Mother’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Buy in Historic Districts

The building was impressive, ornate with marble, and high ceilings, albeit old-fashioned, with rest-room doors that read Ladies Toilet and “Gent’s Toilet”. My business took place in the basement, in a brick room filled with thousands of numbered bound notebooks.

It wasn’t the first time I had visited the building. On my first trip, I was sure that my mission would only be a 20 minute errand.

“I just need a copy of the deed that says ‘land only.’” my son-in-law told me. ‘Ask them for the file and copy the relevant documents.

So I paid for an hour’s worth of parking, and walked through those imposing doors.

“I need a deed that shows when an old barn was first built.”

“Sure. We can help you with that.” said a man in the suit at the 4th window. “Come with me.”

“What’s the name and the date?” he asked, once we were in the basement.

“Umm. All I know is the address.”

“Then I can’t help you.” he said.

“Oh. But, how would I get that?” I asked frowning. “I think the barn was built over 100 years ago.”

He reconsidered. “Well, you have to trace it back.”

He was very helpful. He sat me down at a computer, and, after seeing my deer-in-the-headlights stare, looked up multiple documents. Each of the 20-odd documents delineated another the book and page that we needed. Eventually, we got to 1917 and a name.

“He owned quite a bit of land.” the gentleman said. “The rest of the records are by name and date and are handwritten.”

“I think I’m supposed to photo-copy deeds. Where would I find the deeds?”

“That’s what we’ve been looking at.”

“Oh. But they didn’t say whether there is a barn or not.”

I was there for the barn. Or, more precisely, I was there to destroy the barn.

The barn had been a major selling point for my daughter and son-in-law when they bought the property. “Whee! Party house!” they had exclaimed. And it was a great party house- for the whole year before babies arrived. But now they have a 5 year old, a three year old and an infant. And there is their nephew, Deathwish Auggie. The barn features a second story loft without hand-rails, a roof that needs replacing and an extension that tilts ominously to one side. It’s the perfect environment for Deathwish.

They initially had other hopes for the barn. But, zoning by-laws, they discovered, do not let anyone do anything that is not consistent with prior use. The barn has electricity, but you can’t introduce plumbing. You can’t make it into a guest house, or a granny flat. Permitted uses, as best we could determine were carriages, cows and chickens. To stay there, I would need to put on a cow suit.

No, the building needed to go. But, if a building is over 80 years old, in North Attleboro, you need a permit for “demolition.” To get the permit, you need to apply to the North Attleboro Historical Commission.

This application asks for multiple documents. Including copies of all the deeds going back to a mythical deed that would show “land only.” That was the errand that I had volunteered to accomplish.

After leaving the registry for the first time, with my tail between my legs, I did more research. I reviewed the demolition application on the town website. I located the property on the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System and found that a carriage and livery company had owned the barn around 1880. Yea! I had a name and a date.

This time, when I got to the parking lot, I paid for three hours.

It took that long, and I wasn’t successful. I did more research and went back again.

“The deed we rejected from 1880 because it said Attleboro rather than North Attleboro was the right deed!” I declared triumphantly “North Attleboro wasn’t incorporated until 1887!”

After 7 hours and 3 tries, I may have obtained the required information. There are still a couple of holes. My hope is that, if that large pile of documents are packaged tightly together with an impressive binder, no one will actually ever look at them. Of course, this assumption could be another one of my numerous mistakes, in connection with this simple errand.

So to tie this up, here are the morals of my story, along with a small rant.

Always pay for more parking than you think you need.
Do the research before the drive.
Mother’s don’t let your babies grow up to buy in historical districts!

And now the rant.

Why?! Why can’t my daughter just tear down her dangerous barn? On her property?! How can a cash-strapped family with demanding jobs and children ever complete that complex application? The Historical Commission claims that it only wants time to photograph and document old properties before they are destroyed. So, why not a family-friendly application? Where’s a libertarian when you need one?! If it were me, I would ask forgiveness rather than permission. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my children are more law-abiding.

All right. Thanks for listening. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do more research on North Attleboro history, in case the Commission finds the holes. And rant some more to my husband. And sincerely hope that this sad story won’t be continued…

1 comment to Mother’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Buy in Historic Districts

  • Hilarious! in Wyoming, they just take photo and tear it down, willy nilly. They destroyed a Carnegie Library, (someone) burned down a grand opera house downtown, an attorney bought a lovely old house , tore it down and built a brick office building on the site. Good luck with the historic preservation!

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