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200-Year Old Historic Landmark May Be Demolished

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--August 5, 2012.

larger_customs1_0.jpgJust three short years after being classified as a historic site by the town of Stanstead, one of the town’s oldest surviving and most elegant buildings is being threatened with demolition by none other than the municipality itself. The building in question is a large red brick house on Dufferin Street, built by wealthy local merchant Wilder Pierce on what was then called the King’s Road, sometime between 1810 and 1814.

At its July meeting, the town of Stanstead mandated its lawyers to take action on its behalf. “Considering the poor condition of the house,” the town resolution reads, “Council mandates the law firm of Monty Coulombe to send an ultimatum to the owner of the building at 575 Dufferin instructing him to proceed with the necessary repairs to the building, or failing that, to have the building demolished; and, if necessary, mandates the said lawyers to obtain a court judgement to this effect.” The resolution makes no mention of how much this legal action would cost.

Originally, the building served as Pierce’s store. In 1821, it became the first customs house in the Eastern Townships, serving as such (despite the building’s location over a mile from the actual border) until the customs moved down the hill to Rock Island. The road now known as Dufferin was for many years part of the stagecoach route linking Boston and Quebec City. All of the traffic heading either north or sound would rattle by this house.

Beginning in the mid-1800s, the building also housed one of the first branches of the new Eastern Townships Bank. For a time, both the customs and the bank were located in different parts of the building. An old walk-in vault still occupies one corner of the ground floor. In the early days, the building was known as the Canada House. It has been a landmark on Dufferin Street for two centuries.

The building has seen a number of owners. In recent years, it has suffered from severe neglect, and almost total abandonment -- this despite its obvious heritage value.

larger_customs3.jpgThe building is built entirely of brick in the symmetrical style known as “federal” or “Georgian,” once popular in New England. It features a rare second-storey Palladian-style window. An imposing tower on the northeast corner is a Victorian addition. The side street facing the building still bears the name "Pierce,” in honour of the house’s original owner.

Town General Manager Guillaume Labbé said recently that, failing action on the part of the owner, “the town would not be prepared to assume the costs of restoring the building, and demolition remains a possible option.” The owner could not be reached for comment at press time.