View from the Green
Enduring Village Landmark in Limbo
By Michael Kelly
Civic enrichment in Norfolk Town is humming right along: what with the library’s compelling new terra cotta roof, the impressive restoration of Alfredo Taylor’s railroad railing and lamps, the reassuring church bells ringing again on the Village Green, the ambitious reimagining of City Meadow, the budding rails to trails project, the ongoing restoration of the Tiffany and Maitland Armstrong windows in Battell Chapel and the slam-dunk opening of The Berkshire Country Store.
At this pivotal, forward-looking time in Norfolk’s 259-year narrative, a piece of its past may be fading from our midst.
Crissey Place, which was, for decades, a successful boarding house/hotel and restaurant, the congenial setting for many memorable family gatherings and celebrations, where “summer people” dallied while their houses were being prepped for the season, is suffering from neglect and indifference.
Built in 1795, anchoring the southern end of the Village Green, this grande dame of a house was, until 1818, the Captain Darius Phelps Tavern and years later the home of Theron Crissey, who wrote the definitive “History of Norfolk” in 1900. Originally a Georgian Colonial, it was converted to French Second Empire, with its distinctive mansard roof, in the 19th century. Last run (together with the present-day Historical Society Museum and adjoining Stannard House) as an inn by Miss Cora Brown into the late 1950s, it has until recently been a private home.
Many people in town are under the mistaken impression that Crissey Place has been sold and that everything is hunky-dory. This is not the case. In fact, the house has been foreclosed on and is in the hands of a mortgage company from Texas which has no interest in this historic building other than recouping its investment.
Though Crissey Place has a relatively new roof, water has been seeping into the walls, pipes have burst and the empty, stately structure is decaying. Another harsh Norfolk winter is exacting more pressure on the structural integrity of this venerable, vulnerable building. Until recently, one of the doors was unlocked, an open invitation to squatters and partying teenagers. It took several phone calls to the New Jersey company hired by the mortgage company to manage the building to get them to secure it.
A representative from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation recently toured the building with Barry Webber, president of the Norfolk Historical Society, and determined that Crissey Place, though bereft of most of its 1795 details, is very much an important historic building that must be saved. He also explained that because of its historic designation it is eligible for significant tax incentives and government grants.
Norfolk’s Village Green looks pretty much as it did in the early 1800s. Imagine the visual void in the heart of the village, and in our collective souls, if this significant, historic building that has stood on the Village Green for over 220 years is no more.
Foreclosures take time. Since no buyers have materialized (as recently as a year ago, it was on the market for nearly $500,000), Crissey Place will likely be auctioned off in the spring. After years of neglect, it needs plenty of work and TLC, but the old girl with the proud mien is eminently worth saving for her looks alone. Here’s hoping that buyers or entrepreneurs with vision and resources will come forward to find a way to take it off life support and make it a relevant part of Norfolk once again.