Fate of historic house remains undecided

Oct 29, 2019

MARION — Faced with pushback from community members, and architecture enthusiasts, Tabor Academy is reconsidering its intention to demolish the house at 192 Front Street.

The house was designed by famous architect H. H. Richardson. It exemplifies shingle-style homes that remain popular to this day, and started a trend of using gambrel style roofs again.

The house was built in 1881, after Reverend Percy Browne bet Richardson that he couldn’t design a house for $2,500. Browne may have lost the bet, but he gained a house that continues to be talked about today.

Other notable residents of the house were Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances. The couple rented the house during the summer of 1889, following Cleveland’s failed attempt at running for re-election the previous year.

Tabor Academy purchased the house and accompanying land in 2008, but with the building in poor condition, and limited resources to restore it, the school has recently announced its intentions to demolish it.

On Tuesday, Oct. 29, people gathered at the Marion Town House to voice their concerns about the potential loss of a piece of American history at a Marion Historical Commission meeting.

“It’s not as big, and it’s not as spectacular as Trinity Church [another one of Richardson’s buildings] but architecturally, it’s just as important,” said one person in attendance.

Roger Williams University Professor Philip Marshall said that because the house looks so much like much of what came after it, it is easy to overlook the building’s historical significance. He also said that as the building’s owner, Tabor has the responsibility of being a steward to Richardson’s building. 

Tabor’s Head of School John Quirk also attended the meeting to gauge the public’s concerns and respond with his own perspective.

Quirk said that he does place value in the historical significance of the building, but due to its “extremely poor condition” it can not be used for housing or academic purposes, and currently has “no programmatic value” to the school, or its students.

Quirk also said that with an influx of comments and letters, there is a lack of consensus about what to do with the building. Some have advocated for preservation efforts, others have called for it to be restored back to how it was in the 1880s.

Tabor has sought out permits to demolish the building, but Quirk said that no date has been set for its destruction, and that “lots of things could happen. It could still be a presence up on the hill.”

Representatives at Tabor aren’t the only ones sorting through public comments about the historic house. William Tifft of the Historical Commission said that the commission has received about 70 letters since Tabor announced intentions to take down the building.

A final decision on the fate of Richardson’s shingle-style home has not been made at this time. To submit a comment or concern about the historic building, email reporter@sippicanweek.com.