This (very, very) old house

When it comes to old architecture there’s often a fine line between decrepit and culturally historic.

Not everything old is worth keeping but at the same time, not everything should be discarded just because it’s old. The trick is knowing where exactly that line resides.

Such was the case of 18 Water Street, which was torn down by the Town of Greater Napanee on Thursday.

A full gamut of opinions on the demolition was expressed on social media as news of its fate spread through the community. Largely ignored for the last five years, there was suddenly a renewed interest in the old vacant house after it was reduced to rubble. Some were quite sad to see it go, others saying its derelict state warranted taking it down a decade ago.

A cursory glance of the house revealed a charming little home on top of a hill overlooking the Napanee River. Viewing the property strictly from the outside one might consider it to be among the more desirable abodes in town. On the inside however was a much different story as the structure was in need of some serious TLC to make it livable.

And so for years it sat abandoned, even after the town took over possession of the property in 2015. As town staff and residents brainstormed ideas for uses of the home, a Band-Aid solution was concocted-sprucing up the exterior with endearing murals to cover the windows and doors so as to block out the unsightly state of the interior.

There were certainly some intriguing ideas proposed for the property but ultimately-as these things always do-it came down to dollars. There was just no practical plan that could justify pumping in the cash it would take to make the home safe for the general public to enter while expecting some kind of reasonable return on investment.

The thing with a demolition is its permanent. As so many have pointed it-correctly so-once the house is down, it’s gone forever. Just like that, in one day something that has stood for over 160 years, was gone without a trace.

As far as the Greater Napanee Heritage Committee was concerned, there was nothing really historic about the house. No famous residents were known to have called the place home. Numerous indoor renovations over the years had removed anything culturally significant. It is possible-actually probably pretty likely-Sir John A. Macdonald had passed the house in a horse-drawn wagon on his way to visit the Macpherson House or to deliver a campaign speech at town hall (though given today’s attitudes towards Sir John A., it’s likely this bit of history lessens its value). We do know that current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau parked his campaign bus across from the house during a campaign visit last September. (See above brackets).

Regardless of where people stood in the issue, the house is gone. What’s left is to look ahead and hope the town will push ahead with its goal of extending the water front trail to the other side of the Centre Street bridge. Creating something we can all enjoy would be the best way unite the differing opinions.

-Adam Prudhomme

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