Future of Lewis house still to be determined


The Tracy S. Lewis House on Wolfe Avenue in Beacon Falls. –RA ARCHIVE

BEACON FALLS — More than four years ago, residents approved the town to buy a 1.5-acre site on Wolfe Avenue for future municipal use.

The property includes a large pinkish-beige house that once belonged to Tracy S. Lewis, the president of Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Co.

It has been the focus of a study to see the best use for the site, and has been the destination for tours. About two years ago, it was voted to be razed by a local land use board.

The Lewis house has stood untouched basically since voters approved the $425,000 purchase in August 2008.

Town officials now have re-energized efforts to figure out what it can do with the 35 Wolfe Ave. site, which represents a slice of Beacon Falls’ history.

First Selectman Gerard Smith said he has put together a small group of residents, plus an outside consulting firm at no cost, to begin an informal discussion to explore options for the site.

Smith, along with Assistant Librarian Sue Dowdell and resident Ben Catanzaro, and Lisa Low & Associates of Oxford, will meet later this month to investigate how much money the town needs for a study to map out a building strategy plan.

The town doesn’t have any money for the Lewis house at this time, Smith said.

He also said he is not in favor of razing the house right now. It’s an asset, but it can’t sit there for much longer unused, Smith said.

About two years after the purchase, Paul B. Bailey Architect of New Haven performed a conditions assessment and reuse study for the site. Recommendations included to renovate the house with an addition, or to demolish it and build a new structure.

According to the study, a preliminary cost to renovate with an addition would be $4.2 million. It would cost $3.9 million to raze it and build a 19,000-square-foot library.

In August 2010, the Wolfe Avenue Lewis House Exploratory Committee recommended razing the home.

Among the committee’s recommendations it suggested forming a new building committee to investigate a 19,000-square-foot library and community center on the property.

The Planning and Zoning Commission then voted to raze the home after the Board of Selectmen forwarded a recommendation to tear it down it by the committee.

Dowdell said she would like to see a library on the property. The current library at Town Hall is only about 1,250 square feet and is sorely inadequate, she said.

It should have a minimum of 5,089 square feet for its current collection and operations, based on Connecticut State Library guidelines and Americans with Disabilities Act considerations, she said.

“I’m very cautiously optimistic about moving foward with plans for that building,” Dowdell said.

In October, a white sign was affixed over the front porch, declaring it the Tracy S. Lewis House. It is listed on the State Register of Historic Places.

A structure has been on site since the 1850s. It then was expanded sometime between 1900 and 1916 to be the three-story structure that is there now, according to former Town Historian Michael Krenesky.

The home is just a street away from Town Hall, which is in the town’s Hill section.

The architectural firm, established by Frederick Law Olmsted and later taken over by his sons, designed that section, Krenesky said. Olmsted was a Hartford native known nationwide for his major urban parks, including Hartford’s Pope Park and Bridgeport’s Beardsley and Seaside parks.

In 1915, the Beacon Falls Rubber Shoe Co., which was housed in what is now the Beacon Mill Village, hired the Olmsted firm to design a community for its employees, Krenesky said.

He said he would like the town to use the existing structure and take advantage of a little bit of Beacon Falls’ history, rather than losing it.