CALLICOON CENTER, NY — Town officials say it’s an unsafe eyesore that must come down. Tom Ward, an engineer, determined that it is unsafe and the demolition work could be just weeks away.
However, Zeke Boyle, an historic preservation specialist who is certified in New York and Pennsylvania, walked through the building on January 8 and said that while there are some areas that clearly need work, the heart of the building is structurally sound.
Boyle remarked on the 40-foot hemlock beams in the attic of the structure that are as straight and true as when they were put in place more than 150 years ago.
The building is actually a marriage of two main buildings that were joined together, probably sometime in the 1850s. It has served as post office, general store, ice cream parlor and dance hall. According to Palline Plum, the current owner, it served as the first Masonic Lodge in the area.
Plum bought the building at a county tax sale in 1998, with the thought of turning it into the home of an artists’ residency program. Shortly after the purchase, officials in the Town of Callicoon condemned the property.
Plum went to court to halt the demolition and took some measures to ensure that the building was safe. Judge Anthony Kane ruled that she had met the town’s requirements. However, she was compelled to pay the town’slegal expenses, which with penalties ultimately grew to $11,000.
Over the years, Plum has tried to sell the property. Most recently, Howard Fuchs, a member of the Callicoon Town Board, who owns the property next door, engaged in negotiations to purchase it. Fuchs said he pulled out of the deal in November 2010 when his lawyer informed him that he could not get clear title.
There was a public hearing on the building in December 2010 and following that, the board voted unanimously to have the building taken down, with Fuchs recusing himself. The winning bid for the teardown came in at about $20,000, and at the town meeting on January 10, was awarded to Jim Hughson, and the demolition may begin in about two weeks.
Several residents who are interested in possibly buying the building, or salvaging some of the post and beam construction materials, asked the town board to extend the deadline by 30 or 60 days. The board, however, declined.
The cost of demolition will be added to Plum’s tax bill. Plum, 68, who now lives in Indiana, said she has various physical problems and does not have the wherewithal to pay for repairs or demolition. If her tax bill goes unpaid, Sullivan County will have to make the town whole, which is to say county taxpayers will bear the cost of the demolition and any unpaid taxes.
After two years, the county will then likely sell the property again at the yearly tax auction, this time without the historic building and for a price likely well below the cost of demolition.
Fuchs, who is also the building inspector for the neighboring Town of Delaware, said the process is fairly far along now, and it is unlikely that there would be any way to salvage the building. He said the neighbors who live in the area are glad to have it gone.
But Plum said the building is assessed for $30,000. So for the town to tear it down, she said, “they are stealing it from me.”