The owners of the Old Parsonage house in West Tisbury have requested permission from the town historic district commission to demolish the 17th century home that sits on State Road overlooking Parsonage Pond.
Tara Whiting and her brother, Daniel, have begun preliminary talks with the commission to tear down the house — and if they proceed with the application they are expected to request a certificate of hardship based on the age and condition of the home. Although historical records are not precise, the original part of the house is thought to date to the 1600s and was built by Josiah Standish, the son of Myles Standish, a passenger on the Mayflower and military advisor to Plymouth Colony. The house was used as a parsonage for the West Tisbury Congregational Church for a long period from the 1700s into the 1800s. Ms. Whiting’s great-great-grandfather, Henry Whiting, bought the property in 1865, combining two farms to create a sheep farm. Several additions were built onto the house through the middle and late 1800s. Ms. Whiting took over the property in 1998 and has run a bed and breakfast there since.
Ms. Whiting is the West Tisbury town clerk.
The house lies in the West Tisbury historic district which runs roughly from Music street out along Panhandle Road and also includes a small section of the West Tisbury-Edgartown Road as well as the village center. The district includes about 100 properties in town.
The historic district commission met with Ms. Whiting and made a site visit to the property late last month. The commission will meet on Monday to consider the preliminary request. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Howes House.
According to minutes from the commission’s Jan. 24 meeting with Ms. Whiting, the siblings feel the house is in such a state of disrepair that demolishing the house and building a new home would be the best solution.
The town historic district bylaw does not prohibit tear-downs and does have a provision for hardship. The bylaw requires the hardship to be unique to the property.
“The applicant assumes that because the homestead is older than any other structure in the district (Josie Bruno’s house on Old County Road is in that era as well) and is in such severe disrepair there is a hardship,” the minutes from the Jan. 24 meeting state. “Their contractor estimated $1.75 million to restore [the house] and did not recommend it.”
Historic commission members discussed whether the original 1660s portion was more historic than the 1865 additions, and questioned if the original Cape could be demolished and replaced by a replica. Commission members also asked if the applicant could build a new home somewhere else on the lot.
“It’s still pretty preliminary, we’re exploring different options,” historic commission chairman Sean Conley said earlier this week.
He and other commission members visited the site last weekend. “We’re all hoping it doesn’t come to an application to demolish. I think there are a lot of different options,” Mr. Conley said.
“It’s a beautiful house,” he added. “It would be a loss to everyone.”
A pamphlet of historical notes from the Congregational Church makes several references to the house. One note says: “There is considerable confusion regarding the parsonage property. It was both rented out and used as a parsonage, a pasture and a meadow sold, even reference to the sale of the parsonage itself was made . . . Finally in 1825 it was voted to see if the town owned the parsonage anyway. Whatever they learned, the parsonage continued to be used as such for another 150 years.”
Commission member Nancy Dole sent an e-mail to the Massachusetts Historical Commission members to generate ideas from the broader community, a suggestion made at the Jan. 24 meeting, to see if any town had dealt with a similar situation.
Ms. Whiting also emphasized this week that the talks are in the very early stages. “[At the next meeting] we’ll suss out anything that can or will happen,” she said, declining further comment.