By Ed Harris
The New Britain Superior Court has issued a temporary injunction barring the Southington YMCA from demolishing the Olney house on North Main Street as part of a plan to add additional parking at the facility.
The injunction, secured by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, will protect the Olney house through January 30. During this time the Trust will work on possible solutions to preserving the home.
Helen Higgins, executive director for the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation said that if a deal was not reached within the five months the group would file for a permanent injunction.
“We hope to save the house,” Higgins said. “We hope to get a good use for the house.”
The home, which is located at 116-119 North Main Street, has had two famous owners. The home was built in the early 1800s by Samuel Andrews, a Revolutionary War veteran. Jesse Olney, a world traveler, geographical textbook author and politician, moved in around the mid-1800s and lived in the house for 21 years. His son lived in the house after Olney left.
“It’s a very historic house,” said local attorney and author Liz Kopec.
Kopec mentions the Olney home in her 2007 Images of America-Southington book. In the book Kopec writes that Olney was the author of a geography and atlas that was only outsold by Noah Webster’s speller.
In his lifetime, Olney also worked for education reform, served in the state legislature and worked as the state controller.
The brick federal building has undergone a few renovations over the years, but it is still structurally sound and is the only brick home remaining in town, according to Kopec.
For a few days last week Kopec stood outside the Olney house to maintain a “presence” against the demolition of the building.
The Southington YMCA purchased the property on Sept. 2 for $290,000. The home was listed as for sale as of June 2011.
After deeming renovation costs for the home to be too expensive, the YMCA Board of Directors decided to use the property to expand the parking area at the High Street facility.
The YMCA was formally approached by the Southington Historical Society about the property on April 27. The YMCA and the historical society worked for three months to reach an agreement on the property, but the YMCA recently stepped back from the table and took out demolition permits a few weeks ago.
The demolition permits did not necessarily mean that the YMCA was going to demolish the Olney house. The permits are needed for several different things, including the removal of the addition to the home.
“We have a really challenging timeline for this project,” said YMCA Executive Director John Myers.
Myers said the court injunction only covers the historic Olney house, not the addition or the other buildings on the property. Myers said this would allow the YMCA to move forward with the renovation as planned, leaving the Olney home alone for the time being.
In an email detailing the timeline since the YMCA purchased the Olney house and in a follow up phone conversation, Myers said that the real estate agent who sold the property had offered the home to the Southington Historical Society.
Former Southington Historical Society President Ken DiMauro, who headed the organization at the time that the offer would have been made, said the historical society was never approached about purchasing the Olney house. He said the historical society was not aware that anything was going on with the home until there was activity at the house.
“We didn’t even know it was for sale,” DiMauro said.
A message left with the agent from Century 21 All Points Realty that handled the property was not returned as of press time Tuesday.