Should Saugerties save a relic of its industrial past?

(Photo by Robert Ford)

(Photo by Robert Ford)

It was a grand old home, built by a paper baron. Then it was an elegant restaurant. But ever since a fire gutted it in the early 1990s, the Dragon Inn, located just south of the 9W S-curve, has been an eyesore. Its owner wants to demolish it, while many in the community still hope to see it restored.

It will be up to the village Historic Review Board to decide the matter. It began taking comments at its Jan. 20 meeting. Another public hearing will be held Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. in the Saugerties Fire Department’s meeting room in Village Hall.

The owner of the property, Ching Ya Wu, also owns the Wok and Roll Chinese Restaurant and Harmony Music in Woodstock. His representative, Donald Snyder, a Saugerties-based construction management consultant, said Ya can’t find a buyer because nobody wants to renovate the building.

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“Because of the damage from the fire and natural destruction over the years, the building needs to come down,” Snyder said. “Its designation as an historic landmark is hindering any sale.”

Preservation advocates contend that Ya could make the sale if he was willing to lower the price. In the early 2000s the 3.9-acre property was listed at nearly $1 million. Since then its listing price has decreased to about $700,000. Some feel $450,000 would be more realistic. The assessment is $335,000, recently lowered from nearly twice that amount.

Snyder said the property’s designation as an historic landmark in 2007 was done in a “flawed, selective, and prejudicial manner.” He said when the Historic Review Board made its designation, the application was never signed and information was missing from the documents. He said neither the building nor the site has been designated by the national or state historic registers and the owner never sought any such designation.

“The historic value of this home is overblown,” Snyder said. “This building has been nothing but an embarrassment to the village as the gateway to the village.”

Resident Penelope Milford said she is not in favor of demolishing the building, saying that its design represents a “unique statement…that you don’t see in Saugerties. It should be maintained in some way. The Lighthouse was derelict, but was fixed and that is the brand for this town.”

Dr. Louis Fuoco, who has lived across the street for 19 years, called the building an “embarrassment to the village. It’s not being maintained, and yes, the owner is asking too much … but it’s time to let it go and be demolished and let progress take its course.”

And while most attendees were concerned about possibly losing a part of Saugerties history, there were those who were more concerned about what would be built on the site if it were demolished.

Former village trustee Suzanne Leblanc worried that low-and-moderate-income housing could be put there, though Eyal Saad, village code enforcement officer, said the current zoning wouldn’t allow that.

Should the Historic Review Board turn down the request to demolish the building, the owner can then appeal the matter to the Village Board.

The home originally known as Clovelea was built by paper magnate William R. Sheffield in 1882. William was the son of J.B. Sheffield, owner of the paper factory originally started by Henry Barclay, the man who industrialized Saugerties in the 1830s. After taking over the plant, which was eventually rechristened the Diamond Mills Paper Company, the Sheffield family became known as “the paper makers of Saugerties,” according to Michael Sullivan Smith, a historian and member of the Historic Review Board. William R. Sheffield went on to partner with the Saugerties Manufacturing Company and the Barclay Sulfite Fibre Company, and was able to process paper from pulp to book.

Prior to the fire, it was a popular Chinese restaurant in the area. It had many incarnations before that as both a restaurant, and, in the 1950s, as the Stonewall Hotel.

Of Clovelea, Smith writes, “Cloverlea is one of the few places where a perspective from a public highway connects the grandeur of a bygone era with the town and village’s scenic and picturesque character. Because of this, Cloverlea’s reputation as an ‘icon’ is well-founded. It represents a tangible symbol of the regional identity that Saugerties has presented to the world over the past 188 years.”

There are 21 comments

    1. M. S. Smith

      Well, naming the Diamond Mills Convention Center after the owner of the dam on the 1928 state papers is the problem. Soon no one will remember the Cantine mill. The Sheffield Paper Co. was sold to the Diamond Mills company in 1902 and becaame just one of their plants. The main one was in NJ and I believe survives as a cultural center of the same name. Sheffields were here for 50 years and W. R. was President of the village for a short period in the late 1890’s. They were the real Saugerties. Both Cantine andeventually Russell got their starts working in what they started.

  1. Pete Baker

    I think that it’s a shame to demolish old buildings that are part of the historic fabric of a community. In the case of the building in question money is going to be a problem no matter what. I believe that it would be wise to stabilize the building to protect if from further deterioration. It would buy time to research for available grants as a historic building.

  2. Don Snyder

    For clarification i would add:

    “It was a grand old home, built by a paper baron”… well not exactly the real ‘paper baron’ was J.B.Sheffield, William Sheffield was his privileged son, who at the time the house was built oversaw the sell off the industries and properties that his father had accumulated. that time was the rise of the Cantine Family who purchased the mills and made their own money and fame.

    “The Lighthouse was derelict, but was fixed and that is the brand for this town.”… we thank ms milford at least for agreeing on the ‘derelict’ condition of 134 Burt St.

    “worried that low-and-moderate-income housing could be put there, though Eyal Saad, village code enforcement officer, said the current zoning wouldn’t allow that.”… the application before the HRB is for the demolition of the building to the benefit of property which would then free development to those categories specified by the current permitted by use, and special use permitted, uses of the site. The Village Building Department, Gateway Review,Zoning Board, Planning Board provide already established review and design opportunities and approvals, as well as public input.

    “The home originally known as Clovelea was built by paper magnate William R. Sheffield in 1882.”… correctly Sheffield did not start construction on 134 Burt St till 1883 and did not finish until 1984. Sheffield spent more time preparing the land (clearing scrub timber, fencing, meadows in the flats of the fiver, horses to ride, sheep’s and goats than he did building his house. Young son Ioncy died of illness 6 yrs old in 1883. And daughter Helen married a Cantine in the house but died unexpectedly 6 years later. William and the rest of the Family moved away shortly thereafter.

    ““Cloverlea is one of the few places where a perspective from a public highway connects the grandeur of a bygone era with the town and village’s scenic and picturesque character.”… this is an expansive assumption of power compared to that HRB interest specified in Code regarding visibility from the street etc?? what HRB now claims to control of 134 Burt St extends from the highway to “the grandeur of a bygone era with the town”… that’s a hard one that is.

    1. M. S. Smith

      R. F. did a great job getting the tone right. We’re always trying to tie down history and we’re learning more all the time. It’s the part about an unsigned application that should not be part of the history. The misunderstanding is in the assumption that the owner needed to be part of the process; therefore his signature. That’s not in the law. The property was unoccupied, open and decaying and the Review Board presented the property for designation as proxy for the community. The signature could have been anyone’s or even someone from the United States Department of the Interior that we ultimately, as the Review Board, have to answer to. I hope this becomes an occasion for more understanding of what Historic Preservation really means to the village of Saugerties.

  3. Don Snyder

    forgive please the obvious typos:
    * “not finish until 1984.”… should be 1884
    * “flats of the fiver”… should be river

    Owners name is Ching Ya Wu. Formally Mr Wu, not mr ya.

  4. Catherine Schaffer

    yes…this particular building has great history and could serve as the town’s offices or a b&b…a school, a theater…so many things….please don’t take down this fantastic piece of history

  5. Joseph Churnetski

    Since I was a teenager I imagined how beautiful this building would look fully renovated and well cared for every time I drove by. I understand that sometimes you need to let progress take it’s course but any structure that would be erected in its place would be far from progress with today’s disposable, plastic, soulless, building practices and materials.

  6. Christian Chavez

    What the concern is and completely understand. I remember driving by with my parents while it was burning. We were all shocked by the sight. Having grown up in Saugerties it just wouldn’t be the same to go back with my children and it not being there, in ruins or not it is still an amazing, facinating sight with amazing history. Wonder what would be the decision if it were the Orpheum Theater, The decision should be the same to me. Please consider keeping this historic “Relic”. Keep the scars of Saugerties, they tell the history!!

  7. David Radovanovic

    Of course!! This yet another piece of beautiful Saugerties architecture and history that may simply be dismissed. It’s the gateway to Saugerties Village and has been allowed to sit deteriorating, like so many others. “Speculating” landlords, stewards of some of Saugerties’ finest landmarks have caused similar dilemmas. Government has no business funding its restoration, though they have the responsibility to enforce zoning laws and possibly even help find a more appreciative suitor than its current owner. A nearsighted, “individualistic land-rights over all” morality has helped seal the fate of these properties. As similar treasures are replaced with modern-day junk, so does opportunities wasted, and Saugerties’ potential.

  8. Robin Kornstein

    I read this article and thread last evening and woke up thinking about it. There are so many levels of thought …yes the building is derelict and in disrepair…no idea if it is any way structurally sound…the facade of the building is absolutely breathtaking and In my opinion a window into the history of our area….I do not think the historic value is overblown nor an embarrassment to the village. It is unfortunate that some feel that the property is worth more without a structure on it…Any info on the fire or why this has been allowed to sit like an albatross for over 20 years…..? I see this as a work of art + history…This reminds me of how beautiful Grand Central Station is, which just celebrated it’s 100 year anniversary…..unfortunately Penn Station could not be saved, even by Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis…modern is not always better. I hope someone, perhaps involved with film or tv will discover this gem and bring it back to it’s deserved grandeur.

  9. Cat Anderson

    In the throw away society, which sadly our world has become, we are confronted with the demise of this fabulous Victorian mansion. Our landfills are filled with junk and endless stories such as this where beautiful and irreplaceable historic buildings, become refuge due to a disregard for the craftsmanship and talent of those builders that came before us.
    This building that still stands at the age of 131, after all the abuse its had to endure, is a true testament to her strength.
    The dwelling deserves to be saved, she is what you first see when entering our town, and could represent once restored, the unique community that Saugerties has become over the years.

    In a town that now has the diamond mill hotel, which replicates its vintage past, and the resurrected mill apartment complex which houses many families, We must stand up for the rights of this landmark, and give her back the beauty and dignity she deserves.

    I think this amazing place could become a very successful holistic healing arts center for example…
    By restoring her, she in turn would do the same for her community!
    Stand up and fight for this irreplaceable historic buildings that needs her communities help!
    And shame on those who’s greed has let her linger in this sad state for all these years!

  10. Jason Nagy

    I too have driven past this place many times growing up and wondered how magnificent it once was. Looking at most of the posts here, I think that it would be most appreciated by everyone if the structure was rebuilt/restored to it’s original form and used as a welcome center for the town. Local businesses could chip in and grants could be sourced and the building could serve as a historic reminder, educational forum and a visitor center. It could generate jobs for the local craftsmen to rebuild and jobs for local “historians” to teach visitors the history of the town. It’s important as a community to preserve the heritage of where you live. It builds unity and respect for your past, your present and the future.

  11. Darice Fisher

    This was my family’s home in the 50’s. they are the ones who turned it into a hotel, The Stonewall. My dad grew up in this house. And I grew up hearing all the great stories about it when my dad was still alive. I fell in love with this house and Saugerties long before my first visit. I hope there is some way to save it and restore it.

    1. mark smith

      Please go to ‘Friends of Clovelea’ on Facebook and become a friend for the preservation of this fantastic structure.

    2. mark smith

      I would love to hear more about your experience growing up at Clovelea. Please Email me at msmith2@hvc.rr.com. We have started a group of concerned Saugerties citizens who are interested in preserving this building.

  12. Penelope Milford

    Re: Mr Snyder’s comment:
    “The Lighthouse was derelict, but was fixed and that is the brand for this town.”… we thank ms milford at least for agreeing on the ‘derelict’ condition of 134 Burt St.

    Please don’t put words in my mouth, Mr. Snyder. I don’t agree with your uninformed and insensitive assessment of the value of Clovelea to our community.

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