Act of boarding up windows puts those who want Hathaway House preserved on edge

LACONIA — Concern for the future of the Hathaway (Squire Clark) House, the stately Victorian home at 1106 Union Avenue, was aroused this week when, on Thursday, a work crew arrived to knock out glass and board up windows as well as remove asbestos tiles from the ground floor.

The contractor said that his crew was engaged by Gregg Nolan, director of development and construction of Cafua Management Company, LLC of North Andover, Massachusetts, which owns the property, to remove asbestos caulking and tiles. He said that he knew nothing about any plans for the building beyond the job he was sent to do. Nolan did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Although Pam Clark, who chairs the city's Heritage Commission, feared the work was a prelude to demolition, Planning Director Shanna Saunders said yesterday that no application for a demolition has been filed with her department and she has not been in contact with Cafua for some time.

Clark said yesterday that should Cafua seek to demolish the building, the Heritage Commission will hold a public hearing and meet with representatives of the company in hopes of agreeing to an alternative to demolition. However, if agreement cannot be reached, the city has no authority to forestall the demolition process.

The controversy surrounding the Hathaway House began in 2008. Calfua, the largest Dunkin' Donuts franchisee in the Northeast, acquired the property in 2000. In 2008 the firm proposed razing the house and constructing a Dunkin' Donuts store and strip mall on the property. However, after a series of meetings with city officials and concerned citizens, Cafua agreed to preserve the Hathaway House and build the Dunkin' Donuts outlet on the remaining 0.75-acre parcel.

When the project was approved, Nolan assured the Planning Board that the Hathaway House would be repainted as well as fitted with a fire alarm and fire suppression system. He said the company had no plans for the building other than to preserve it . However, the building has yet to be painted nor have steps been taken to maintain.

Charlie St. Clair, whose mother Constance owned the building and operated the clothing store that gave it its name, charges that Cafua has practiced "demolition by neglect."

The fate of the Hathaway House led to the establishment of the Heritage Commission in 2008. The commission, consisting of five members, is charged with surveying and inventorying the city's cultural and historic resources, including buildings of historic and architectural significance and advise the Planning Board and other agencies on managing and protecting them.

The commission also serves as a "demolition review committee" when application is made to raze buildings of more than 700-square-feet, visible from a public right-of-way and constructed more than 75 years before the demolition permit is requested. Within five days of receiving an application to demolish a building matching these criteria, the code enforcement must inform the Heritage Commission. If the commission finds that the building is "significant" and schedules a public hearing, the owner is required to post a sign to that effect, along with the date, time and place of the hearing, on the building in plain sight.

Should the public hearing close without agreement on an alternative to demolition, the Heritage Commission shall meet with the owner within 10 days to seek agreement on an alternative. Without an agreement to preserve the building, the owner may proceed with demolition while the Heritage Commission, with the consent of the owner, shall photograph and document the building as well as encourage the owner to salvage any important architectural features.

The home was built in 1870 by Samuel C. Clark, a prominent attorney in Lakeport, then known as Lake Village. Clark was born in Lake Village on January 9, 1832, when Andrew Jackson began his second term as president of the United States. He was schooled in Gilford and at the New Hampton Academy then studied law with Stephen Lyford of Laconia and Asa Fowler of Laconia. In 1857, Clark was admitted to the New Hampshire Bar and named Clerk of the Court in Belknap County, a position he held until 1874.
Clark served two two-year terms the New Hampshire House of Representatives, the first in 1867 and the second 10 years later. Meanwhile, he was named assistant Clerk of the House in 1870 and 1872 and Clerk in 1873 and 1875. Perhaps his initial political success went to his head, because Clark, who was called "Squire," had begun to fancy himself a future governor and intended the house would be his official residence.
Although he never became governor, Clark earned notoriety and respect in the the community. He was a promoter and director of the Laconia and Lake Village Horse Railroad and during the Civil War served as deputy provost marshal, overseeing the military police. Later he was a director of both Laconia National Bank and Lake Village Savings Bank. All the while he maintained a lively law practice at the Clark Block on Elm Street. Clark died unexpectedly on March 19, 1897 after a brief bout of pneumonia.
Clark and his wife Clarissa had three children. A son Samuel Clarence, born in 1857, died in infancy, but three years later Clarissa gave birth to twins, Samuel Clarence, known as Samuel, Jr. and Claribel. Samuel, Jr. married but sired no offspring. He died in December, 1901, eleven months after his mother passed away at the age of 66.
Claribel, who never married, lived in the family home while traveling frequently and widely, until her death at 93 in 1953. Local legend has it that her ghost has stalked the mansion ever since.
Four years later, the St. Clairs acquired the property. In September 1957, The Laconia Evening Citizen reported that the St. Clairs, Constance and her husband Richard, had restored the house to its "Victorian splendor" inside and out to house a clothing store called the Hathaway House.
"All Laconia has watched with interest and appreciation the work as it has progressed," wrote City Editor Ebba M. Janson, "and the couple have received many letters from persons who visited the house years ago thanking them." The exterior of the house was painted a gray beige, setting off the distinctive white woodwork, while the interior was decorated with Victorian wall papers and period hues and graced with elegant chandeliers. The weathervane and cupola, sold earlier to an antique dealer, were returned to the barn.
In the 1970s, the St. Clairs sold the property, which became home to a string of businesses before it was acquired in 2000 by an affiliate of Cafua.