John Olds house being dismantled, taking piece of town history with it

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Manchester - posted Wed., Mar. 14, 2012
The John Olds house is slowly being dismantled. Photo by Annie Gentile.
The John Olds house is slowly being dismantled. Photo by Annie Gentile.

A piece of Manchester history will be gone in a matter of months. The historic John Olds house on the corner of Tolland Turnpike and Slater Road is slowly being dismantled, with the expectation that work will be completed in May.

The old white Federalist-style house was once the home of John Olds, a soldier in the Revolutionary War. A sign on the property describes him as an early leader in the successful move to separate Orford Parish from the Town of East Hartford, where he was active for years in town government. That separation resulted in the establishment of the Town of Manchester, which incorporated in 1823, earning Olds the unofficial title, “Father of Manchester.”

Listed since 2008 on the State Register of Historic Places, the house was later owned by the Olmstead family. Alan Olmstead was editor of the former “Manchester Evening Herald.”

“It’s really too bad. It was an old house and the floors were crooked and there were structural peculiarities, but not weaknesses. The house could have been restored,” said John Dormer, president of the Manchester Historical Society. “We tried for two and a half years to try to save the house in place, but the company that owns the apartments behind the house also owns the land, and they wanted it down. We think their goal is to build more apartments.”

The owner of the property is New York-based TGM Associates, which owns the Waterford Commons Luxury Apartments.

Dormer said the Manchester Historical Society does not have the money to purchase the home outright and had hoped it might be donated as an historical property. He said the owner instead opted to keep the land, but sell the rights to Glastonbury Restoration to disassemble the home, catalog the pieces, and market it on a national basis.

For his part, Steven Bielitz, owner of Glastonbury Restoration, said he has taken hundreds of photos of the home and will be providing a set of photos and plans to the Society as a professional courtesy.

The Manchester Historical Society was not alone in trying to save the home. Members of the non-profit Manchester Land Conservation Trust also tried unsuccessfully to keep the home in place.

“It could have been a showpiece for Manchester,” said Theresa Parla, who is a member of the Board of Directors for both the MLCT and the Historical Society. “We thought perhaps the owners didn’t want to care for the house, and we offered to take it on and let them take a tax deduction.” She said the MLCT hoped they could use the home for their offices and other civic organizations.

Parla said she talked to one representative from TGM, and she made a number of calls afterwards, but she never heard back from them. “They say they want to use the land for a park, but I don’t think that’s the case. If it was, they wouldn’t have taken down the house. They’re an out-of-state firm with no connection to Manchester,” she said.

Like Dormer, Parla said she expects TGM plans to build additional housing, although both expect that will be difficult, as they say they believe the property falls in a wetlands area.

“It’s often a problem when one of these historic homes comes down and there is no covenant put on the deed guaranteeing legally what can and can’t be done with it,” said Dormer. “I wish it could have been restored.”


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