Quinnipiac demolishes historic homes on Whitney Avenue

Picture courtesy of Hamden Historical Society

By Cali Kees

Between the dates of Dec. 24 and Dec. 27, Quinnipiac University demolished four historic homes on Whitney Avenue in Hamden.

Quinnipiac bought six homes on Whitney Avenue with the original intent to take it out of the towns inventory of student rentals. However, in the beginning of September, the University applied for permits for demolition.

When word reached organizations like the Hamden Historical Properties Commission and the Hamden Historical Society, members did all they could do to try and stop the University from demolishing a very important part of the towns history.

“We distributed a petition online and hard copies and we had almost 1,000 people sign that petition asking Quinnipiac not to demolish anymore,” said Kenneth Minkema, president of the Hamden Historical Society.

Minkema and the Hamden Historical Society then mailed copies of the petition to Quinnipiac’s Vice President for facilities and capital planning, Salvator Filardi, Mayor Lang and the Connecticut office for historic preservation.

Quinnipiac has yet to announce its plan for these properties but due to the speed of demolition they have made clear it was due to the conditions the houses were left by the previous owners.

John Morgan, Quinnipiac’s Associate Vice President for Public Relations, said, “These homes had been allowed to fall into terrible disrepair under their previous owners. After purchasing the properties, the university abided by regulations that provided the town 90 days to come up with a plan to move the houses. No feasible plans were presented, and the university decided to raze them in accordance with the regulations.”

Minkema, also a member of the Hamden Historical Preservation Commission, explained that they “implement[ed] what is called a delay of demolition order and when we first saw the advert in the paper…that the university was going to demolish six of the most historically significant structures we sent in an official rejection which put in place the delay of demolition, they gave us 90 days.”

Quinnipiac waited those 90 days and as Morgan said in Fox 61’s report “We could’ve taken those homes down back on Dec. 1.”

On Dec. 9, Quinnipiac alerted the town that it would be demolishing three of the six houses on Whitney Avenue. Fox 61 reported that on Dec. 24 the schools’ contractor demolished a fourth house without providing additional notice. That fourth house was 3217 Whitney Avenue, more commonly known as the Ezra Dickerman house.

However, Morgan explains that “the demolition date for the house at 3217 Whitney Ave. was Dec. 27, 2016 not Dec 24.”

The Ezra Dickerman house was built in 1770 and was one of the oldest homes in Hamden. The Dickerman family was a very important part of Hamden’s history.

“We had, had verbal assurances that the Ezra Dickerman house would not be demolished immediately…we were extremely disappointed when we saw this coming down,” Minkema said. “Some of these homes date back to the time of the revolutionary war and so there is not only a lot of town memory and history involved here but, there’s stories of families that have long been involved in Hamden.”

Hamden representatives and residents seem to be most upset with the speed in which Quinnipiac demolished these structures.

Todd Levine, Hamden Historical Properties Chairmen, told the New Haven Register, “There’s no rush; they have no particular plan for the properties, so why knock it down now?”

Quinnipiac has said that there are no plans to demolish the two remaining homes, the old toll house and the Orin Todd House that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

As past relations between Quinnipiac and the Hamden community have been poor, the demolition of these historic houses have only seemed to add to the tension.

“I think people just want the University, faculty and the students to respect the area in which they find themselves.  And the whole issue with the demolition of the old houses is just another feature of this on-going friction,” Minkema said.

Minkema and other Hamden residence have noticed and have come to accept that their town is changing, partly, but not only because of Quinnipiac University. The only thing they ask for is to be a part of the change.

Minkema said, “I recognize, I think a lot of people do…Mt. Carmel is changing and not just because of Quinnipiac University but for other reasons as well and I think we have to accept that.  But then what is it changing into? And I think that everybody should have a voice in what and how we answer that and how we determine that.”

Update as of 2/3/17:

On February 3rd, President Lahey and Hamden Mayor, Curt Leng met for a joint press conference where Lahey presented the town of Hamden with a one-point-four-million-dollar check.

During the press conference Lahey addressed many issues that have occurred between the town of Hamden and Quinnipiac within the past year, including the demolition of the historic homes on Whitney Ave.

Lahey addressed some of the reasons why Quinnipiac acquired these homes highlighting the safety concerns as a large reason of why the houses were not kept for student housing.

 “As some of you will remember we’ve had students who are disabled today because of getting hit by cars.  We had a student actually killed about 15 or so years ago, walking across Whitney Avenue and it’s just the houses were not well maintained,” Lahey said.

He then went into the plans that Quinnipiac has in place for the empty space in which the four historic homes that were demolished once stood.

“In the areas where we’ve knocked down the houses we intend to beautify that area, turn it into green space.  We have some very exciting and what we think of very attractive ways of landscaping it,” Lahey said.

Lahey explained that the two historic home that we preserved out of the six fit into this plan and that he expects this green space to benefit both the university and the town. As for the other side of Whitney Avenue Lahey has a different plan.

Lahey said, “We hope to work with the business community and turn the other side, the western side there, into commercial areas that are attractive that our students will want to use as well as other residents in the town of Hamden.”

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