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Historic North Stonington devastated by flood

By Julianne Hanckel

Publication: The Day

Published April 02. 2010 4:00AM   Updated April 02. 2010 12:58PM
Sean D. Elliot/The Day
The historic 150-year-old building that housed the Watermark Cafe and the Village Hardware store, located at the intersection of Main Street and Wyassup Road in North Stonington, sustained extensive structural damage from the floodwaters of the raging Shunock Brook. The structure hangs perilously Thursday, April 1, 2010.
North Stonington's Watermark Cafe heavily damaged by floodwater

North Stonington - Main Street is a lifeline for traffic in this sleepy village; it's the easiest way to get into, through and around town.

After floodwaters caused extensive damage this week to both the bridge across from the Old Town Hall and the building that houses the Watermark Café and the Village Hardware store, people will have to find other ways to get around.

Yellow caution tape cuts across Main Street from the New Town Hall, and on the other side of the bridge, the tape cordons off the road from Wyassup Road at the corner of Avery Lane.

First Selectmen Nicholas Mullane II said that after looking under the bridge, he can see the foundation of the cement of the road above. Everything else is gone.

"The bridge is a real problem for us," Mullane said. "The best we can do is to deal with what we have now."

All that remains under the bridge now is the large gap caused by the absence of the middle arch.

Shunock Brook, which turned into the Shunock River for close to three days, sent heavy debris, including large rocks and heavy tree stumps, smashing into the stone arches underneath the bridge. After days of abuse, the middle arch of the bridge gave way, sending rubble and cement pieces down the brook that then began to slam against the support beams of the historic 150-year-old building. On Wednesday, the three main support beams of the Watermark Café failed, sending the back of the café crumbling into the water below.

"This is a big deal. We've lost a part of our history, part of our culture," Mullane said.

Fire Chief Charles Steinhart V said that on Wednesday, members of the fire department worked to save some of the historic relics, furniture pieces and rugs from the now-uninhabitable building.

"You look down and all you can see is water," Steinhart said. "The floor is gone."

The building, built in 1860, has been owned by True Miller for 34 years. Town Assessor Darryl DelGrosso said the appraised value of the building is $178,600. Miller was not available to comment.

Mystic resident Jim Furlong and his wife, Bunny, came to North Stonington on Thursday afternoon to see the Watermark Café for themselves. The first time the couple dined at the small café was 12 years ago, when they were in the area looking to relocate from Rye, N.Y.

"This is a sad scene for me," Jim Furlong said.

As a member of the Board of Directors for the Groton Open Space Association, Jim Furlong would come to North Stonington often to visit with town officials.

"I remember looking out the back of the restaurant at the water, thinking how pretty it was," Bunny Furlong said.

Mullane said he is still unsure what options Miller has when it comes to saving the portion of the building that has collapsed into the water.

"I don't know what they're going to do, but they absolutely have to fix it. One fix may be to just tear it down and start over," Mullane said.

Marian Oates, whose property straddles the North Stonington-Stonington line, has lived in the area for 16 years. She believes the Watermark is a "great loss to the town and the community."

"It's devastating. Historic landmarks will never be able to be restored or replaced to what they were before," Oates said. "I've never seen it this bad."

The clouds gave way to sun on Thursday, but the weather didn't do much to cheer up town officials who now face the daunting task of repairing the roads.

Lantern Hill Road, Grindstone Hill Road, Loin Hill Road and Pinewoods Road are completely washed out and in need of major repairs, Mullane said.

"We're trying to get as much corrective action on the roads going as we can to take care of trouble spots," Mullane said.

He said the town already had road materials stockpiled and road maintenance crews have been working 12-hour shifts to repair some of the damage caused by the flooding.

The transfer station will be open today, Good Friday, and will maintain its normal operating hours on Saturday to help meet the needs of residents who have extra debris to clean up.

Mullane isn't sure what lies ahead for the Watermark, but he said it's disheartening to have a piece of town history disappear.

"It's terrific to be able to look at the past of a building like this one," he said. "It's going to be tough to portray what it used to be like."

j.hanckel@theday.com

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