Clarke House saved for now by Preservation Committee

Chester has lost a lot of historic structures over the years and the log cabin at 4111 West Hundred Rd. is the latest. Another historic house in the Chester area is also being threatened by progress – the Clarke House on Centralia Road.  On Aug. 15, Chesterfield’s Preservation Committee ruled that the house was structurally fit and issued a reprieve for the time being.

The preservation committee ruled the house was structurally sound, distinguished, has historic interest, contributes to the character of Centralia, voluntarily put under the protection of the county and that demolition based on neglect and economic burden would set a precedent  that is not supported by the preservation committee. The case still must be considered by the Board of Supervisors.

In 1999 the Village News covered the renovation work of Mark and Chistine Copa. Photos taken then showcased a home fit for a tour by a garden club. Once it was purchased by the developer, Wilton Real Estate Corporation, it was let decline. Eventually it went on the auction block and was purchased by C.W. Wright Construction Co.  
Paul Collins, who lives across Centralia Road from the Clarke House in another historic home, said that the house, which is on Chesterfields’ Historic Register, has a lot of potential.

“You can’t build this kind of elegance and historic charm. The floor plan is great for a young couple with one or two kids, Collins said in a letter to The Observer. “The attic room is ‘killer’ for a young boy or teen. The original studs in the walls are thick, hard and strong. You can’t buy lumber this nice any longer. They aren’t making these old gems anymore and the numbers are dwindling. If I wasn’t in the middle of a massive restoration right now I would purchase the Clarke House myself.”

Decay allowed by the current owners of  the property could push the property to the point where the county’s preservation committee or Board of Supervisors could sign-off on the property and allow it to be torn down.

So far the preservation committee has stuck to their guns and have not given approval for the old house to be demolished. Since the purchase of the house by C.W. Wright, it now has plywood covering the windows, According to Jim Daniels, owner of Longest and Daniels Real Estate, the interior of the house has been stripped of anything of value. Mantles trim and even the copper plumbing has been looted.

“As a Centralia resident, I do not appreciate the  categorizing of an historical  community with a casual remark [in the Observer] “that you could not get $300,000 for a house on Centralia Road,” said Centralia resident Liz Welchons. “This statement is detrimental to the entire community and offensive to its residents. I think the designation of ‘historical’ should mean it’s more than a business opportunity for re-building on the property.”

During the bankruptcy auction, C.W. Wright bought the adjoining property, now called Centralia Station LLC, for a some of around $400,000, but according to some who were at the auction, the Clarke House was sold for a fraction of that cost.

“Sure, they paid hundreds of thousands for the 77 acres and the Graham house, but I don’t even think the bid got around $20,000 for the Clarke house,” said a neighbor who attended the auction. The property was then combined by the county with the 77 acres not allowing citizens to see the auction price paid of the Clarke House.

“The house was designated historic when it went up for auction,” said Bonnie Ramey who lives further west on Centralia Road. “The responsibilities of the purchaser were given out at the Auction, sent in the email, even provided on Motley’s web page.  The house had all its parts and character when the auction closed.  The new owner appeared [in another newspaper] as a victim of some kind, instead of a responsible historic home owner, and that slant just didn’t set well with me.”

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