Saving the Colonial Inn

Aug. 11, 2014 @ 06:49 AM
The Colonial Inn has dodged another bullet, and that is cause for some relief.
But the landmark building that has been a fixture in downtown Hillsborough for more than 150 years, is far from saved from demolition. Indeed, in many ways it is just as close to the edge of the precipice as it has been for a decade or more.
For devoted Hillsborughites and preservationists everywhere, the inexorable deterioration of the building is nothing short heartbreaking. As happens painfully often to buildings with the character but also the challenges of the Colonial Inn, its owner appears not to have the wallet and even more so the will to keep the building from falling down, much less to restore it with historic appropriateness to an adoptive reuse.
Owner Francis Henry would dispute it but others with an interest in the building's preservation would say there have been reasonable offers to purchase it and pursue rehabilitations. The town's attachment to the iconic building was clear last week when people packed the Town Barn to argue against Henry's request to be allowed to demolish the structure.
The Hillsborough Historic District Commission turned down that request, unanimously. But that merely leaves the building in limbo and the town and preservationists puzzling over what appear to be starkly limited -- perhaps nonexistent -- options to save it as long as it remains in the same hands.
As town planner Stephanie Trueblood put it before Wednesday's hearing, "the job isn't to consider all the outcomes for the building." It simply was to weigh Henry's one-page request to tear it down.
Lingering animosities, egos, a fierce belief in private-property rights and the daunting task of renovating a building - a tasks that grows more difficult with each passing year of neglect -- all envelope the ongoing struggle over the historic inn.
As in many situations of this sort, the town faces the delicate dilemma between applying al the legal tactics it can muster and keeping at least some opening to continued negotiations with the owner. Since 2004 the historic commission has been wielding its most viable tool, demolition by neglect, but it is cumbersome. Its fines for failure to adequately maintain the building gave had little impact -- although Henry does profess to have made some repairs. 
"For 10 years, we have said the building is worth fighting for," Sarah DeGennaro, executive director of the Alliance for Historic Hillsborough, said at Wednesday's hearing. It most certainly is.
Reasons for optimism may be scarce, but with demolition off the table, at least for the moment, we hope Henry will work with preservationists and others willing to help map a feasible plan to rehab the Colonial Inn. Failing that,we  hopehelpwillaput it in the hands of someone who can and will restore the building.
What a legacy that would be, and what a boon to a town steeped in history, of which that building is such a profound part.