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In way of CVS, historic houses may fall to the wrecking ball

Clashes between the four big national drug store chains -- CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Eckerd -- and local preservationists have occurred throughout the country since the retailers began building big stores in the 1990s. The National Trust for Historic Preservation even has a special program to assist local groups fighting to save historic buildings threatened by drug stores.

The latest chapter in that effort is being played out in Foxborough.

Local historic preservationists are racing to save a pair of 19th-century homes that a local developer plans to demolish to make way for a new downtown Foxborough CVS drug store.

CVS says it would be happy to sell the houses for $1 to anyone who will move and preserve them. But it's not willing to stop or move its project to save the structures.

The 1865 E.P. Carpenter House and the 1874 L. Porter Faught House, both built by prominent local industrialists, sit next to each other off Central Street. ``We are really trying to do some outreach to find someone willing to take them," said Ken Bryant, a member of the Foxborough Historical Commission. ``We are trying to be sensitive and realistic about how they can be preserved."

The commission is in the midst of a 90-day review of the request for a demolition permit by developer Milford CHP Foxborough Partners for the Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS chain. Under the town's demolition delay bylaw, the commission can extend the waiting period 120 days, but after that, demolition can proceed.

Jack Authelet, Foxborough town historian and leader of the effort to save the houses, said they have no special protection and the planned drug store complies with town zoning bylaws. ``If someone wants to sell their property to a developer, you can't stop them," Authelet said.

CVS is willing to work with local officials in hopes someone will buy and move the buildings, according to CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis.

``If someone comes along and is willing to move them, it's fine with us," echoed John Michelmore, attorney for the developer.

It's not the first disagreement between a drug store chain and preservationists in the region. In 1999 Rockland officials and activists blocked a Walgreens that would have required demolition of two 19th-century homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In Bridgewater, two homes considered historic were demolished to make way for another Walgreens. The company later abandoned the site, and the property was taken over by CVS, which built a store there.

DeAngelis of CVS said the company's policy is to not demolish buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As for other properties, DeAngelis said, ``On a case by case basis, we try to work with communities and developers to preserve historic properties, as we are doing in the case of Foxborough."

Authelet said Foxborough officials tried to have the Carpenter house listed on the National Register but were unsuccessful when the property owner opposed the move.

Claire Naughton, a Foxborough Democratic activist and candidate for state representative this year, has spoken out against the planned demolitions and called for the buildings to be preserved on their sites.

``I can't imagine what it would do to the center of town for the Carpenter House to be gone," Naughton said. ``It would change the face of the town."

Authelet said both homes are in good condition and could be moved if a suitable location can be found. The Faught House, which is empty, was last used as a nursing home, while the Carpenter House has been converted to offices.

``They are truly classic with their woodwork, spiral staircase, stained glass windows, and exquisite trim," said Authelet. ``They have so much significance and are in a prominent location."

Erastus P. Carpenter was probably the most important person in town history, according to Authelet. Carpenter was founder and owner of Foxborough's Union Straw Works, which in the late 1800s was the largest straw hat factory in the world. Carpenter was a state senator, state representative, and selectma n, and he was a designer of the Town Common.

L. Porter Faught was a supervisor at the Union Straw Works and a prominent figure in town. The home where he and his wife raised four children later became the Van Dora Nursing Home.

The houses probably could not be moved far because they would soon encounter bridges or other obstacles that would obstruct passage, according to Authelet.

He said the best hope would be to find someone willing to take the homes, then look for a place where they could be stored temporarily before the permanent move. ``We'd use any parking lot, any vacant field," Authelet said.

Robert Preer can be reached at

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