Norwich's Dr. Patrick Cassidy House goes to tax foreclosure auction Saturday
Norwich — Gloria Woerheide bought the 1890 Dr. Patrick Cassidy House in December 1998, when the house was at a crisis point, with a plan to save it from decay, restore it to glory and eventually open a bed and breakfast in this spot near Norwich Harbor.
Without deep pockets, Woerheide, who ran a software consulting business, struggled over the years with the daunting financial task of restoring the house at 98 Washington St. She made slow steps forward and suffered setbacks, occasionally fending off city inspectors concerned about the blighted appearance of the house and battling what she argued was an inflated assessment and tax bill.
In the end, Woerheide, 74, could not overcome the mounting debt, including back taxes, defaulted mortgage and other debts. The house that still features the high-tech innovations Dr. Cassidy built will be sold at a tax foreclosure auction at noon Saturday on the premises and Woerheide plans to move to another Connecticut town “with half the taxes,” she said.
Without concealing her disappointment and some bitterness against the city, Woerheide is resigned to the result. She represented herself in the city’s foreclosure action and stated in a court filing: “I am unable to pay the taxes at this time, because I am unable to find work.”
In a later court filing, she asked for an extension from the original planned auction in January to March, citing serious medical issues that made it difficult for her to pack and move, including the bedding, furnishings and equipment she had gathered for her plan to open a bed and breakfast in the historic home, as well as files and material from her former software consulting business.
“I saved the house,” Woerheide said Tuesday. “It was six months from being torn down when I bought it."
The house had a 6-foot hole in the roof, and rain had been pouring in. The previous owner, Barry Woods, had several blue plastic kiddie pools placed throughout the attic and in rooms to catch the rainwater. “I still have some of them in the attic,” Woerheide said, although they are no longer in use.
She estimated she put about $250,000 into the house over the years, repairing the nearly collapsed front and side porch that first caught city inspectors’ attention in the mid-1990s, replacing the roof and making structural repairs. A small ornate second-floor front balcony — like the house’s nose — was decayed beyond repair and was removed. Woerheide said she removed 20 tons of water-damaged plaster and laths from the house.
“As much work as has been done, there’s still a lot of work to do,” Woerheide said. “The structure is sound, but half the porch has failed. Somebody has got to have bucks to fix this. It can’t just be a mom and dad.”
The foreclosure appraisal, done by William F. Esposito & Associates of Hamden, placed the fair market value at $90,000 — “almost exactly what I paid for it,” Woerheide said of her $89,000 purchase in 1998. The current city tax records appraise the house at $250,000. Woerheide fought an earlier appraisal of $350,000. Annual taxes were over $7,600, she said. She asked the assessor to reduce the house to a C grade but managed only to get its condition reduced to a B grade.
The back taxes, interest and attorney fees now top $20,000.
“It’s time for me to move on,” she said. “I probably should have sold it five or 10 years ago, but I fell in love with the house.”
Dr. Patrick Cassidy already was a prominent Norwich citizen and could be called a flamboyant figure by accounts of the day. According to former Norwich Mayor Arthur Lathrop’s book, “Victorian Norwich,” published in 1999, Cassidy immigrated to the United States from Ireland as a boy in 1852. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, then attended Sulpice College in Montreal, where his college dorm was confiscated by British troops for lodging. That probably didn't sit well with Cassidy, an ardent Irish nationalist, Lathrop noted.
Cassidy went to medical school at the University of Vermont and graduated with honors in 1865.
In Norwich, Cassidy led various local Irish organizations, including serving as president of the Norwich branch of the Irish Land League to purchase land for landless people in Ireland. He also chaired a “For Irish Liberty” rally that raised $2,000, Lathrop wrote.
In 1870, it was Cassidy who was chief marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day procession from St. Mary’s Church on Cliff Street to the site on Broadway chosen for the new St. Patrick’s Church. Lathrop quoted a Norwich Bulletin story that described the festive atmosphere and called the procession “one of the largest ever seen in the city.”
A year later on Good Friday, Cassidy led a second procession consisting of 1,700 workers and horse-drawn carts carrying shovels, picks and construction equipment to start work on the new cathedral, former Norwich historical advocate Bill Stanley wrote in his series, “Forgotten Founders.”
Cassidy ran his medical practice first in downtown Norwich. But he built his new house on lower Washington Street. He created an examination office and a small lavatory with a wall-mounted urinal and a small sink tucked underneath a staircase on the Maple Grove Avenue side of the house. The office and washroom are still there.
Lathrop wrote that Cassidy handled emergency cases, including industrial and construction accidents. He addressed the New London County Medical Association on infantile paralysis, polio. He served for 15 years as chairman of Norwich Board of Health and was state surgeon general.
The Bulletin described his new 3½-story house as “an edifice that takes rank with the best residences in town,” Lathrop quoted from the paper. The house style was called modern American at the time.
Many of the original features remain, with elegant oak, cherry and mahogany woodwork, heavy sliding doors that recess into the walls between the living room and dining room, majestic fireplaces, large windows and a tower. The right side entrance near the kitchen has cabinets where deliveries of flour, sugar and ice could be deposited in bins.
Inside the interior walls was an intercom system for occupants on one floor to communicate with those above or below without shouting up the elegantly carved main staircase with oak railing.
The property now has only 0.34 acres, but the yard originally extended farther back toward the Yantic River, with a stable and carriage house. Cassidy boasted having one of the best carriages in Norwich, and in 1898 sought to prove it, Lathrop recounted in his book, in a race against fellow physician Dr. Witter K. Tingley, from Norwich City Hall to the Crocker House in New London. The loser would buy dinner for the entire William W. Backus Hospital staff.
Cassidy took an early and easy lead, and after getting lost for a time on the streets of New London, finished one minute ahead of Tingley, with a roaring crowd of about 200 spectators, many of whom had taken the train from Norwich to watch the end of the race, Lathrop wrote.
Lathrop described Cassidy as a leading physician and prominent promoter of many local projects, including construction of the Broadway Theater downtown, as well as waterfront industrial buildings.
“Dr. Patrick Cassidy was the first Catholic Irishman to rise to a leading position in Norwich’s professional and commercial aristocracy,” Lathrop wrote.