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Oldest Knowlton home slated to be demolished

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--April 22, 2014.

larger_phk.house__0.jpgThe Knowlton Golf Club has the green light to tear down the oldest house in Knowlton.

Now, the only hope of saving village founder Paul Holland Knowlton’s original home, built in 1815, lies with citizens who hope to dismantle and rebuild it on the grounds of the Brome County Historical Society.

On April 2, during the provincial election campaign, the municipality of Lac-Brome held a special council meeting where it turned down a request by local citizens to cite the building as a historic site and said the golf club may demolish the 199-year-old structure on its property.

“It will be a black mark” against the municipality for failing to protect a key part of Knowlton’s heritage, said Matthew Farfan, executive director of the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN).

“I find it surprising that it could be swept away for something as frivolous as a couple of parking spaces. I don’t see much public spirit there,” he said.

The golf course first asked for permission to demolish the house, to expand its parking lot, in 2010.

It has since said it doesn’t plan to expand the parking lot and simply wants to keep the site vacant.

Lac-Brome previously turned down the golf club’s request for a demolition permit twice.

But at this month’s meeting, it unanimously adopted two resolutions saying the golf club doesn’t need a demolition permit because the house is no longer usable as a dwelling. Lac-Brome also accepted the club’s offer to contribute up to $20,000 toward the cost of dismantling and carting the house away if citizens raise enough money to reconstruct it on another site within one year. If not, the club will demolish it.

Mayor Richard Burcombe said he likes heritage but the house is too dilapidated to be worth saving. He added it is not the only building in the town that is associated with Paul Holland Knowlton.

“We have other buildings that have been moved that belonged to him, his grist mill,” he said.

“They’ve been moved off the property to across the road.

“Council has made a decision and that’s it,” he added.

Paul Holland Knowlton, the founder of Brome County and of the village that bears his name, built the house in 1815. It was later owned by Christopher Dunkin, a prominent politician and judge.

Farfan said the town should have insisted that the house remain on its present site.

“Removing the house from its historical context vastly diminishes its value as a heritage site,” he said. “It becomes an object that’s hard to find a place for.”

The Brome County Historical Society (BCHS), which already has six historic buildings on its grounds, including a 19th century academy and a courthouse, has agreed to take the Knowlton house only if citizens raise enough money to cover all costs.

“We do not have the funds,” said BCHS vice-president Brian Shemilt. “All our other buildings need restoration as well.”

Shemilt said the society would have preferred to see the house remain on its original site, but after four years of fighting the demolition, “at some point we have to move on.”

In 2011, an architectural study commissioned by the town said a museum-quality restoration, including demolition of the two later wings, would cost nearly $500,000.

But Kathryn Lexow, secretary of the board of the BCHS, said it would cost less than $100,000 to reconstruct the log cabin as a museum that would only be open in the summer. She was part of a group from the town that inspected the house on Tuesday and found that the original 32-by-20-foot house is still in good condition.

“The structure is very solid,” she said.

Jack Little, a professor of history at Simon Fraser University who specializes in the Eastern Townships, said Knowlton and Dunkin are two of the most important figures in the region’s history and the house should be preserved on its original site.

“It’s obviously a very important historical site,” he said.

“At a time when heritage tourism is becoming more popular than ever, the town of Knowlton should be promoting its distinctive historical character rather than short-sightedly paving a heritage property for a parking lot.”

For information or to contribute to the restoration project, please email blkbart@sympatico.ca