Historic home safe from demolition, for now

Pictured is the house at 204 W. Madison St., which is adjacent to 401 S. 3rd St.

GOSHEN — A 3rd Street home that predates much of what stands in Goshen today is safe from demolition, at least until fall.

The Goshen Redevelopment Commission voted Tuesday to table the demolition of a property that spans 401 S. 3rd and 204 W. Madison streets, after several residents pointed to the value of keeping the 160-year-old, historically single-family home. The 90-day delay gives city staff time to appraise the property and see if anyone comes forward with a new plan – and enough money to bring it back to a safe and livable state.

The commission acquired the home about 10 years ago and used it as a rental property, but scheduled it for demolition after learning about structural issues that include a cracked foundation, leaky basement, and bricks and floor boards that almost crumble to the touch. They tabled the plan for one month at the May meeting after hearing that the Goshen Historical Society wanted time to research the story behind the home.

Volunteer Rebecca Akins reported Tuesday that the home was built around 1861, predating the canal, and had been in the hands of the Engel family until 1992. The attachment at the back, along Madison Street, was used by a barrel maker until it was converted into living space in 1891.

She said one family thought the houses was worth keeping for 130 years, and she would be sad to see it go.

“The house is what creates the question of the history. You see it and it makes you inquire further,” she said. “Once it’s gone, there won’t be any of this opportunity.”

City Council member Adam Scharf said several buildings in Goshen are used by businesses today, including offices, a brewpub and a coffee shop, that were also considered for demolition at one time. He urged commission members to keep their options open by letting the house stand, at least for now.

David Pottinger, a resident who has been involved in building restorations in the past, said many people in Goshen appreciate the historic architecture that’s still around today. 

“Restoration is a very special addiction,” he said. “You can’t just put in parking lots. It doesn’t work.”

Commission members said they appreciate what he’s done in the city, but said it would take similar effort and expense to save the Engel house. They also questioned whether its age automatically translated into historic value.

And they agreed that it can’t be used as housing unless it is restored.

The houses are in an area targeted by the city for redevelopment because of its proximity to the Millrace Canal and the opportunity for new public and private investment, Community Development Director Mark Brinson said Monday. An advisory committee formed in 2010 to study the corridor recommended pursuing “medium density residential” development in the northern half of the block.

Current projects in that area include the renovation of the Hawks building into apartments, which is halfway complete, and the construction of the River Art apartment building, which is expected to break ground in spring 2020. The Redevelopment Commission decided not to seek any new development proposals until those are finished.

Brinson noted the commission has been buying property along the canal for about 12 years. That includes some in the 400 block of 3rd Street, between Madison and Monroe. 

“To date, the commission has acquired seven out of the 10 properties on this block,” he said by email. “The remaining three properties are still privately owned and the owners are not yet prepared to sell. Of the seven properties purchased by the city, four were in relatively poor condition and have been demolished.”

The houses at 401 S. 3rd and 204 W. Madison streets were marked for demolition after the city learned of their structural issues. Brinson said Redevelopment Commission members decided it made more sense to move ahead with demolition now, rather than make major investments in properties that could be torn down two or three years later.

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