Abandoned Vermont: South Ryegate Church

Located in South Ryegate, this 1880 church is a landmark from many vantage points. This is the First Presbyterian Church, but has not been used as a church in years. However, it’s still in good condition (with some repair and maintenance needed) and is an impressive building. Perhaps what is most striking about this building is just how much wood is on it, from the clapboards to the brackets to the lintels to the entrance hood to the buttresses, everything is wood and detailed.

A friendly neighbor who keeps an out for the church showed me around. According the him, the church has not held services in many years and was deconsecrated in the early 2000s. There is another Presbyterian Church nearby that is still in use. Although in good condition, the building has been the victim of some interior vandalism. The neighbor seemed hopeful for a brighter future for this building.

First Prebyterian Church, South Ryegate, VT.

The front entrance.

Note the brackets are holding brackets.

Huge granite blocks serve as the walkways.

The parsonage behind the church.

As a result of Tropical Storm Irene flooding, the brook behind the church changed course and now runs underneath the parsonage.

The interior of the church shows wear and the need for maintenance, but overall appears to be in sound condition and very much intact.

Simply beautiful. Who wants a former church?

What a magnificent structure, don’t you think? If you’re in South Ryegate, this is definitely worth a look. Because of its seemingly sound structure and historic significance and integrity, it would be shame for this church to remain unused and abandoned.

Pop Quiz Follow Up

Preservation Pop Quiz and Answer. To give you a better image of the underground telephone line markers/posts that you’ll see along the road, here is a picture of one without the faded plaques.

Click and zoom for detail.

Keep your eyes open!

Preservation Photos #137

The Checkered House Bridge in Richmond, VT which is currently undergoing a widening and rehabilitation projects. Click and zoom in for details. 

Read more about the Checkered House Bridge and the project here.

Preservation Pop Quiz Answer

Last week’s Preservation Pop Quiz asked you to identify this feature:

The clue was that it’s seen on the side of the road, and frequently, at least up here in Vermont. Most guesses related to highway markers or survey markers. That was my first guess, as well, but when I looked closer there were no indications of road markers. Instead, it looks like this:

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Admittedly, the quiz did not show that side of the post. Now that you’ve seen it, any guesses?  How about this one?  To answer some likely questions: it is constructed of concrete. The plaques are metal and yes, have long since faded. Some of these that I’ve seen on these Vermont highways have crumbled or cracked. Others are missing the bottom half of the concrete posts, revealing the one metal reinforcing rod.

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What has faded? The bell telephone logo. These concrete posts identify utility lines along the road. While they look oddly similar to highway markers, I have not seen any with that would indicate as such. Have you?

So what are they? Telephone utility line markers is my best guess. All of these concrete posts that I have seen have similar plaques and faded bell telephone symbols. What do you think? Are you in agreement? Or do you think it’s something else?

In Your Town: Trash Cans & Recycling Bins

Lately we’ve talked a lot about looking at and seeing your town/community/city in more detail than usual, and identifying what you like and possibilities for improvement. See these posts and discussions for starters: What’s Your Community Wish?Small, Public Spaces: Parklets; Street Observations: 10 Questions; On Your Streets: Curbs.

So, what do trash cans and recycling bins have to do with any of this? Well, have you ever found yourself walking around and wanting to throw out or recycle something? You don’t really notice the existence of or lack of such receptacles until you need one, right? Maybe it’s like looking for a bench. You don’t think about it until you really want to sit somewhere.

Do trash and recycling receptacles matter in our built environment, specifically our historic downtowns? Frankly, yes. For one thing, it keeps the environment clean. And secondly, it makes for a more pleasant experience, because our streets and parks feel whole. Meaning, if you have everything you need, you’ll likely to appreciate the place and your time there.

Concord, NH. Note the trash bin at the edge of the sidewalk and crosswalk.

Yet, many of our towns and villages struggle with the issue of trash and recycling receptacles because it can be expensive and labor intensive. And then where do you put them? As mentioned previously, many of our towns are not blessed with wide sidewalks and there is not room for such street furnishings, especially if you are looking for trash and recycling. But, there is no way around this. Trash and recycling bins are important to a healthy community.

Receptacles come in many shapes, sizes and styles, from cast iron boxes like the one below to decorative barrels to open barrels on a post to concrete and hard top plastic. We’ve all seen these, I’m sure. But have you ever thought about them?

One example: zero sort receptacles in Rutland, VT.

So the next time you are out and about, take note of your streets. Are there trash and/or recycling receptacles? Of what style and material? (Meaning, are they barrels, metal, open cans, etc.?) Are there enough? Are your streets clean? Are they necessary where you live?

Trash & recycling in Keene, NH (where there are large sidewalks and pedestrian spaces).

Understanding such a seemingly minute aspect of our built environment allows us, preservationists and beyond, to shape our communities for the better. A well-cared for community is one that people will love, and one that is worthy of people’s pride. And that makes for a better sense of place. Make sense? Can you think of other “minute” details that can make a big impact where you live and visit?

Preservation Pop Quiz

Now that I’ve noticed these on the side of the road, I can’t stop noticing them. Maybe it’s an obvious feature to many, but it took me a while to realize what it is. What is your guess? And how often do you notice these?

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What is Your Community Wish?

It’s summertime (just about) and the weather beckons us to appreciate our downtowns and the surrounding landscapes, whether you prefer strolling in the commercial district, spending the day in a park or taking an adventure. What is your favorite summertime activity? How do you show your love for your community?

Strolling through historic downtown St. Albans, VT.

Part of loving your community means considering where it is going. What would you like to change about where you live, or what would you like to add? Maybe it’s something as simple as benches in the park. Or maybe you’d like to see more businesses in town. Perhaps a historic building in town needs some help. Get out, enjoy the sunshine and daydream about your “ideal” place to live. You never know, you could be thinking the same thing as many others. Don’t be afraid to bring up your idea.

Abandoned Vermont: Weathersfield Store

Often you will come across an abandoned building that has a similar form, even if it’s hidden beneath layers of additions and alterations from previous decades. Usually one room schoolhouses or 1930s service stations are good examples of easily identifiable forms. In Weathersfield, Vermont this building struck me as store or some combination of public service related businesses.

Weathersfield, Vermont

It has been damaged by the Tropical Storm Irene flooding, though I don’t know the extent of the damage prior to the flood. This image shows that an entire and some stairs have been removed.  There is nothing obviously impressive about the building in this state to any passerby, but the interest lies in the stories and the questions, as always.

Looking at this building, I was guessing it retained little of its historic integrity. And the cupola roof has seen better days. I’d guess the Tyvek paper has been there a while as well.

The front of the building: fenestration has been altered, too.

The side of the building: pairs of two-story bays with wood detailing intact, among all of the vinyl elsewhere.

A beautiful Italiante door with a steep step, vinyl siding covering the clapboard, and a roof soffet in need of repairs, among other maintenance.

I always like to know the story of a building, including its past and reason for its current condition. Normally PiP doesn’t share those details for privacy of the building; however, this one seems to warrant it because if any help is going to come to it, it needs to happen quickly. Imagine my surprise when I found this image on the Town of Weathersfield website:

Amsden Store. Historic photo by Charles A. Moore of Ludlow, VT. Click for source.

It looks like a completely different building until you look closely. Remove the porch, the wing on the left, and the staircase on the right and you the current building. The history provided by the Town of Weathersfield is as follows:

The so-called Amsden Store building was built by Charles Amsden around 1869 as his home, and that of some of his Amsden Lime Co. employees in today’s hamlet of Amsden. What was once a booming lime quarrying and manufacturing business, Amsden is situated at a bend in the road on Route 131, just a mile from the stoplight at the junction of Route 106 at Downers Corners.

What a difference, yes? Anyone have any information about its present state of ownership and its fate? Presumably it was most recently divided into apartments. A sign on the front says “For Sale by Owner.” Can you imagine tackling such a project?

Dollar General v. Smart Growth in Chester, VT

Today is a guest post by Scott and Wendy who write the blog, Northern New England Villages, with the mission of “Encouraging the preservation and restoration of towns and villages in Northern New England (Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont) through picture galleries, blogging, forums, social media and more…”

This post will address the pros and cons of a Dollar General store in Chester, VT, following that discussion with an introduction to form-based zoning. Regardless of your opinion, it is important to understand both sides of the issue and to consider solutions. Scott and Wendy are happy to answer your questions and respond to your comments. 

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Tiny Chester, Vermont (pop. 3,154 as of 2010) is garnering national attention in their fight against Dollar General. A recent article in the New York Times states:

While Wal-Mart has managed to open only four stores in Vermont and Target still has none, more than two dozen Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores have cropped up around the state. All three companies are thriving in the bad economy — between them, they have more than 20,000 outlets nationwide, selling everything from dog treats to stain remover and jeans to pool toys. Their spread through Vermont, with its famously strict land-use laws, has caught chain-store opponents off guard.

This case differs from battles with Dollar General in other Northern New England towns in that it is a green-field development. Across the border in Winchester, New Hampshire, Dollar General wants to demolish the historic Wheaton-Alexander House in order to build their mini-monster.

Generally, the application for demolition is where towns can prevail over Dollar General by denying them the ability to do so.  However, with a green-field development, the town cannot fall back on anti-demolition ordinances to protect their historical architecture.

Without the prospect of a demolition to galvanize the community against Dollar General, this battle has evolved into two distinct camps—the folks who want the economic development versus the Smart Growth folks who want to preserve the architectural heritage of the town.  Here is a run-down of the pros and cons:

PROS:

  • Preserving private property rights: The Dollar General will be built on a subdivided lot from the adjacent Zachary’s Pizza House—the owners must think this is a good deal and certainly have the right to sell their property. For more details, see this document from the Chester Development Review Board (pdf).
  • More retail sales/jobs and greater tax base: Vermont already has a tough time competing for retail sales against sales tax-free New Hampshire. A recent study (pdf) has found that Vermont annually losses a half billion in retail sales and 3,000 retail jobs to New Hampshire.
  • Higher property values: Enhanced local retail opportunities mean more choices and better prices. Also, in an age of $3 to $4 per gallon gasoline, traveling great distances to go shopping can get expensive which detracts value from more rural locations
  • Positive environmental impact: Closer retail means from less driving and gas consumption.
  • Restraint on trade and competition: Keeping Dollar General out would reduce competition in the retail sector which means local consumers will pay more.

CONS:

  • Overbuilding: There is already a Dollar General store in Springfield, Vermont which is less than 10 miles away.
  • Visual blight: The design will detract from the traditional New England architecture of Chester villages—see this slideshow for the visual impact (pdf)
  • Economic black-hole: Dollar General would drain sales from local businesses, take profits out-of-state and threaten the town’s overall economic viability. Many local businesses have been pillars of the community for years such as Lisai’s Grocery Store.
  • Negative environmental impact: The large surface parking lot, which is wastefully only used during store operating hours, will create runoff issues in an area prone to flooding. See this video on the flooding that occurred during Hurricane Irene before the store is built.
  • Lower property values: The presence of an undesirable chain store may discourage tourism and folks from buying second-homes in the area.

What do you think . . . did we miss any pros or cons?

Whichever side you fall on, Dollar General has seemingly won approval to move ahead with the project.  However, we hope that we can use this experience to better prepare for the next time. After all, Dollar General and related kin, Family Dollar, have already expressed their desire to further expand into Vermont and Northern New England.

Ultimately, a large part of the problem stems from how towns approach zoning. Current zoning practices are all about separating land uses from one another. This not only relegates form to the back of the line, but practically barred traditional, multi-use forms all-together.  Traditional zoning was, in part, an enabler of drive-everywhere suburbia.

One intriguing solution is to invert zoning so that form comes before use—called, appropriately enough, Form-Based Zoning (for more information see Form-Based Code Institute and this excellent article by the Michigan Association of Planning (pdf)). Unfortunately, form-based zoning is only now arriving in New England. A recent study on the history and challenges of form-based zoning in New England (pdf) found that:

Publicly-adopted form-based codes have gradually gained acceptance over the last fifteen years as an alternative to the principally use-based local zoning ordinances and by-laws that have dominated land use regulation in the United States since the 1920s. These codes were first adopted with the force of regulation in the south and west before they moved into other regions of the country. By and large, for reasons that remain open to discussion, the region with the lowest degree of penetration for form-based codes has been New England, where the first true form-based code was adopted only in 2005, and the total number of such codes in all six states is still in single digits. This article will discuss in detail three of the adopted codes in New England and three specific legal issues raised by those codes, starting with a review of form-based codes’ recent history and concluding that form-based codes are poised to enjoy wider acceptance in the region, which for the time being remains the nation’s “Final Frontier” for this alternative approach to land development regulation.

From Michigan Association of Planning: Smart Growth Tactics (page 4). Click for source.

As shown in the picture, even Borders Bookstore can find a way to fit in under Form-Based Zoning. So imagine if Dollar General were going into a building that fronted Main Street, had 2 to 3 stories with office space/apartments, wide, shaded sidewalks, back-ended street parking and only a single curb-cut for overflow/winter/tenant parking and deliveries. Would there be less opposition?

At any rate, we’ll have to save all of the ins-and-out of Form-Based Zoning for another post. The concluding point is simply that the current form of zoning is inadequate to preserving the historical character of our towns and villages. More battles like Chester, Vermont are on the way to Northern New England so new tactics, such as Form-Based Zoning, need to be developed now.