In the Feb. 18 edition of the Port Washington News, a letter writer suggests that a reason that the owner of the Baxter House has willfully allowed it to deteriorate is because the house was landmarked against her wishes.
Houses are landmarked for a reason. In the case of the Baxter House, Hessian troops were billeted there during the Revolutionary War. It is part of Port Washington’s history. By neglecting the house, the owner is essentially making a unilateral determination that local history is irrelevant or, at best, second to her financial gain. Does one person have the right to defy the social contract with regard to items of historic value to the community? The house’s owner is making a decision, on her own, that affects the nature of the entire community.
If the owner disagreed with the landmarking decision, options existed to her. If she could not afford to take care of the building (which begs the question of what she was thinking when she bought a 300-year-old house, or how she has the funds to build a new house on the property), she could have sold it. Alternatively, she could have found a way to maintain the integrity of the house without going bankrupt.
I can speak to the viability of the second option, because 44 years ago, my parents purchased a property so derelict that it was being used as a dump. It was called Stromboli Hill Tavern at the time, and it sat on the top of Pleasant Avenue. It had been abandoned, looked haunted and was a home to all sorts of wildlife.
My parents, who had only been in town a few years at that point, recognized the beauty and value in that building, and they worked for a year to restore it—at a time when fixing up was not at all trendy, and there were few resources to guide a restorer—and turned it into a thriving, lively business.
They stopped people from dropping trash into what was then sand pits (now Mill Pond Acres). They asked for stop signs to be installed. They rescued a historic building, contributed to the community and will leave behind a legacy. Their children and grandchildren are immensely proud of them for their foresight in saving the beautiful old inn while creating a sustainable way for it to survive.
Sadly, I don’t think the owner of the Baxter House is truly motivated to find a way for the house to survive. Rather, she can continue to buy time, putting nothing into caring for the house until it is beyond saving, and then can build two homes on a prime piece of real estate and leave town with a healthy profit. She is most certainly not a victim and is acting with utter disregard to our local history. She may not be breaking any laws, but whether she is doing an ethical, moral thing—whether she is doing something to be proud of—is another question entirely.