Commission closes hearing on Indian Hill demolition

Project proposes a new structure that echoes design of the 1840s home.


The Martha’s Vineyard Commission closed the public hearing, but left the written record open for a demolition of a historic house on Indian Hill Road.

The property owner proposes to demolish the Capt. Edwin Luce house in West Tisbury, a Greek Revival style home built around 1840 and renovated in 1948. The home is listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) as an “exceptionally fine example of the Greek Revival style so common in town and on the island during the mid-19th century.”

The applicants are Lois and Jeff Meyer and their architect Philip Reagan of Hutker Architects. 

The Meyers first came to the commission when they purchased the home in 2018. The project was then put on hold at the Meyers’ request. After three years of consulting and planning, the Meyers determined it was not feasible to renovate the home, and would instead like to demolish it.

The commission’s staff report traced ownership of the home back to 1888, when it was sold with 150 acres to Albert Seaton Berry, Lois Meyer’s great-grandfather. The house was left to Berry’s children in 1908, and remained unoccupied until 1948, when Richard Berry purchased the property and renovated the house with two dormers. The Parker family then purchased the home in 1968, along with 21 acres. Most of the land was subdivided, with some going to the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. The house was last occupied in 2017 before it was sold.

The existing property is tucked away down a dirt road, and consists of a 2,400-square-foot four-bedroom house, with a one-bedroom, 560-square-foot studio added in the 1970s; a 1,089-square-foot three-bedroom guesthouse; a granite well house creamery; and a garage.

The project would demolish the main house, studio, and guesthouse, and replace them with a four-bedroom, 4,605-square-foot house that would echo the design of the original, and the granite well house would be restored. The Meyers plan to salvage some of the original granite foundation, some of the floors and railings, and intend to live in the home year-round.

At Thursday’s Zoom hearing, the Meyers played a short video walkthrough of the home that showed the home in a deteriorated condition, with paint peeling in sheets from the ceiling, and damaged flooring. 

Reagan told commissioners the several fireplaces are not safe or up to code. The Meyers also stated the home contains a significant amount of lead paint, some of it exposed.

“I was at the site inspection, and the photos don’t do justice to the degree of deterioration that I, with my inexpert eye, observed,” commissioner Douglas Sederholm said. “This building is not in very good shape anymore.”

Photos of the home on the Robert Paul Properties website before it was sold show furniture and other fixtures. There are markings and damage to some of the interior walls, an aged exterior, but no signs of peeling paint when the home was sold.

Reagan said the cost of renovating and adding an addition would approach the cost of building the new structure.

Commissioner Ben Robinson took issue with the size of the proposed home, saying, “4,600 square feet is a significant-sized home, and it’s out of context of that rural, sheep-grazing area that is there. My question to the applicants is, Was there a consideration of the size of the structure that you are planning to put on the site, and was there a way of maybe exploring a smaller version of the four-bedroom house you’re designing?”

Jeff Meyer said Robinson made a fair point, but that the family wanted to have a home that would accommodate themselves and their four adult daughters and their families.

Commissioner Clarence (“Trip”) Barnes III said the proposed project should move forward.

“It’s a nice financial shot in the arm to Hutker, all the builders, and engineers. They’re putting some faith in our community, and they’re going to pay a lot of taxes. I welcome them in,” Barnes said. “I just think it’s time the old goes and the new comes in.”

Commissioner Linda Sibley and Sederholm warned the commission was wandering into deliberation.

There was no testimony during the public hearing, but Sederholm left the written record open until Jan. 20.

Speaking to The Times by phone on Friday, Jennifer Barnes Allgood, an Oak Bluffs resident who has lived in West Tisbury, said she is concerned about the Island’s historical structures being eroded piece by piece. “I just think it’s a shame, it’s a little scary that we’re not paying attention as much as we should to historic buildings,” she said. “I don’t understand why you want to buy a historical house and then tear it down.”

Allgood said she came across the demolition proposal by chance, and was concerned it was part of a growing trend of demolitions on the Island.

The commission has seen a rise in historic demolitions applications in recent months, with more than 10 in 2021.

In other business, the commission approved an expansion of the Shearer Cottage from six to 15 bedrooms. The proposal was revised to not include events, and the use of the inn will be for overnight guests only.


  1. Jennifer Allgood finds it scary not paying as much attention as we should to historic structures. So let me ask her, what is historic about this building? Keep in mind that old doesn’t necessarily mean historic.

    • Jim, What’s historic about this building? The home is listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) as an “exceptionally fine example of the Greek Revival style so common in town and on the island during the mid-19th century.”

      • Right, the state lists the house as “a fine example of Greek Revival”. Nothing of historical importance is mentioned by the state. An example of architectural detail is not history. Details can be reproduced, I do it pretty much everyday. What of historical significance actually happened in this house or on this property? Just because something as old doesn’t mean something historical actually happened there.

  2. Shocked by Trip Barnes’s statement. Our island history matters. The State if MA recognized the significance of this house, even if Trip doesn’t. There is entirely too much demotion by neglect going on. Down they come, one by one, and then we are just like every other suburban place with no past.

    • What is historic about this house. The state lists it as a “fine example of Greek architecture” It says nothing about anything historic happening there. Architectural details can be reproduced, I do it everyday. Again, old doesn’t equal historic.

  3. I continue to be perplexed that neighbors want to require others to spend their personal money as the neighbors desire – in this case again to make a museum piece for others to see as they drive by, not for the owners to live in. In what era have humans built things (edifices) with the expectation that they would be preserved as artifacts for (future) others to look at and enjoy, except in the case of purposeful memorials?

    This building was originally built for a family to live in – not for future generations to admire. There’s just no guarantee that material things last forever to be looked at – they have to be used and maintained. And this building was used for a long time, lived in and got used up. And now new owners want to build something (quite nice) to live in and make life in. Let it go.

  4. Just the idea of a whaling Captain building a Greek revival home atop Indian Hill in it self makes it Historically significant just because it’s not in a Historic District or on a public way does not lessen its significance .

    • So by your logic, Meetinghouse Village Condos will be considered historic in another 50 or 60 years because some guy decide to build condos in the scrub oak on the edges of Edgartown.

      • Not very many whaling 👨‍✈️ Captains will be living in the Meetinghouse Condos in sixty years .

        • And none are living in West Tisbury now. My point is, where someone decides to build a house does not make it historic. If a farmer decided to build his house on Edgartown, would you consider it historic? Age does not make it historic. Age just makes it old.

    • As a lover and respecter of whales I have no reverence for Whaling captains but I do love old houses and think they should be preserved whenever possible.

  5. If the cost to renovate and add an addition is the same as a rebuild, why not renovate this beautiful home? It’s sad these historic homes are being destroyed one by one. I’m in disagreement with Trip Barnes. Builders and engineers would need to be employed to renovate and put on addition, no need to tear it down.

  6. I also take issue with the size of the proposed new house, particularly in this location. I hate to admit it but I imagined a “ let’s all have a pealing paint party and start pulling it down in strips “ to accelerate the process. Usually it takes serious leaks or much more than four years for it to look that bad. Just saying. If course being unoccupied doesn’t help either.

    • The ceiling is plaster. Whomever painted prior to listing the house used the wrong product. I’ve seen this type of peeling on old plaster in a years time when standard ceiling paint was applied. It’s not water damage. It’s due to improper prep, product, and application.

  7. In cases like this any complete rebuild should require that the new structure adhere to the existing footprint at the very least. A 2400 sq ft house and some accessory structures have far less of a visual impact than a single building of 4605 sq ft.

  8. I worked on this house for the Parkers, the previous owners. I replaced a portion of the sill on the gable end, rebuilt the gable front entry deck, and replaced all the ceiling joists in the grand living room. I took note of the condition of the rest of the adjacent structures and members and saw they were sound.

    If the original intent to tear down in 2017 is seen as contentions, why not withdraw the proposal, wait a few years and let the cosmetics deteriorate before reapplying and do nothing to preserve what is there? Is that any way to treat a gorgeous historically listed structure?

  9. Renovate and update. It can be done very tastefully. Look at what the Laskers accomplished at the Red Farm, just a few miles away, for a lesson in sensitive restoration and upgrading.
    The Laskers respected the history and essence of the old Robert Luce house, while upgrading it to be a very comfortable and wholly original residence.

    In the same neck of the woods, dear little Indian Hill Road is a hidden Vineyard gem.

    I imagine the prospective owners were enchanted with this little undisturbed pocket of Island charm when the realtor brought them to view the house.

    But for them the old captain’s house is just a teardown.

  10. There are now few areas left in west Tisbury that have retained their original beauty, charm and sense of history. Indian Hill is such a neighborhood. It can only remain as such through our consistent efforts to preserve the historic. The current owners knew what they were getting into when they took possession of an historic house. Let them renovate

  11. I think it is very sad what is happening to the Island. So many houses being torn down along with beautiful mature trees that will take years to replace. If the island isn’t careful it will loss its charm.

    • Julie, it already has…. Little by little right before our eyes. To the man’s point above, no, old is not historic. Old is our history. Our history that is being fritter way inch by inch house by house. So very sad. People want to move here because it’s so sweet, and yet, The sweetness is being diluted over and over again; until will have nothing left but a place that looks like everywhere else.

  12. Some folks know I restored the 4th oldest house in Edgartown little Cape cod1/2 house its between the police station and Jeff nortons 400 years old built by original Peases of Pease point Way THATis historical.Chappaquiddick has the Capt Martin house the Huxford the Jones house all working examples of greek revival before you look at Edgartown Vineyard Haven or West Tisbury for LOTS more.Sadly strict building codes dictate hourly work on windows insulation plastering wiring fireplaces etc for a finished product that does not work for a real big family with many grandchildren who will use the house all year.This is not seen from the road This is NOT historical.It is old I love the land and stone walls a good place for a new house Our industry is building,maintaining,landscaping,buying and selling Maybe a carpenter will buy a book from Geraldine Brooks or the new owner may buy a painting from Rez Williams….the fish packing plants gone I hauled the last load out to NEW YORK maybe I moved YOU here thats the way it worked MV Coop Dairy folded

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