The new general residence is rising on a vacant lot in Madison after nearly 2 years since demolition


MADISON — Since the demolition nearly two years ago, some who treasured the former general residence have worried about driving past the empty lot where the iconic home once stood.

However, in recent weeks, passers-by could see a Tyvek-covered structure emerge. It will eventually become a replica of the 18th-century house overlooking Route 1.

Denny Van Liew, chairman of the Madison Historical Society’s Preservation Committee, was delighted with the construction of the reproduction.

“I’m happy to continue like this,” said Van Liew. “It was always supposed to be the last building – people were nervous.”

This final building will be the “mansion” in a cluster development designed to look like a village, General’s Residences at Fence Creek, overlooking Fence Creek Marsh, according to Madison architect duo Dickinson. So far, eight of nine homes have sold for between $1.1 million and $1.3 million each.

And the clapboard exterior will look authentic, he said.

“This replica of the General’s Residence is basically just the General’s Residence. We just built it at a different time, that’s all,” said Dickinson, who designed all of the project’s buildings.

Though demolishing the neglected home is controversial, saving the existing structure is not an option, he said.

“As we learned upon removal, the center back of the house was completely gone. It came down whether we took it down or not,” Dickinson said.

Developers had two choices at this point, he said.

“Are you tearing it down completely and putting in brand new stuff?” said Dickinson. “I thought that was a terrible idea.”

Instead: “We recreate it. We respect it and we don’t ignore it,” he said.

“You can’t invent history, but this is truly a worship of this building. It’s not an insult. It’s not a vinyl sided and developer window thing,” added Dickinson.

He noted that the Madison Historical Society and the Madison Historic Commission were closely reviewing the plans.

“It’s the best that can be done to meet all local regulations and make the skin as two groups of volunteers have studied it and know what it is and determined what it should be,” said dickinson

Van Liew said, “This last house they’re building there is in line with the Planning & Zoning Commission.”

Aside from getting the necessary permits, “the whole thing was extremely challenging,” Dickinson said of the schedule. He pointed out that supply chain problems and material shortages due to the recent construction boom have caused delays.

The original historic house, a mishmash of styles and historical eras from when it was built in the 17th century and altered over decades, was carefully dismantled in the fall of 2020. Architectural features, woodwork, original timbers, and more were cataloged and photographed for the records of the Madison Historical Society.

Developers faithfully adhere to the design of the original exterior.

“The porches will be identical, the paneling will be identical, the small overhang will be identical, the cornices will be identical,” Dickinson said.

“We photographed it and gave the people cutting it out a huge selection of actual enlargements of the photos so they can see how it was done,” he said.

Historic Preservation Advisor Rachel Carley was commissioned to prepare a report on the project.

“The house wasn’t treated well during its time,” Dickinson said. “The interior was pretty sucked. It was quite a tough interior.”

The general’s residence, dubbed “the Old Ark” by one owner, has undergone significant changes over the years, adding elbows and a porch, and newer, whole sections of the house. According to Carley’s account, reclaimed wood from a later period was discovered beneath the original parts of the house.

Other surprises were examples of shoddy construction – some interior walls were sheathed in solid pine planks 2 inches thick. Craftsmanship and joinery were inconsistent, where some construction appeared improvised or “make-do”.

Considered an “old-fashioned oddity” at the turn of the 20th century, the house had no running water until the early 20th century, when the first bathroom was installed, and had rudimentary heating – fireplaces and stoves – and the kitchen was in Basement, cellar. according to the report.

Recreating a historic building that has been constantly changing over two centuries is no easy task, agrees Van Liew.

“One of the challenges with the general residence was that it was begun in the late 17th century and modified and expanded throughout its lifespan up to before World War II,” said Van Liew.

“So people said, ‘Are they going to build it like the general’s residence?'” Van Liew said. “The answer is yes, but we had to make choices. Which General’s Residence are we talking about – the General’s Residence of the 1820s or the General’s Residence of the 1920s?”

“It will look like it did before it was demolished,” he said.

Now the General’s Residence is getting a second life by building it from scratch. It will house two units of 2,250 square meters each.

“The big gables are going up, they’re just framing the roof,” Dickinson said. “I think people are starting to realize that the shape is the shape of the old house,” Dickinson said.

Portions of the original house, now owned by the Madison Historical Society, are used as decorative features inside.

“We’re going to try to use a lot — we’ve salvaged at least 20 or 30 of the old timbers from the old building and we’re going to use that and also corner cabinets and fireplace fronts,” Dickinson said.

Masons are rebuilding the old stone wall and using “all the original materials, all the old stuff, because it’s right there,” he added.

And it looks the same as before, Dickinson said. “They fixed some of it, it was so good you can hardly tell it was finished.”

The developers are adding black wood shutters, which were seen in early photos of the home, “because that was really part of the building’s aesthetic,” Dickinson said.

The Madison Historical Society “found some really cool photos of it,” Dickinson said. “Nobody I know has seen this building with the original wooden shutters.”

There are other features that residents will easily recognize, such as the distinctive door that was “heavily rotted” and will be recreated.

“They basically saved the door when it was reconstructed,” said Van Liew. A millwright uses the original door as a template to build a reproduction “to look like the door that was there”.

Some time after the house is built, the history society plans to hold an exhibition in the general residence or an online exhibition, Van Liew said.

“So that history of this building and what it represents for Madison is not going to go away,” Van Liew said. “We caught everything.”


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