Looking at the peeling paint and rickety stairs that characterize the ramshackle Stannard House on Route 7, it’s hard to believe the structure isn’t a lost cause.
But that’s the latest verdict from a group determined to restore dignity to a home likely built and possibly inhabited by the man who won the battle of Gettysburg.
Georgia, Vt.-born Civil War Gen. George Stannard is credited with stopping a key Confederate charge by launching a flank attack that stabilized the Union stronghold. After the war, Stannard built the Milton home and a barn that accommodated his war injury, a lost arm.
The structure, now on the plot occupied by Gardener’s Supply near the town line, was listed on the Vermont Historic Register in 1980.
But that – and a fresh coat of exterior paint – is all there is to say for it. No marker indicates its existence; there’s no memorial or statue like the one commemorating his birth just up the road in Georgia.
Noted historian and author Howard Coffin thinks that needs to change.
“Let’s see what we can do,” he told an assembled crowd last month. “Let’s put up a fight for him; he fought for us.”
Coffin’s battle cry was enough to ignite passion in the nearly 30 Milton folks who form an unofficial committee to revive the Stannard House. Two dozen of them attended a site inspection on August 20, with Coffin, local contractor Craig Adams and building owner and philanthropist Bob Miller.
After touring the derelict structure, attendees quizzed Adams and Miller about the lifesaving potential for the 1,600-square-foot, 1840s-era home.
Adams, pointing at the foundation, said it’s not “structurally critical” and that anything is salvageable with enough money. He and Miller estimated it could cost $300,000 and up to restore it, depending on if any grants required using like materials.
Miller, owner of REM Development and 2 million square feet of real estate in Vermont, has given to many causes, most recently $13 million to Fletcher Allen Health Care, the largest in the hospital’s history.
Miller told the group to go forward with its plans, which he’ll support with $10,000 to $20,000 in seed money. Group consensus indicated an ice shield for the failing roof might be the first step.
Miller also said if the group finds a use for the structure, he’s amenable to a $1 annual lease.
“We feel it’s a privilege to be asked” to help, Miller said. “It’s fun to give away money when you can change the life of a family or whole group of people.”
Selectboard Chairman Darren Adams, a war buff and Air National Guardsman, would be thrilled if something came of the house, which, in its current state, doesn’t pay homage to a hero.
“This is the gateway of Milton; the whole town deserves better than this,” he said. “It’s been a failed property all my life.”
Still, he realizes cost could inhibit change: “We might have to face the music and realize that we can’t afford to rebuild this and [instead] give him the proper marker here he doesn’t have,” he said.
The group may also face permitting barriers: Any renovations, including demolition, have to be OK’d by the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation, said Devin Colman with that office.
But Coffin said if there’s any time to help Stannard’s cause, it’s now, given 2013 marked Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary. Coffin promised to wield his influence at the Statehouse this session to garner support, but some people doubted the legislature will appropriate any funds.
“There’s always money for highways; there’s always money for basketball programs. Why can’t there be money for something more important, like this?” Coffin asked.
Bill Kaigle, vice president of the Milton Historical Society and an organizer of the visit, didn’t let money talk deter him from hope.
“Nobody here today was trying to talk anybody out of anything,” he said. “I’m just encouraged.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly named Bill Kaigle as the president of the Milton Historical Society; he is the vice president, and Allison Belisle is president. We regret the error.