BETHEL Hickok house to be demolished, rebuilt
BETHEL — Owners will soon tear down a home where Benedict Arnold and other Revolutionary War generals might have plotted the 1777 Battle of Ridgefield.
The Daniel Hickok house on Blackman Avenue suffered extensive damage in a December 2014 fire, making it hard for the owners to safely and affordably restore the home.
Instead, the family plans to rebuild the colonial saltbox and its side house in the style and “spirit” of the historic house, said Jean Marie Angelo, whose wife’s ancestors lived in the home for generations.
“We love the house and we love the story behind the house,” she said. “It’s our intention to rebuild.”
Shoemaker Daniel Hickok was one of Bethel’s first settlers and built the house in 1760 on what is now Blackman Avenue. Local legend has it that generals Benedict Arnold, David Wooster and Gold Selleck Silliman used the home to escape from the rain for a meeting to plan the Battle of Ridgefield in April 1777.
The family hasn’t been able to prove the legend, but said it adds up.
A letter to George Washington, which one of the relatives has seen in the national archives, describes how the generals took refuge in a Bethel home. Hickok was a general in the Revolutionary War, and his home was one of the only houses in Bethel at that time.
The meeting is even mentioned in James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier’s fictional book, “My Brother Sam is Dead.”
This rich history led resident Gil Letellier to push for the building to be saved, contacting the Bethel Historical Society and then Angelo’s family about restoring the home.
Letellier gave the family members advice and connected them with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and Ridgefield Historical Society.
Historic carved initials
Letellier said he is disappointed the building will be demolished, but understands why.
“I feel terrible about the important piece of history in Bethel not being there anymore,” Letellier said. “But it has to go down. It’s a safety hazard. The cost to repair it was just too exorbitant.”
The family consulted at least 15 construction experts, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and the Bethel building official, before concluding they could not restore the house.
One of the experts told the family the house’s fate was sealed the night of the fire, when flames ripped through the roof and destroyed must of the structure, Angelo said.
The new saltbox and side house will be built in the exact footprint of the existing buildings and include any pieces of the home that can be salvaged. Most elements were destroyed in the fire, although a few of the beams could be incorporated into the design, but are not sturdy enough to hold the structure.
The initials “D.H” that were carved into the wood beneath the stairs will also be saved.
“It’s certainly in the image of the house that was there,” Letellier said. “We’re optimistic that it will be fine.”
But the interior design of the saltbox will change to bring the home up to modern code. It would be difficult to recreate the design of the walls and closets, as the odd layout indicates the home might have been part of the Underground Railroad.
Gregory Farmer, from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, said he would have preferred the house be restored. But he said the family did its “due diligence” to try to save it.
The owners’ plan is the next best thing, he said.
The planned building “clearly doesn’t have any historical significance because it’s not historic, but it does maintain the rhythm and flavor of the neighborhood,” Farmer said.
He said 18th-century homes make up about 10 percent of the housing stock in a community. These buildings have a level of workmanship and quality of materials not seen in modern buildings.
“The unfortunate thing is that they still get torn down every day,” Farmer said. “They don’t grow back. These are one-of-a-kind buildings and when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Dughters of the American Revolution
Angelo’s family bought the home from owner Jon Mark Peterson after the fire. Her wife is from the Post family, who had owned the home until the mid-1990s and descends from the Hickok family.
Angelo expects to demolish the home in the coming weeks, later than she originally hoped. She said she appreciates the neighbors’ and town’s patience with the blight.
“The town of Bethel has been as understanding and gracious as they can be,” she said. “They’ve bent over backward to understand.”
Angelo is not sure how long it will take to rebuild the house, but said she plans to stay in the home part of each week.
Her wife and niece also belong to the Daughters of the American Revolution and envision holding meetings there. The family is also considering occasionally opening the building to the public.
“Whatever happens to the house, we want to do it in a way that really honors the history,” Angelo said.