The following letter was submitted by Wilton resident Donna Harakas, who requested it be published in GMW.com. It is an open letter written to James A. Fieber, the CEO of Fieber Group LLC, in New Canaan, the parent company of 183 Ridgefield Rd. LLC, which purchased the 13.5 acre parcel at 183 Ridgefield Rd. on Aug. 21, 2015.

Dear Mr. Fieber,

” [I]s it not cruel to let our city die by degrees,
stripped of all her proud moments, until
there is nothing left of all her history and
beauty to inspire our children? If they are not
inspired by the past of our city, where will they
find the strength to fight for her future?
Americans care about their past, but for short
term gain they ignore it and tear down
everything that matters….”

These words written 40 years ago by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis helped save Grand Central Terminal from demolition and came to mind when I saw the “Notice of Intent to Demolish” sign in front of the Schlichting Homestead. I was especially saddened to see that sign after reading the Wilton Bulletin article on Aug. 21 that said you were planning to save this lovely 1850 Italianate house and its barn.

As the owner of an antique property in Wilton, I have come to realize that I am a mere steward of the property ⎯ the true ownership is intangible and rests with our community. Wilton is valued for its scenic roads and antique homes which not only add charm and beauty to Wilton’s landscape, but are a reminder of our history and heritage.

I implore you to reconsider your decision and opt to save these beautiful structures that have been Wilton landmarks for over 150 years.

By all means you are free to develop your property but why not do it in a manner to preserve this precious piece of Wilton history? The Wilton community will come together to applaud your decision.

Today, no one can dispute the loss had Grand Central Terminal been demolished (just read what has been written about old Penn Station). If demolished, no one may remember the Schlichting Homestead forty years from now. Is this not tragic? Where will we be 40 years from now as our history is torn down one home at a time?

Wiltonians do care about their past and choose to preserve and not tear it down. Save the Schlichting Homestead and serve as a model for other developers tempted to raze antique historic properties.

Please reconsider your decision and preserve this historically significant example of Italianate Victorian architecture so that future generations may continue to admire not only its beauty and charm but the bygone history and heritage it represents.

Sincerely yours,

Donna Harakas

2 replies on “Please Preserve The Schlichting Homestead — An Open Letter”

  1. Last week I attended Rob Sanders presentation about the development of Wilton homes and the sources of their different styles. Coming from a family that for 4 generations have at one time or another owned antique houses dating from the late 18th to late 19th century the presentation evoked many memories, both good and bad. It is wonderful to marvel at the beauty of another time, or to see, when walls are opened, the workmanship it must have taken for builders in those days to construct these buildings , with rough beams, notches and pegs. Unfortunately, even though these structures seem to be built out of high quality timber, as time goes by these houses, unless well preserved fall to the ravages of time. As the older generation pass away, the newer offspring, or siblings, may not have the interests and same attachment to the older home or have time, money and the hassle just to keep the house going. So there comes the bad side of it. In Wilton, and I suppose other towns, there is no tax relief for preserving an older home, even if it provides a historical benefit to the community. There is even a charge to a home owner for a plaque to give to show when the house dates from. Assessments seem to be on a par with newer construction. The real estate market for older homes is limited, Insurance is not inexpensive, lenders can be leery, in some cases a small repair, upgrade or new addition to one part of the house requires the whole premises to conform to the new code. Home inspections commissioned by potential buyers usually point to many faults, real or imagined ,the inspector believes exist, fieldstone foundations, possible asbestos, signs of termites, lead paint, strange structural engineering etc. .At the end of the day it just boils down to how much passion, resources and will a new owner has to meet the “red tape” From a financial standpoint it may be better to just build a new house. It is unfortunate, it is sad, but it is reality, and we have not reached the point, yet, where we can dictate what a person does with their property as long as it conforms to the latest setbacks and “Codes”. But if a group can raise the money, buy it as a charity.

  2. Thank you, Donna, for taking the time to write such a lovely letter reminding us all of the importance of presevering our remaining historical structures. I could not agree with what you have said more.

    As a past owner of many antique homes in Wilton and neighboring towns, I would also agree with 29snowberry that “it is wonderful to marvel at the beauty of another time” through our antique structures and that preservation of these antique homes does “boil down to how much passion, resources and will a new homeowner has.” I also love the idea of tax relief for those that preserve these gems of history. Thank you for making those points.

    I disagree, however, with the premise that just because a structure was built recently it is better preserved than some of our historic structures. Workmanship and materials in newer homes are not always what one would hope. I used to laugh that the 200 year old parts of my homes were fine; it was always the newer additions that had issues. A structure’s quality is dependant on much more than just its age.

    Further, there may or may not be a limited market for antique homes as 29snowberry states. The real estate market is ever changing and antiques do go in and out of fashion. That being said, it has been my experience that there are many local residents who share my passion for antique homes and prioritize their resources to serve as caretakers to these homes. Antique homes have their own following much like the McMansion homes do.

    Finally, in the specific case of the Schlichting House, we are not talking about a homeowner on a small piece of property being asked to give up property rights to consider preservation of a piece of Wilton’s history. We are asking a builder, with a very large piece of property and considerable resources, to consider doing the right thing and save a piece of town history. There is no reason to believe this consideration would have a negative impact on the property owner. If renovated properly, this house would be a show piece and most likely very saleable. Additionally, if sited correctly, other stately new homes could happily coexist on this property allowing for financial gain for the developer and preservation for Wilton.
    It is my hope that this goal can be accomplished to the benefit of both the property owner and the town.

    Lorrie Hill

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