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    Thursday, May 30, 2024

    OPINION: Groton councilors rejected the savior of Downing Cottage

    The Downing Cottage at 17 Gravel St. in Mystic as shown here Monday, March 21, 2022. (David Collins/The Day)
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    For those who followed the saving of Mystic’s Downing Cottage, after the intervention by state historic preservation rescuers, it is heartening to see a restoration now under way.

    The original cottage, with its distinctive double bay windows and gable dormer, has been lifted and moved temporarily to the back of the lot, while a new foundation is laid.

    That historic facade will be back in place soon and hopefully gracing Gravel Street for many more decades to come.

    The fresh work reminds me of the despicable way four Groton councilors treated the person I would say is probably the most responsible for saving the cottage.

    A Gang of Four on the Town Council ― Melinda Cassiere, Bruce Jones, Rachel Franco and Juan Melendez ― last month twisted themselves into some procedural contortions to reject the recommendation of their own council appointments committee to give John Goodrich full membership on the Historic District Commission.

    They voted him down ― a plan obviously scripted before the meeting ― and chose someone else.

    Goodrich, to my mind, is the hero of the Downing Cottage rescue story, although, to my knowledge, he has never sought any credit.

    It was Goodrich, serving as a non-voting alternate member of the historic commission, who first dropped a dime on the commission, calling in the press.

    Goodrich emailed me to warn that the commissioners were preparing to vote to allow the demolition of the remarkable cottage, an architectural highlight of the much-photographed Gravel Street, in the heart of the protected historic district.

    I wrote about it as soon as I could, but not until after a majority of the commissioners had, in a complete dereliction of their duties of preserving important buildings in the district, voted to allow the cottage to be torn down.

    And so began a campaign, essentially launched by Goodrich, that included state preservationists, who collected thousands of signatures on a save Downing Cottage petition drive and prepared to enlist the attorney general in a lawsuit to stop the demolition.

    They finally brokered an agreement in which the owners agreed to raise up but save the original structure.

    No one, including me, would have paid any attention had Goodrich not spoken up. The cottage would almost certainly be gone today.

    The Gang of Four on the Town Council last month, after an unusual pulling of individual names off a list of volunteer citizens being recommended by the appointments committee for service on town boards, voted separately on Goodrich and denied him a permanent spot on the commission.

    Before voting, they heard reasons why Goodrich, who has a preservation-related degree and is restoring his own 18th Century house, should be appointed. Not one of the cowardly Gang of Four, though, gave a reason for rejecting the unanimous recommendation of the council’s appointment committee.

    I have never met Goodrich. I’ve had some email and phone conversations with him because he was active in two other issues in town, preventing the sale of the Mystic Oral School to a convicted criminal and stopping the controversial data center plan.

    The Gang of Four included councilors who, even as alarmed citizens were lobbying the governor to try to stop the imminent sale of the Oral School, voted to keep the council from discussing the issue.

    Maybe they rejected Goodrich because he opposed the data center and the sale of the Oral School. But who knows, since they wouldn’t say.

    Goodrich is a Republican, and I probably disagree with more of his political opinions than I can imagine. But I can’t think of anyone more qualified to serve on the town’s historic commission.

    I hope Groton voters, especially those who appreciate the freshly-restored Downing Cottage, remember the council’s Gang of Four, when they get their own chance to reject candidates, in the voting booth.

    Unlike the councilors who should have, they don’t need to explain themselves.

    This is the opinion of David Collins


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