Town now willing to see house saved

Published 8:17 pm Tuesday, February 12, 2019

By Frederic Lee 

Staff writer 

In an about-face from less than six months ago, the town of Smithfield has verbally agreed to allow the Isle of Wight County Historical Society inspect the Wombwell house to determine if restoration is feasible. 

Last fall, town officials had indicated they planned to demolish the house and had gone so far as to allow the Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department to use the structure for training. 

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Preserve Smithfield had wanted to rehabilitate the house, but had not come to an agreement with the town after some negotiations. The nonprofit has had a rocky relationship with town officials dating back to skirmishes over Pierceville. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Yet after a request to the full Town Council by the Historical Society, President and Vice President Albert Burckard and Carolyn Keen said that the town expressed willingness to allow them to secure and weatherize the circa-1840s Tidewater cottage where it sits, analyze it and then make a determination whether or not to restore it for use as the society’s headquarters.

The Isle of Wight County Historical Society currently has no headquarters, according to Burckard. 

In order for that determination to be made, the society’s plan calls for termite, rot, water damage, and mold damage inspections and the rendering of professional sketches showing the house’s current condition of architectural stability. 

Securing and weatherizing would set up the already-dilapidated house from further damage resulting from neglect. 

The house — located next to the $4 million Joseph Luter Jr. Sports Complex along Route 258  — has been eyed by the town for demolition over the past year. 

Mayor Carter Williams said during the Jan. 29 Public Buildings and Welfare meeting that future plans for the sports complex currently include placing an indoor complex exactly where the Wombwell house sits. On Feb. 7, the mayor expressed desire to work with IWCHS to come up with some sort of compromise or resolution. 

Williams said that there are many options still on the table, including moving the house a little bit to the right or left of where it is now located.   

According to Burckard, the society has enough of its own funds to get the project going, 

At the Jan. 29 meeting, Williams presented his own alternative to restoring the Wombwell house onsite, detailing the aforementioned indoor sports facility and possibly relocating Town Hall to the Luter property. He added then that this was a “25-year” plan. 

The town has long maintained that the house, in its current state, presents a hazard to children using the sports complex and has wanted to tear it down.  {/mprestriction}