Resident seeks historic designation for Bald Hill area

Wilton resident Kelly Morron has been spearheading the effort to get the Bald Hill area of Wilton designated a historic district.

Morron said she chose to move into the early-19th Century farmhouse at 846 Ridgefield Road 15 years ago because of the “architectural charm” of not only the home but the neighborhood.

“The portion of Ridgefield Road I live on is designated a state scenic road,” said Morron, “and the area is historically known as Bald Hill.”

In the 19th Century, the Bald Hill section of town was a small village with a church, cemetery, post office, schoolhouse, and general store.

The “well-preserved cluster of historic homes at the intersection of Ridgefield and Millstone roads,” then Wilton Historic Districts and Historic Properties Commission Chair Colleen Fawcett told The Bulletin back in September, makes Bald Hill “an ideal center for a new historic district.”

After moving into the neighborhood, Morron started learning more about the history of her property.

“A barn had been moved to become part of the house in the late 1800s,” she said, “and there had been a one-room schoolhouse on the property from 1830 to 1931, when it was then moved to become part of the house next door.”

Two houses just south of Morron’s home were neighborhood stores in the 1800s, and across Ridgefield Road stood the first Methodist church in Wilton — built in the 1830s and dismantled in 1938.

“The former parsonage remains, and the charming Bald Hill Cemetery is still active,” said Morron.

Over time, Morron said, she began to “appreciate the numerous vintage and antique homes” in her neighborhood.

“I was amazed by the richness of the character of the buildings and structures,” she said, “such as stone walls and barns.”

While researching her property at town hall, Morron discovered that the Bald Hill schoolhouse had been moved from her property to a neighboring one, but she “ran into so many mare’s nests in the old records” that she began researching surrounding properties to try and make sense of her own.

“Each property has historical idiosyncrasies. It’s fascinating,” said Morron, who was then directed to Wilton Library History Room volunteer Carol Russell.

“Carol showed me a lot of old maps that showed that the northwest corner of Wilton historically developed around Ridgefield Road, which was known as ‘Bald Hill Road’ or ‘Ridgefield-Wilton Road’ until about 1960,” she said.

At the suggestion of Russell and Wilton Historic Districts and Historic Properties Commission member Allison Sanders, Morron said, she began to investigate “whether a historic district designation might be a good way to preserve and protect the character” of the Bald Hill neighborhood.

With that, Morron and a neighbor identified “a neighborhood of distinctive character” along a stretch of Ridgefield Road between Vista Road and Scarlet Oak Drive, as well as an approximate quarter-mile along Millstone Road.

The limits of the proposed historic district — which would include “69 houses and five other properties,” said Morron — would be:

  • Ridgefield Road: 704 Ridgefield Road to 974 Ridgefield Road on the east side, 715 Ridgefield Road to 165 Scarlet Oak Drive on the west side.

  • Millstone Road: 24 to 48-52 Millstone Road on the north side and 3 to 47 Millstone Road on the south side.

“My neighbor and I sent a letter to the owners of the neighborhood properties,” said Morron, “and have hosted two informational meetings where members of the [historic commission] attended to answer questions.”

The meetings were private, said Morron, and there have been “a range of reactions to the proposal.”

“Many are enthusiastically in favor and some are not,” she said. “We will be starting to contact our neighbors and hope to hear from others to begin the process of going forward.”

Historic districts and misconceptions

In an effort to preserve and protect their character and integrity, the Historic Districts and Historic Properties Commission monitors Wilton’s historic districts and individually designated historic properties by following guidelines developed by the National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior.

Although the commission is an appointed town commission separate from the Wilton Historical Society, the society plays an important role in maintaining the town’s history by owning and maintaining all the structures in Historic Districts No. 1 (Lambert Corner) and No. 5 (Wilton Historical Society Museum Complex).

Morron said a common misconception is that “an owner can’t make any changes to a property in a historic district.”

“While inclusion in a historic district aims to protect the community from radical change, that is definitely not to say that the objective is zero changes,” she said.

Wilton’s historic commission encourages and aids the creation of new historic districts, as it is “one of the best ways to protect the historic character of buildings, streetscapes and neighborhoods from inappropriate alterations, incompatible new construction and other poorly conceived work,” according to the town’s website.

Historic designation does not prevent or protect a home from being altered or even demolished. Last year, for example, the Schlichting Homestead at 183 Ridgefield Road, which was designated a historic home, was demolished.

“The designation as a historic district does not affect change. In fact, the objective of the historic district designation is to preserve the distinctive characteristics of historically and architecturally significant buildings and places,” said Morron.

“To the extent there is any kind of change, it is that the community would strive to maintain the character of the neighborhood.”

Another misconception, Morron said, is that having a home in a historic district reduces the value or desirability of that property in resale.

“Economic studies of historic districts show that inclusion in a historic district generally enhances the value of a property, and that property values tend to remain more stable,” said Morron.

In 2011, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation conducted a study on historic districts and property values in the Connecticut towns of Milford, Canton, Windsor, and Norwich and found no evidence that being in a local historic district reduces property values.

“In fact,” the report states, “in three of the four communities, properties within historic districts have had an annual increase in value greater than that of properties in the community as a whole.”

The study also found that:

  • Property values in every local historic district saw average increases in value ranging from 4% to more than 19% per year.

  • There appeared to be a 2% to 4% value premium resulting from location within a local historic district.

  • On a composite basis, the rate of foreclosure of properties within historic districts was half the rate outside the districts.

  • In square-foot comparisons based on age and style, properties within local historic districts were worth more than similar properties not within the districts.

The process of initiating a Bald Hill historic district has not yet entered the public procedure, said Morron, but her first step will be to form a study group to “research the properties and assess the proposed scope” of the effort.

Click here to learn more about historic districts and properties in Wilton.