MADISON — In an effort to preserve the history of the General’s Residence, an on-site survey was completed last week to determine what could be salvaged before the structure is demolished.

The plan is to take down the General’s Residence building and a house on the adjoining property at 916 Boston Post Road and build a replica of the General’s Residence, containing two housing units, with seven smaller homes on the rest of the 2.5-acre property, in a cluster development.

Demolition of 916 Boston Post Road is expected this week or next.

On Friday, July 31, architectural historian Rachel Carley was joined by architect Duo Dickinson, Madison Historical Society’s Dennis Flynn.

Carley will be working with the Madison Historical Society and the Charlotte L. Evarts Memorial Archives, “to really build a history of the house,” said Denny Van Liew, a member of the Madison Historical Society Board of Trustees and chair of the Preservation Committee.

Carley’s final report is expected to be published in October.

“That will become the heart of this living digital archive of the General’s Residence and what it means to Madison,” explained Van Liew.

The group determined that in addition to columns — doors, fireplaces, window frames, a corner cabinet and timbers from the interior of the building, both porches, the side and front door and some exterior trim will be saved prior to total demolition of the house.

The most remarkable find, according to Dickinson, was what the group believes to be an 18th century center hall fireplace in the basement of the building. He explained that it still has its original hearth and bread oven.

“It’s fantastic,” Dickinson said. “It’ll never get reused, but it would be nice to have it in one of the units that’s being sold, as almost a memorial to the building that’s there.”

One of the striking features, he said, is that the chimney was used as a support for the building, something that is illegal today.

“Because of that, for whatever loading reason, the center lintel, the actual lintel, the top of the hearth, the hearth stone, has cracked and that crack has gone up the smoke chamber in front of the fireplace,” he explained. “It literally is about ready to collapse.”

Dickinson remarked on how far the building has deteriorated, even over the last couple months since he last visited it.

“We went through it to the most extent we can and pretty much now, seeing it now and seeing the state the building is in, I don’t really relish going back in there again,” he said.

With this in mind, they were still able to identify items that could be saved for future use.

“Those pieces that are not used by the developers, the Madison Historical Society will have a right of first refusal on those pieces,” said Van Liew.

“They may end up in our archives, they may end up in some expositions that we would hold, but also there will be a digital memory of the house,” he added.

Owners/developers, Adam Greenberg and Timothy Herbst acquired the property, under the business name the General’s Residence at Madison, LLC, in October 2019 for about $1.8 million.

While the site plan was approved at Planning and Zoning Commission, the commission asked the developers to document the history of the house during the removal process and share results with the Madison Historical Society and Madison Historic District Commission,” the approval states.

Dickinson talked about preserving this history, prior to rebuilding.

“How we can actually take a building that has an enormous history that has never really been celebrated in Madison, which is the General’s Residence, and actually sort of make it come alive when we have to rebuilt it,” he said.

“I think it’s a really noble, good thing, that so many people, from so many different groups, got together to do the right thing,” he added.

Over the years the original home has been added onto and in the late 20th century, was operated as a popular wedding dress shop, a restaurant and a bakery.

“We believe people that love the General’s Residence should think of the General’s Residence as a quilt, not a tapestry” said Van Liew.

“This house has had different owners, six at least, possibly eight or more,” he added. “Each of them has done things to the house, over time, and that’s evident in the survey that was done this morning.”

Perhaps most noteworthy in the house’s storied history is its possible ties to the slave trade in the late 18th century.

However, past architectural surveys “are uncertain,” wrote Bob Gundersen of the Madison Historical Society in a column for the ShoreLine Times.

Gundersen noted that one early owner, Capt. Edward Griffin who bought the house in 1799 “had a substantial income that may have derived from the slave trade.”

“The story is told,” Gundersen said, that Griffin was “holding two slaves in the basement of his house when he heard that 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,” Gundersen said.

“It’s definitely a research topic for us,” Van Liew said about that part of its history.

“Yes, we are addressing it and if we would find that there’s truth to that we would contact the appropriate authorities for what to do about it. We are in a research mode right now, we don’t have any confirmation,” Van Liew added.

The walk-through survey done last week was not only to document history of the structure, but to guide developers in building the replica.

John Lind, chairman of the Madison Historical Commission, will lead a group that will work with the developers and Dickinson to determine what era the exterior of the replica will represent when completed.

“It’s been a long process for sure,” said Greenberg. “I’m certainly glad we are finally moving forward.”

For Van Liew, the work that everyone is doing, together, to document the history of this home, is extremely important.

“To me, like everyone else in Madison, this house is part of the Madison landmark and what makes Madison very unique,” said Van Liew.

“Historic preservation, for me, is important,” added Van Liew. “Knowing that this house is going to be remembered and the history of the house and the people will be put out there for time and memorial and that pieces of the house will be reused, in some way, that to me is a really good outcome.”

Connecticut Media Group