NORWAY – It has all the makings of a storybook haunted house: its narrow tower is always dark, shingles have fallen away from the exterior walls, and some windows are broken. The rickety building gives off a feeling of forlornness and neglect.

Yet despite its dilapidated condition, which its owner says is a safety hazard, requiring that the whole house be pulled down, some townspeople with a bent toward preservation wonder if there’s a chance to save the Gingerbread House.

Patricia Shearman, president of the Norway Historical Society, said the house is an asset to the town, which has been called a living museum for its old-fashioned Main Street lined with antiquated buildings.

“I’d kick myself if I didn’t try to call attention to it,” she said Tuesday. A meeting about the house is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Historical Society. She said the Gingerbread House holds an important part of the town’s story and that the community needs to discuss the structure and its place here.

Ed Snook, Sun Journal treasurer and publisher of the Advertiser-Democrat, said the house is not salvageable unless someone is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Sun Journal bought the weekly newspaper and a block of buildings, including the Gingerbread House, from former Democrat publisher Howard James last May.

“It’s been open to the weather for 20, 30 years,” he said. “It’s a mess.” He said the building will be demolished in 2006. But he is willing to speak with people interested in investigating possibilities for preserving the house.

“If they want to raise money to save it, that’s great, but we have better ways to spend money than on something that is past its save date,” Snook said.

Not all historical buffs are tied to the old house. Norway Historical Society Vice President Guy Campbell said the house has gone by. “The sooner it is taken out, the better.” He said underneath the elaborate decoration is a plain structure.

“I don’t consider it very significant,” he said recently. “The basic house is nice but not superlative. What made it significant, when you look at it with all that Victorian trim, it stopped you, you had to look at it twice.”

He said it has probably sat empty for 15 to 20 years. But for most of its existence, it was filled with interesting characters.

And that is partly why Shearman said the house is worth protecting. “In terms of the community as a whole, the landscape as a whole, the village as a whole, and the stories in Norway as a whole, this building is iconic,” she said. “To destroy this particular building is not to destroy a mansard roof, or an octagonal tower, it is to destroy one of the more architecturally interesting buildings in town. It is to destroy the history of the Cummings home.”

In 1851, Richard Evans built the house, which was later bought by the founder of C.B. Cummings & Sons mill, Charles Bradley Cummings, according to information provided by the Norway Historical Society.

A Norway builder named John Hazan added the elaborate filigree that adorns the outside of the house after Cummings bought it. This is when the home became known as the Gingerbread House.

The last Cummings to live in the house, Fred and his wife, Cora Shedd, converted the building into a museum in the 1940s, filled with Fred’s curios. He was a collector of many unusual items, including a huge stuffed peacock and 19th century costumes.

Fred Cummings also designed a round table, or a Lazy Susan of sorts, in the building behind the house after he bought his first car in 1916. The table would spin the vehicle around so Fred never had to back out of his garage.

Snook said this structure will not be knocked down.

Later the house was converted into apartments, and then sold to Robert Sallies when he ran the Advertiser-Democrat. James took over the paper and the building in 1976.

Roy Gedat, who sits on the historical society board, said he hopes to introduce an ordinance in town for the next town meeting that would make it a little harder for people to level old buildings.

“It could include a tear-down provision,” he said, speaking of the proposed law. “It could include in the provision that any building within the historic district being considered for demolition go through a special review process… so someone can’t just buy a piece of property and whack it.”

But he acknowledged there might be nothing anyone can do to save the Gingerbread House. “Without a lot of money and a lot of people” behind the effort, he said, “There is not a lot to say.”

Shearman said though, “I think anything is possible where there is a will and an imagination.”



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