Town officials talking but unsure how to save historic farmhouse

Town officials talking but unsure how to save historic farmhouse

The circa 1750 Arnold farmhouse is framed by stone walls along Whipple Road in Smithfield.

SMITHFIELD - Town officials have taken a small step toward saving the circa 1750 Arnold farmhouse at 130 Whipple Road, but its future is still uncertain.

Owner Paul Ronci - who has obtained a demolition permit for the venerable structure - says he met recently with Town Council President Alberto LaGreca Jr. and others, and has promised to wait until at least the end of the month before deciding the building's fate.

He said he believes municipal officials now have a better understanding of his needs as a businessman and that he has a new appreciation of why they consider the colonial-era house a "crown jewel" among the community's historical properties.

Still uncertain though, is how the two sides can resolve the major issue: how to compensate Ronci if he gives up for preservation a house and surrounding land that he says is in a prime section of the 55 acres he intends to develop.

The town's Historic Preservation Commission has termed the gambrel-roofed farmhouse "rare and important," and in a letter to Ronci asserted that it "should not be destroyed but rather preserved for future generations to learn from and appreciate."

Ronci, who said he has learned that part of the house may actually date from the 1720s, noted that while he understands concern over its future, the structure and a surrounding acre could be worth $325,000 and he is not in a position to simply give it away.

He said that's not necessarily the figure he would ask from the town, and that he will await its proposals before moving ahead.

"I'm not being a tough guy or stubborn guy," Ronci told The Valley Breeze & Observer. But, he said, he hopes to be working on his development by summer and that "if they do nothing, something is going to happen."

Ronci has said he has been approached by parties interested in buying and dismantling the house for relocation out of state.

LaGreca said a recent meeting with Ronci also included Town Manager Dennis Finlay, Municipal Planner Michael Phillips, and Building Inspector Peter Scorpio, and that the atmosphere was cordial.

The council president said he asked Ronci to be patient while the council tries to work something out to save the structure, adding that while the town does not have the means to write Ronci a big check, "He's a businessman and I understand his position."

Ronci said he agrees with some in town that the best plan for preservation would be to leave the house where it is. But, he added, he does not feel that he should bear the financial burden of getting that accomplished.

He bought the former farm property from the estate of Eileen Sullivan last August for $501,000 and intends to develop it for high-end single-family housing.

For tax purposes, the town values the house at $92,000 and the 55 acres at an additional $333,700.

While he'll wait a bit longer, Ronci said, "Patience only goes so far," noting that the town had 60 days to come up with a plan after he first applied for the demolition permit but made no offers. He picked the permit up Dec. 31.

According to the preservation commission, the house, once part of the McQuade dairy farm, contains a stone center chimney, the five original fireplaces and mantels, a 260-year-old glass-door china cupboard, a brick beehive oven, the original roof and wood doors with wrought iron hardware, and heavy-timber post-and-beam framing.