Board calls for demolition at Wolfe Ave.

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BEACON FALLS — The Planning and Zoning Commission last week drove the final nail into the coffin of the historic home that sits on a town-owned plot on Wolfe Avenue. The commission voted unanimously to demolish the home and clear the way for the eventual construction of a new building.

An exploratory committee charged with exploring the feasibility of the home’s adaptive reuse made the same recommendation a month ago, and the Board of Selectmen then accepted it by a 2-1 margin.

The planning commission’s vote, town officials said, was the final step in approving a plan to level the home and eventually build a new library and community center there. That plan, according to an architectural study that was unveiled earlier this year, will cost an estimated $3.9 million. Renovating the home and building an addition to accommodate municipal use would have cost an estimated $4.2 million.

Republican Selectman Michael Krenesky, who is also the town historian, has long advocated the preservation of the house with respect to its purported historical value; it was once the summer home of Tracey Lewis, an industrial leader in the early 20th century.

Krenesky felt the commission’s decision was too hasty, saying its members voted the way they did to concur with the exploratory committee’s earlier recommendations without reviewing the architect’s report in full.

“My frustration was that we spent a lot of time putting all this documentation together, and then in the final decision from planning and zoning, they never even opened the book,” he said this week.

Planning and zoning chairman Kevin McDuffie could not be reached for comment. First Selectman Sue Cable countered by noting, “I don’t feel it’s been a rush. I feel we’ve been sitting on this property for far too long.”

Cable—who, along with fellow Democrat Dominic Sorrentino, approved the building’s demolition prior to the zoning board’s vote—said demolition is the most economically feasible option, adding that the town never had any intention of preserving the house for historical value when the Wolfe Avenue property was purchased in August 2008.

“No matter what we do with that property it’s going to be expensive,” she said. “This is the cheaper way to go at this point. We need to put some hard work into using whatever we can from the building to help defray the cost, and also look at how we’re going to handle the expenses of everything.”

Krenesky felt the approximate, estimated $300,000 difference between demolition and preservation wasn’t significant enough to justify the decision to demolish what he sees as a historically significant cultural artifact.

“There was effectively a $300,000 difference between putting up a building and keeping the house versus putting up a standalone building,” he said. “When you’re talking about a $4 million project, whichever way you want to round the numbers up or round the numbers down, $300,000 is a small number as a difference.”

The town will need to find sources of funding for the demolition of the home, the design of a new municipal building and its subsequent construction. Officials said the town would tap all available state and federal funding sources for the $3.9 million it expects the project will end up costing.

“When it comes down to dollars, we go to referendum on any building project, and with or without the house, there are going to be a lot of people who are pro and against spending this kind of money,” Krenesky said. “I will always look back at this as not the right decision, but at the same time we have to look forward and move forward. It’s a double-edged sword and you make your choices and you move on.”

Cable said the town would hold an informational session for residents with questions or concerns about the Wolfe Avenue property and the project.

“While I think history’s great, the bottom line is Beacon Falls has to start looking at the growth down the road,” she said. “This is now giving us the next chapter to work on that growth, and I’m actually very excited about it. … People have made their opinions, and we’ll have an informational meeting. We’re always listening.”

11 COMMENTS

  1. It continues to be interesting that facts keep being passed over related to where and for how long Tracy Lewis lived at the Wolfe Avenue house and was a major influence in the growth of Beacon Falls at the turn of the century.

    George & Tracy Lewis chartered the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company in 1898 with production beginning in 1899. George Lewis was the first President with Tracy Lewis taking over as president in 1914 after his father’s death. Tracy Lewis was Secretary of the Company prior to becoming president. At Tracy’s death in April 1921, that would indicate that he was involved in the company and the Town for 21 years.

    US census records are recognized as one of the standard sources used by historians and genealogists to track where people lived. Here is what is recorded from three consecutive collections, 1900, 1910, & 1920:

    The 1900 census list that Tracy Lewis lived in Naugatuck with his parents and is identified as ‘single’.

    The 1910 census records list Tracy, his first wife Edith Gillen Lewis, Edith’s sister, and two servants living in Beacon Falls. It is not difficult to assume that Tracy and family moved to Beacon Falls before 1910 after his marriage.

    The 1920 census records identify Tracy, his 2nd wife (Grace), his mother-in-law, and 5 servants, one being a nurse.

    Using US census records as my source, I believe Lewis lived at the Wolfe Avenue house for at least 10-12 years.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to clarify the term. I stand corrected. The issue that I do have with all this discussion of Mr. Tracy Lewis is that he lived in Beacon Falls 16 years, was president of a company for 7 years and lived in this house for only 5 or so years. There is little mention of him in two publications of the history of Beacon Falls (Centennial book & Mr. Krenesky Sr.’s book on Beacon Falls). Many residents who had lived here all their lives knew of the home as belonging to other long-time residents (the Rungs). While the Rubber Shoe company started by his father did influence the town, Mr. Tracey Lewis did not seem to leave a lasting impression on the town. He was noted for having brought “show girls” up from New York – a term for less than desirable gals during that time period. Is that something we want to glorify?

  3. Mrs. Dowdell: I took license calling Tracey Lewis an “industrial leader” given that he was the president of an industrial manufacturing company for a time. Does this not qualify him as an “industrial leader?” I did not call him a “titan of industry” or compare him to John D. Rockefeller. I simply made note that he lived and worked in the early 20th century and that he was a “leader,” if only in the sense of having “led,” or, in this case “presided over,” the shoe company.

    I surely got some of the historical aspects of this story mixed up (i.e. calling it a summer home that he owned), probably due to confusion with the Matthies house on Carrington Pond. I’m not quite sure why it’s a problem that I termed Lewis an “industrial leader,” though. Perhaps we just have different ideas of what that term means. I maintain that in the literal sense, there is no issue with calling the former president of a manufacturing company an industrial leader.

  4. I am not sure to whom your question about Tracy Lewis being an ”industrial leader” is addressed to. The statement in this article appears to be the editorial license of the reporter and not a quote attributed to me.

    I have said on several occasions that Tracy Lewis and his father were leaders in the community (Beacon Falls & the Naugatuck Valley) and that they and the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe company “were the Town of Beacon Falls” during they heyday of the business (1900 – 1921).

    I know that the Citizen News reporters have or had a copy of the Bailey Report. The Baily report and its historical research state that Tracy Lewis was a “socialite and industrialist”.

    I will send you a copy of a publication from March 1920 that you might find of interest. It was in a collection of documents that I recently located.

    In addition to these, I acquired copies of newspaper articles from the Naugatuck News & New Haven Register (ca. 1987 – 1914) related to both Tracy & George Lewis as officers and/or incorporators of the Naugatuck Savings and Naugatuck National Banks. Also, both were officers (President & Treasurer) of the Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company (ca. 1885), and trustees of the Grove Cemetery.

    Normally individuals with these credentials are considered important leaders & industrialists of their time.

  5. Interesting formatting issue within WordPress. If you happen to type a character combination that translates to a smiley face, it displays it. In this case I was indicating page eight in the Bailey document. 🙂

  6. The following is as was presented to the Town in the Adaptive Reuse Assessment (Page 8) prepared by the Paul Bailey Group, who was hired to do the historical and structural review of the Wolfe Ave property. This information was was taken from the 1920 census and translated into the narrative below.

    As with every US census taken since first was undertaken in 1790, the “count” has been based on the primary residence such that people were not double counted.

    In 1920, three Lewis Family members (counting the mother-in-law) lived in the Wolfe Ave house. The servants were also counted in the census as this was their primary residence as well.

    Baily Report:
    On June 14, 1919 Tracy married Grace Garland Meacham, ……… At this time the Lewis’ kept a home in both Beacon Falls and in Brooklyn, NY. Anna Meacham, Tracy’s widowed mother-in-law, lived with them at Beacon Falls.

    A number of people were employed to help the family, living in the bedrooms on the third floor: Nancy MacDermmott, an English nurse, Mary Flyn, an English housekeeper, John Donovan, an Irish gardener, Airuca Kirai, a Japanese chef and Shuka Kirai, a Japanese waitress.

    It is not relevant that Tracy Lewis or the Company owned the house…he still lived there.

  7. I should have said I can not find mention of him BEYOND the blurbs written for Electronic Valley, etc. I could not find him mentioned in the Biographical databases from the CT State Library or mentioned in the historical Hartford Courant databases. I am looking for documentation that he was a LEADING industrialist.

  8. Tracy Lewis lived in Beacon Falls for 16 years. He was president of the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company for 7 years.

    Please provide the source citation to show Lewis was an “industrial leader in the early 20th century.” When I search online, I cannot find mention of him or his father, George Lewis who started the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company. The only Lewis I find is SAMUEL LEWIS as a leading industrialist in the field of rubber. Please send me in the right direction.

  9. The 1920 census did not include the house number, only stated Wolfe Avenue for the Lewis family. The Bailey report also stated Lewis had a New York residence as well. Lewis never owned the house, it was owned by the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Company. Lewis seemed to have lived in the house for 5-6 years.

  10. Clarification: The Wolfe Avenue home of Tracy Lewis was his primary residence as noted in the 1920 Census, not is summer home. I believe this may be confused with stories of the house on the island at Matthies Park, which has always been portrayed as Bernard Matthies summer house.