Following an emotional, months-long battle for some residents, a home regarded by many to be a Wilton landmark (if not a true historical one) was torn down Wednesday, March 23 to make way for a planned, 4-home development. The house, commonly referred to as the Schlichting house at 183 Ridgefield Rd., was one of the last remaining Italianate mansions in Wilton dating back approximately 160 years ago.
The property was sold by the Schlichting family to builder James Fieber in August of last year, after two years on the market. When an “intent to demolish” sign was posted at the 13.5 acre property, several private citizens started mobilizing to try and prevent Fieber from knocking down the house and other structures on the property. One resident, Victoria Mavis, started a change.org petition to appeal to Fieber not to demolish the house. The Historic District and Historic Properties Commission enacted a 90-day demolition delay in October 2015 after public outcry.
The delay came and went. Fiber’s application to subdivide much of the property into four 2-acre lots on which to build single family homes was approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission at the end of February. And while the house was included on the 1989 Architectural Survey listing of historic homes, that did nothing to prevent its demolition.
During the delay, parties were sought to save the structures, and elements of the property were saved as a result. The barn was saved by Wilton residents Michael and Janet Foster; it was disassembled and is currently being stored until it can be reassembled at their property. They did not purchase the barn; instead, through a deal worked out with Fieber, they were able to take the barn in exchange for a donation to the Wilton Historical Society.
In addition, before the main house was demolished, floorboards were removed and donated to Ambler Farm. Other architectural elements were saved as well.
Wilton’s first selectman Lynne Vanderslice said the following after the house was demolished yesterday: “It is always difficult to lose something from our past. But we are fortunate that the home and the barn weren’t immediately demolished. Instead time was taken so they could live on within the reconstructed barn at the Fosters, the floors at Ambler Farm and future homes where saved architectural elements will eventually be used.”
Mavis, who helped spearhead the effort to stop demolition of the house, sent this statement to GOOD Morning Wilton:
“It’s a sad day for Wilton. In minutes, on Wednesday morning, the town lost an important piece of its historic heritage when the 160-plus year old Schlichting house was razed. This could have been avoided if the same energy, vision and cooperation that currently guides our grassroots preservation effort had been applied before the structure was endangered and plans for its protection and restoration could have been addressed. I expect that our community’s leaders will take note and recognize their important role as custodians of our town’s character and will support future efforts to strengthen our town’s ability to preserve other, irreplaceable, structures so that we won’t lose what makes Wilton so special.”
Mavis has said that there was another individual who had been trying to work out plans to relocate the house, a New Canaan builder named Joe Paladino and she posted a quote from him on Facebook shortly after the house was demolished.
“This house was in wonderful condition when I viewed it back in early December and deserves a second life…I am very disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to restore this wonderful piece of history. I am disappointed for my family, the Schlichting family, and quite frankly, the Town of Wilton.”
Other sources who had been inside the house have said it was in significant disrepair and would have been difficult to save in total.