Landmarks is neglecting its other endowed East Haddam house
The Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, now Connecticut Landmarks, inherited the 1816 Amasa Day house in Moodus from Katharine Chaffee Roberts, when her husband, Allan Kirk Roberts, who had life tenancy, died in 1967.
The Robertses left to Landmarks antiques and other contents of the Amasa Day house, as well as $100,000 to be used, with its income, according to both their wills, for the "maintenance, repair and upkeep" of the property.
After visiting the house Monday, I can say with some certainty that it is not being maintained, repaired and kept up. There is obvious peeling paint on all sides, some isolated spots of rot and mildew growing in places. A basement window was ajar. One fence is unevenly leaning to one side, with paint peeling, and another is collapsing.
The windows were covered up inside, but I cringe to think what the contents of the unheated house must look like, if there is mold on the outside.
The yard has piles of brush and tree branches cut but not cleaned up.
The 1878 carriage house, described in the 1972 nomination of the house to the National Register of Historic Places as having a cupola, now has a modern asphalt roof and no sign of a cupola. There is some rot and mildew around much of the bottom of the carriage house.
A Facebook page started in 2015 to call attention to the two houses in East Haddam that are owned by Landmarks and not regularly open to the public, has one 2015 posting that says the Amasa Day house has not been open for 10 years.
The other East Haddam property, the Palmer-Warner house, has not regularly been opened to the public since Landmarks inherited it, with an endowment, in 2005. Landmarks admits spending from that endowment, about $1.5 million today, on other things, even though the bequest, like the one with the Amasa Day house, limits its use to a specific property.
The office of Attorney General George Jepsen said last week it is examining the use of the Palmer-Warner house endowment, a widening of an investigation into Landmarks' Forge Farm in Stonington that began when Landmarks said it wants to sell the property and keep the endowment, now valued at about $1.5 million.
A spokesperson for the attorney general's office said Tuesday that the office would review any information brought to its attention about the Amasa Day house and its endowment.
One would imagine that $100,000 left in 1967, if invested conservatively, would be worth a lot of money today.
Until this week, I could find some clues to Landmarks' endowments from financials posted at the bottom of the organization's webpage. Those documents are gone now. Also now missing is the list of current and former trustees and current employees, which until last week also was posted on the organization's site.
So much for transparency.
I made copies of the financials before they were taken down and they are posted along with this column on theday.com.
According to those accountings, there was $100,000 in "permanently restricted" funds in the Katharine Chaffee Roberts Memorial Fund, and $267,283 of "temporarily restricted" money in the same endowment, at the end of March 2016. For the same period of 2013, there was $100,000 in "permanently restricted" money and $277,122 in "temporarily restricted."
The Landmarks reports define “temporarily restricted funds” as “gifts that are restricted by the donor for a specific purpose or income derived from permanently restricted net assets that is restricted by the donor for a specific purpose. The Society expends temporarily restricted net assets in accordance with the donor’s intent.”
Sheryl Hack, Landmarks executive director, did not respond to a phone message I left Tuesday. Frederick C. Copeland Jr., chairman of the board of trustees, did not pick up when I called.
I did reach attorney John Bonee of West Hartford, who has been participating with Hack and Copeland in their talks with the attorney general's office about Forge Farm, but he would not go on the record to answer questions. I asked him to relay my message to anyone from the organization willing to talk; I did not hear back anything.
Some preservationists familiar with Amasa Day suggest it was an especially rich house museum when it was open to the public, in part because of the impressive collection of materials left from several generations of a single family living in the house.
Chaffee Roberts' brother, Amasa Day Chaffee, was a well-known impressionist-era photographer and some of his work also was left with the house.
A reminder of the house's richer museum past remains on Connecticut road signs that still direct people to the house.
Some people posting to the Facebook page about the two houses express worries about specific antiques they remember from the interior. Katharine Chaffee Roberts' will specifically directs that Landmarks should not sell either the house or its contents, and the contents should not be removed.
"If for any reason it becomes necessary to dispose of said real estate," the will says, it should be given to an organization of similar powers, along with the money for its upkeep.
The nomination of Amasa Day to the historic register calls it a fine example of a late Federal style house.
"The Amasa Day House in an impressive structure, set on a knoll on the green of the village of Moodus," the nomination says. "(It) is one of the earliest structures remaining in the village of Moodus, hence, by age alone, it is one of the most important. But it also derives importance from its fine architecture, rendering it one of the most beautiful houses in the area."
It's too bad it has fallen into Landmarks' collection of neglected houses.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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