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Sunday, September 11, 2016

UPDATE #2: Preview of things to come?

Historic Larchwood Inn in South Kingstown demolished; Shelter Harbor Inn fights off up for foreclosure and looks for a buyer
By Will Collette

CREDIT: Narragansett-South Kingstown Patch
Charlestown made a mistake in June by voting down a citizens’ initiative to buy the iconic General Stanton Inn, thus preserving it for future generations.

It was bad enough that Charlestown voters listened to the whispering campaign and defeated the initiative by a large margin in the town’s financial referendum.

Now the ruling Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) has taken steps to try to inhibit future citizen petition-driving ballot initiatives. They are asking voters in November to approve an anti-democratic (small “d” democracy) Charter Revision that would stifle citizen petitions.

I thought it was a great idea for the town to make its first major venture into valuing the town’s history as much as its open space by making sure the General Stanton Inn has a chance to survive and thrive as Charlestown’s historic heart.

Supporters of the measure noted the grave danger faced by other important historic buildings in South County could face the General Stanton Inn and drew comparisons with other successful efforts to save iconic buildings.

In recent days, two unrelated events make the dangers faced by the General Stanton Inn clearer still.

UPDATE#2, Sept. 11: Catherine Hewitt writes in the Westerly Sun that Shelter Harbor is back on the market with an asking price of $2.75 million. The real estate agent for Shelter Harbor told Ms. Hewitt that issues that caused Washington Trust to pursue foreclosure are now"behind us. Everything seems to be moving along with the banks, etc. - it's not even an issue at this point." Washington Trust and Shelter Harbor management did not comment for the Sun article.

UPDATE: According to the Westerly Sun, the Shelter Harbor Inn has been granted a reprieve. It's foreclosure auction has been cancelled. According to innkeeper Westley Dey, Shelter Harbor "is still open and operating as usual, and with plans of continuing to do so for many more years to come. I hope that's true. However, in similar fashion, the iconic West Valley Inn thought it had worked out a plan to survive and continue operating only to have those plans crash just a few days ago. 

One was the demolition of the historic Larchwood Inn in South Kingstown. 

The Inn was built in 1831 as a mansion for a local 19th century textile tycoon. For years, it ran as an upscale hotel catering to wealthy tourists. Its business went into decline, as did other such establishments along the coast as tastes in lodging changed.

South County Sand & Gravel's huge quarry in Charlestown right off
Route One near Ninigret Park. Screenshot from Google Earth
It was bought by Roland Fiore, owner of South County Sand & Gravel, who wanted to convert the building into an assisted living complex. When South Kingstown’s Planning and Zoning boards denied Fiore’s application for a change in zoning, Fiore applied for a demolition permit.

Maybe the town thought Fiore was bluffing to try to win some compromise. He wasn’t and so goes a piece of local history.

If there’s one thing that Roland Fiore knows how to do, it’s how to make holes in the ground.
The second piece of ominous news is the imminent foreclosure and auction of the Shelter Harbor Inn

Originally built as a farmhouse in 1800 and converted to an Inn in 1911. During the 1940s, the Inn was used as a nursing home (possibly where Fiore got the idea for Larchwood), but returned to being an Inn in the 1950s.

I have always thought of the Shelter Harbor Inn as one of the best area restaurants.

But as a provider of high-end lodging to well-to-do visitors, Shelter Harbor also found itself a victim of the times and changing tastes, as did the Larchwood and General Stanton.

Why bother saving a failed textile mill? Let the free
market handle it 
Many of the CCA Party opponents of the proposed town purchase of the Inn said that it was wrong for the Town of Charlestown to bail out a failed business. If the Inn couldn’t make it as an Inn, well, too bad. That's just the free market at work.

I would imagine they resent public ownership of the Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket. After all, if it couldn’t make it as a textile mill, what good is it?

Many important historic buildings fit that same profile. Many of those buildings went through a wide range of reincarnations and uses before finally settling on their final use. 

General Stanton owner Janice Falcone made one final attempt to save the building by selling it to a non-profit religious group for use as a residential treatment center for substance abuse patients.

Predictably, the CCA Party-led town government killed that idea last November, leaving no other options on the table.

I really hope the Friends of the General Stanton Inn, the group that put together the petition-drive to get the issue on the ballot, doesn’t give up. 

Indeed, I hope they will re-double their efforts to ensure we save Charlestown’s history from our misguided Charlestown town government.

Let’s learn from the Larchwood Inn fiasco and protect our history while we still can.