Owner unsure about restoring damaged 1720 Walcott House

Owner unsure about restoring damaged 1720 Walcott House

Cumberland resident Ryan Lipson stands in front of the tree that rocked his home on Nate Whipple Highway during last Friday’s storm. Lipson is unsure whether he’ll have the money he needs to restore his historic home, known as the Walcott House. (Breeze photos by Ethan Shorey)

CUMBERLAND – When Ryan Lipson purchased the historic 1720 Walcott House at 735 Nate Whipple Highway last fall, he knew he was looking at a lot of work to get it back into shape.

After last week’s powerful storm rocked Lipson’s new home, he says the task may now be insurmountable.

“It was raining inside,” said Lipson, who works at Amica Insurance Company.

Lipson, a North Providence native, told The Valley Breeze there’s no telling how much damage his family’s home sustained when a large evergreen tree toppled onto it during the height of the storm. A second tree fell on his family’s oversized shed, nearly destroying it completely.

The Lipsons’ three young children were napping on the second floor when the tree fell onto the roof, punching a gaping hole in a room near them and leading to extensive water damage. Lipson said he and his wife are grateful that no one was injured. He is convinced that the solid post-and-beam construction of the house is what prevented even greater damage and possible injuries.

Still to be determined, said Lipson, is whether the home, rendered temporarily unlivable, can be restored to what it was – his preference – or whether it will have to be leveled and replaced. The cost of restoring the structure might simply be too great, he said. Insurance alone will likely not be enough, he said. The cost of removing the tree from the roof was $6,000, he said.

Last Friday’s storm toppled many trees in Arnold Mills, where Lipson’s home is located, but no other homes appeared to have sustained this level of damage.

The Breeze reported in March of 2016 that the Town Council had placed a local historic district designation on the Walcott House. That move guaranteed that no future buyers could significantly alter the home unless the town’s Historic District Commission approved the changes.

The antique home, also known as the 1720 Colonial Cottage, was built by Capt. John Walcott, son of William Walcott, brother of Mary Walcott, one of the accused witches of Salem, according to The Breeze archives. William Walcott ended up at what was then known as Attleboro Gore to escape the events in Salem.

Much of the inside is original to the house, said Lipson, and that historic interior was what attracted his family to purchase the property.

The Lipsons purchased their home last September, acquiring it for $197,000 out of foreclosure. The 2,300-square-foot home is valued at $337,700 in the town’s tax database, and the estimated replacement cost is $300,509.

When the town placed the historic designation on the home two years ago, a large tree limb had landed on the roof and been left there. The home was preserved by previous owners, including the Allison family and Karen Bergevine, prior to becoming vacant and going into foreclosure auction.

The Lipsons have done extensive work on their home since buying it, including installing a new septic system and installing new electric and plumbing, among other renovations to the two-story, center-chimney, flank-gable structure.

The town’s Historic District Commission relies on guidelines from the Secretary of the Interior when it comes to preserving distinctive materials, features, finishes, construction techniques or craftsmanship. When work is being done on a home, new materials are supposed to match the old ones in every way, many times greatly increasing the cost of doing the work.

Arnold Mills historian Craig Johnson said the Historic District Commission should have a strong say in the matter of whether the house is restored or demolished.

“Determination would have to be made as to the absolute necessity of a demolition,” he said. “In this case, this structure is nowhere close to that necessity.”

Johnson said he spoke to Lipson this week and that Lipson is doing the right thing in consulting with experts on the subject to see how to repair the damage.

“This is a solid post-and-beam structure of huge interlocking pieces,” said Johnson. “It will take more than this to bring it down. Most frames of today would have been crushed. Long may it stand, I say.”

Cumberland’s eight designated local historic districts include single homes, such as Otis Smith Farm, as well as villages, such as Ashton and Berkeley.

When building permits are requested for properties within the designated zones, the Historic District Commission’s permission is required.

A tree also destroyed much of Ryan Lipson’s shed when it fell. The evergreen that fell on his historic home on Nate Whipple Highway, in Cumberland, is visible in the background.