Thursday, July 29, 2010

Coming Attractions: Amherst College Proposes to Demolish Historic Fence

The Historical Commission has received a request from Amherst College (the property owner) to demolish the historic fence of the Greek Revival house at 74 College Street.
The house was the home of Edward Hitchcock, Jr. (1828-1911).  An early graduate of Amherst College, he returned here after receiving a Harvard MD to take charge of the first Department of Physical Education and Hygiene in the United States.  He is particularly known for his work in comparative anatomy and anthropometric measurement.  He was, however, involved in a broad range of College and civic life, and his "Memorabilia Collection" of Amherst College materials was the origin of today's Archives and Special Collections.

He was the son of Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864) and Orra White Hitchcock (1798-1863). Edward Hitchcock was professor of both theology and natural science at Amherst College, as well as its President.  He is known in particular for his pioneering work in geology and paleontology.  The greatest discoverer of dinosaur footprints (preserved in the Amherst College  Museum of Natural History), he struggled to reconcile the emerging geological and fossil record with his religious beliefs. Orra Hitchcock, an educator and a scholar in her own right, was moreover an accomplished artist, who also furnished illustrations for many of his works.

The reason given for the demolition request is that:
"The fence is falling apart and its necessary removal will be part of clearing away material and plantings that have come to obscure the house."
Any proposed demolition of a historic structure (historic, in professional and governmental preservation terms, is defined as at least 50 years old) has to come before the Historical Commission for review.  Our first step is to decide whether a hearing is merited. Then the actual hearing eventuates in one of several possibilities ranging from outright granting of the demolition request to imposition of a one-year delay, and various intermediate courses of action such as permitting demolition with conditions attached.

Because the demolition delay bylaw is our only tool for the enforcement of preservation needs, and because the public is generally not acquainted with the principles and processes, I'm planning to do a little piece on several cases (once all are completed of course).  Often, the choices are difficult ones, so the purpose of the piece will be to explain the perspectives of both applicants and preservationists and how we attempt to reconcile them.

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