Arson Destroys Massachusetts House

Posted on: February 4th, 2008 by Preservation magazine

New Bedford, Mass.Abandoned for more than a decade, plans for renovation of a Queen Anne-style house built in the mid-1880s in New Bedford, Mass., were finally in place when it succumbed to a fire last month. It was used as a dormitory for the Swain School of Design and later by the University of Massachusetts. After falling into disrepair for 10 years, the city acquired it, and in keeping with its interest in preservation, the property was to be turned over to the Waterfront Historic Area League.

"It was a poster child for vacant and abandoned properties in New Bedford," says Lisa Sughrue, the league's executive director. "Its restoration," she adds, "would have been a catalyst for change and progress in that neighborhood."

The Queen Anne home was set ablaze on Jan. 20, just days before the city transferred ownership to the league. Lieutenant Arruda of the New Bedford Fire Department confirmed the fire was arson. "It was definitely a set fire," he says, adding that the exact cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The league remains optimistic about other preservation projects, including its $10,000 mini-grants to homeowners of historic properties. "We are deeply saddened that the home is gone, but I don't think that it's going to deter us," Sughrue says.

The remains of the house were demolished on Jan. 21. No plans have been made yet for the now vacant site, but together with league and the public, the city is committed to maintaining its history. "Preservation isn't just about restoring the past; it's about rebuilding the future," says Anne Louro, the city's community historic preservation planner. "We have a very proactive preservation community."

- Sarah Amtower

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