Former Knowlton House Owner Wants to Set Record Straight

In Sunapee, the old town hall on Main Street is now listed on the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places. There is a town committee working to preserve the building because it is loaded with history and relatively rare architectural features including an old clock tower and circular, interior horse ramp. The current town library, Abbott Library, is severely limited by space and the board of trustees are dedicated to providing residents with a more functional facility that meets current-day standards.

So, it is not surprising that the old town hall is now being talked about as a possible site for the new town library. Proponents of the idea include members of the Abbott Library Building Committee committed to remaining open to new opportunities and members of Old Town Hall Committee. They want to see if the project is feasible.

Certainly, if the town likes the idea of the library and the old town hall coming together and the venture is successful, it would meet several community goals: provide for a new library, preserve one of Sunapee’s few iconic buildings and promote collaboration and cooperation in town.

However, some people worry that the collaborative project now emerging could be short-circuited without adequate public consideration. They recall what happened years ago when the Knowlton House was proposed as a possible home for the new library. It was never given a chance, says Sandy Rowse, who owned the historic home at the time. She eventually sold the property for use by the Lake Sunapee Protective Association.

As we approach 2010, assertions about the Knowlton House and its structural capacity appear to fuel opinions and questions about building new vs. recycling old and whether refurbishing an old building (such as the old town hall) is a practical idea and financially feasible.

Rowse, who is concerned that misinformation is being put out to the public, says no structural evaluation was completed when the Knowlton House was being considered for a library years ago.  She wants to set the record straight.

An article appeared in the September 29 (2009) issue of the Intertown Record concerning the Knowlton House and Sunapee’s reason for rejection of this property as the site for the “New” library.  The article made reference to the fact that a structural engineering evaluation had been made of the building and that it was determined that the building could not support the weight of all the books that would be housed there.

As the former owner of the Knowlton House, I think it is important for the community to know that Ross Stevens of Stevens Engineering did do a walk through of the property with me.  It was his opinion at that time that in order to make a determination of how much weight the building could or would be able to handle, a thorough structural examination would have to be done. The Library Committee chose NOT to have this structural evaluation done and Ross Stevens never contacted me for access to the property to do one. No other structural engineers went through the property.

I want to educate the people that still feel there was a structural survey done on Knowlton House. — Sandy Rowse

Knowlton House history goes back to 1888 when it was designed and constructed for Moses Knowlton by Hira Beckworth of Claremont. Beckworth also designed the depot at Claremont Junction, the Claremont and Newport Opera Houses, and the building that we now know as the Richards Library in Newport, NH.

In 1995, Sandy Rowse purchased the Knowlton House and undertook a thorough renovation of the old Victorian, often referred to as the” jewel of the harbor.” She operated the property as a function facility hosting weddings and special events before selling it in 2007 to the lake association.

SunapeeNews.com invites your comments about the old town hall and library project. Look for more articles on this topic in the near future.

Disclosure: The author of this article is a former member of the Sunapee Old Town Hall Committee.

2 Responses

  1. It is important to note that the InterTown Record article referenced above did not assert whether the engineering study had been completed or not, but simply quoted someone who stated that it had been. As the author of that article, I did not research an engineering study at Knowlton House. The purpose of the article was to relay the discussion held on the subject, not to affirm or deny the comments of the participants. So the article was not inaccurate. The InterTown did print Ms. Rowse’s clarification.

  2. One thing I have observed in New Hampshire towns is the red herring argument that it’s “impossible to solve structural problems” and it is raised as a reason to reject or at least hamper the use of an important historic building.

    The town of Northwood lost an important landmark, a structure dating from 1867 that served as a grange hall, private school, library and grade school. The people attacking claimed the second floor sways in the wind. No one realized until after the bulldozer was slamming into the building that a senior citizen stated it had been designed to sway when grand marches were held in the hall; if solid, the structure could fail. He used the example of soldiers marching across a wooden bridge do not walk in-step for fear that the bridge may fail.

    Also, in Northwood, a church, a National Historic Landmark built in 1840, had been semi-active for years when it decided to return to regular services. The red herring, “structural problems” arose. This time, a structural evaluation was done and the engineering firm said the building was in better shape than other wooden structures in the area including the town hall. They also expressed the opinion that the early wiring in the building was in excellent shape and would be able to serve for many years more.

    In Gilmanton, an historic barn that has been moved to town shows how historic structures can be adapted to new uses and save money in the process. The award-winning library was built without one cent of taxpayer money.

    In Meredith, a former mill, which was a hazardous waste site, was rebuilt by private enterprise. It has given the town a new a new taxable, business district that attracts many tourists and helps support the town and residents.

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