What to do with the Caleb Prouty House?

MVC weighs demolition, removal, or incorporation.

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The Martha’s Vineyard Commission took up the possible demolition of the Caleb Prouty House Thursday night, but continued the public hearing until more information was provided.

Despite the proposal to demolish the historic 19th century home for development, Stop & Shop would like to move the house, according to Stop & Shop’s attorney Geoghan Coogan.

Stop & Shop is working on a plan to develop the site, which may include employee housing, but wants to find out if the house can or cannot be moved, which will then determine future development plans for the existing Stop & Shop store.

“I know you’re not going to allow us to demolish it,” Coogan said. “Our goal with this is to get the commission to allow us to move it off the site.”

Stop & Shop has received interest from several people who want to lift the house up off the property and move it. But moving the house has limited routes: going up Cromwell Lane behind the existing Stop & Shop store, which would most likely have to be demolished to make space, or going down the hill and demolishing the former Chinese restaurant building.

The historic demolition of the home was previously referred to the commission in 2013 and 2015. 

Stop & Shop is not interested in rehabbing the building for employee housing. Coogan said it would not be efficient, and does not fit into any conceptual development ideas.

Commissioner Ben Robinson said Stop & Shop has a responsibility to honor the history: “How far have [Stop & Shop] gone trying to incorporate that into their plans?”

Facts on who built the two-story Greek Revival home and when are scarce, but it is guessed that the home was built between 1810 and 1838, and possibly by architect John Howland, due to a bull’s-eye ornament that was likely selected from a pattern book, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

The property where the house sits was acquired by Charles Smith in 1835 from Samuel Claghorn for $200. Smith did not make improvements to the property, which he then sold to Prouty in 1844 for $150, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Dukes County Registry of Deeds records show the home was likely constructed or remodeled by Prouty between 1844 and 1851 as a residence for his family. 

Prouty was a mariner who worked for the U.S. Revenue Service, a maritime law enforcement organization that was active between 1790 and 1915. Prouty’s son, Everett, was also a mariner. His wife, Nancy, was the daughter of Elijah Hillman, a prominent Island merchant and previous owner of the Hillman House, an 1810 home demolished in 1961.

The home famously survived the 1883 fire that destroyed most buildings on both sides of Main Street, Beach Street, and Union Street. The house has not been occupied since it was purchased by Stop & Shop in 2012.

The home is eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places, which is the highest level of federally designated protection, but was never designated. A 2013 Public Archaeology Laboratory (PAL) archaeological sensitivity assessment found the house to be an “excellent local example” of a Greek Revival house.

Commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes walked through the house earlier in the week, and felt it wasn’t worth the hassle of moving. Barnes, who has moved several buildings on the Island, said parts of the roof would have to be removed, electrical lines would have to be taken down, and the state would have to approve the building going on Beach Road. 

“I don’t think the building’s worth it,” Barnes said, adding that many parts of the building, aside from the curving staircase, were not antique or worth saving, and would most likely fall apart if moved beyond the abutting parking lot. “There’s nothing fabulous about Mr. Prouty.”

Benjamin Hall Jr., an attorney who represents abutters at 35 Main St., said the commission faces a tough decision. “Maybe they can find somebody that has a way of moving it practically to an appropriate site; that would be my hope,” Hall said.

Chairman Douglas Sederholm continued the public hearing to Thursday, Nov. 7. Commissioner Josh Goldstein, one of the owners of the Mansion House Inn, recused himself from discussion. Goldstein’s parents, Sherman and Susan, wrote a letter to the commission in support of the demolition of the building.

In other business, commissioners approved the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse and Resource Recovery District (MVRRRD) expansion.