NORWAY – John Seilonen sometimes carries an old blue-speckled tin and porcelain teapot he found among the ruins of the Old Town Farm to make a point.

“It’s my Opera House,” said the 76-year-old who lives on the Old Town Farm property. “The teapot is all I have left of the Old Town Farm.”

The farm housed hundreds of area convalescents, including his great-grandparents, in the 1880s. It burned to the ground in 1932.

“At one time, it was a beautiful teapot. And now all I have left is one old teapot,” he said, referring to the ruins of the Old Town Farm and the Opera House on Main Street.

Seilonen recently made the rounds to the Board of Selectmen and people at local historical preservation forums, asking them to think about where the line should be drawn at restoring buildings at taxpayers’ expense.

Selectmen are poised to make a decision, possibly by the end of the month, on whether to take action to acquire the Opera House or Gingerbread House, both privately-owned historical buildings on Main Street.

The structural integrity of the Opera House, which is owned by Barry Mazzaglia of Londonderry, N.H., was severely compromised on Sept. 21, 2007, when a partial roof collapse caused water to pour through the ceilings and walls of the three-story 1894 brick masonry building. It has been vacant since that time and advertised for sale at $600,000.

The dilapidated 1855 Gingerbread House, owned by C’s Inc., a holding company for the newspaper company Sun Media, has been offered to the town with the provision that it be moved off site. A proposal from the town must be in place by Dec. 31 or the building will be demolished.

“How many old buildings do we restore? Who is going to pay for restoring these old buildings? Taxpayers.” Seilonen asked.

On Wednesday, discussions on the future of the buildings will continue when selectmen listen to opinions to be shared in a public forum beginning at 7 p.m. in the town hall on Danforth Street.

Kay Rand, the former director of state and federal relations for the Maine Municipal Association, will moderate the session. This is the third and final forum presented by the town, Norway Downtown, Norway Historical Society, Norway Memorial Library and the Norway Business Association. The sessions are to educate people about the pros and cons of saving threatened historical buildings.

“We need to get more people involved in this. A lot of people who are for the Opera House are willing to spend taxpayers’ money. Others are fighting for their lives and not willing to spend the money,” Seilonen said.

Seilonen is a native of Bolsters Mills village that straddles the Crooked River between Harrison and Otisfield. He relocated to Connecticut after serving in the Navy during the Korean War and coming home to unemployment. He eventually moved back to Maine and bought the Old Town Farm property in Norway.

He said he would like to see historical buildings preserved, but not at the expense of taxpayers.

Seilonen remembers a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the government in Connecticut paid to keep historical buildings looking good.

“I came from a time when we restored our historical buildings,” Seilonen told selectmen at their meeting Thursday night. “The state supplied the paint. You just had to go to town hall and pick it up.”

The homeowners in the historical homes took pride in their buildings.

“People were all proud, and they kept their houses nice and painted nice. They took pride in the building. There were no rundown buildings. You didn’t tear them down for a parking lot,” he said.

Seilonen questioned why taxpayers should fund the renovations to a privately-owned building.

“It’s nice to have historical buildings but we know it’s deteriorating and falling apart. That’s major money. Where do I as a citizen feel responsible for repairing someone else’s building. If the town wants to buy it that’s another story, he said.

Seilonen said what is most important at the moment is to make sure everyone comes to the forum on Wednesday night to voice their opinion.

Town Manager David Holt commended Seilonen for speaking before the board.

“I thinks it’s important John and others bring forth their ideas,” Holt told selectmen. “It really does more good when people speak up like John.”


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