in Paris from 1926 to 1930.”
Over the years the original home has been added onto and has been used as a wedding dress shop, a restaurant, and a bakery.
Paul Staley, son of the late Dorothy Staley, spoke at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting May 16 and apologized for the current state of the property. In addressing the commission, he said, “his mother owned that property; his mother was ill, and he had no resources to repair the structure — they did not want it to go that way, but it happened,” according to minutes of the meeting.
The Madison Historical Society supports the project.
“Ideally we would have an owner rescue the property, preserve it, take it back closer to what it would have been, not build around it; but that requires a lot of money, pouring it into a structure that’s been allowed to get to such a state that it’s almost beyond saving,” said Carol Snow, chairman of the Madison Historical Society Preservation Committee, an alternate on the Historic District Commission and a resident within the Madison Green Historic District.
“Unfortunately, that person has not come along and so we understand that’s not very realistic,” she added. “Therefore, I think Bill Plunkett’s looking at different ways and angles of how the historic house can enhance his development.”
Both Plunkett and Snow envision the possibility of opening the house up to the public in the future.
“If we can save whatever there is left in the house of the 18th century architecture, there may be a way that you could open up to the public at some point and have it be something that historians of architecture can study,” Snow said.
In his presentation to Planning and Zoning, Plunkett said possibly it could be used as a museum.
Architect Karin Patriquin, principal of Patriquin Architects, presented the plans that will include nine single-family homes, condominiums, with units facing the marsh, the street, and the open green area.
Landscaping, according to Plunkett, will include “an open space green, lawn area, flowers, a little community garden, a public access water viewing area with two benches for seating, and removal of invasive species to be replaced with native species.”
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Ronald Clark said this project was well received by his fellow commission members and General’s Residence neighbors.
“I personally thought it was compatible and fitting for that particular piece of property – actually two properties,” said Clark.
“The fact that that impressive structure, I think most people feel that way, is going to be saved and preserved is a good thing and that’s a plus,” he added.
“We realize the sensitivity of this property by its location to residence properties, to the Post Road, its visibility in the town of Madison and we’re glad we’re able to have a plan come forward that maybe ends up presenting the best of both worlds – good use for the property and without a question whatever was done would be an improvement with the state of affairs with the house right now,” Clark said.
Work at the site is expected to begin this summer and take two years to complete.