Killingworth Balances Historic Preservation, Development
Conservation and preservation of historic structures is a process that many municipalities undertake in Connecticut. As one of the initial areas of concentrated European development in the Americas, the shoreline is replete with 200- to 300-year-old homes, making current development a challenge as towns must make hard decisions on what is of cultural and historical significance and what is not.
The Killingworth Plan of Conservation and Development spells out over 150 specific buildings and sites that are important assets for the town and embody its character, according to its charter.
Killingworth Municipal Historian Thomas Lentz said the preservation of both Killingworth’s historical and natural resources is critical to its future.
“All of these cultural assets add considerably to the charm and variety of Killingworth’s countryside. Killingworth still retains the flavor of a rural Colonial town. It is important that every historical structure and site in Killingworth be preserved. The loss of one diminishes the town a little, and if losses continue, the adverse effect on the town’s character is greater and becomes significant,” Lentz said.
Chair of Killingworth’s Historic Review Committee Elizabeth Disbrow said protecting Killingworth’s history is protecting American history.
“Preservation of historic structures is important because it gives us a visible connection to our town’s past. Killingworth was settled in 1667, making it one of the nation’s earliest settlements. Driving along Killingworth’s 75 miles of road, you will see a remarkable inventory of historic homes and structures. Churches, buildings, and dozens of houses remain occupied, some dating back to Revolutionary times,” said Disbrow.
The determination process is not an easy one for town officials. Killingworth officials strive to collaborate with homeowners, all while balancing the need for development and its economic opportunities against the efforts to preserve Killingworth’s unique history.
“The town has several mechanisms for protecting its historical and natural features,” said Lentz.
Disbrow added, “One of the ways the town stepped up to protect these structures was by enacting a Demolition Delay Ordinance. Any demolition of a house over 75 years needs to go before a Historic Review Committee, which will decide whether the structure is historically significant. A public hearing is held, allowing the public to speak regarding demolition. If, after receiving public input, the committee finds it “preferably preserved,” it can impose a delay of demolition of up to 180 days. During that time, the town works with the homeowner to find alternatives to demolition.”
According to Lentz, the town’s Town Plan of Conservation and Development states, “Much of Killingworth’s character is due to the presence of its historical buildings, houses, and sites.” The plan lists houses, structures, and sites that should be preserved. Included are about 150 historic houses listed in a survey of the town. It recommends that when applications for Special Exceptions and Subdivisions are submitted, the Planning and Zoning Commission should require that historically significant sites, structures, assets, and public access to them be donated to open space. Currently, applications for Special Exceptions and Subdivisions must include a Historical and Archeological Preservation Plan in which stone walls, carriage roads, mill sites, cow pens, and house foundations are shown on site plans and means for protecting them be described. The plan must be reviewed by the State Archaeologist.”
Among the properties cited by the commission as historical assets and that should be preserved, maintained, or improved include the Killingworth Congregational Church on Route 81, eight one-room schoolhouses — four in private hands and two each owned by the Killingworth Historical Society (KHS) and the town — numerous mill and factory sites, and more than 150 structures and houses. Other historic sites include missionary Titus Coan’s birthplace, the “agricultural renaissance cairns” on Buell Hill Road, and Native American rock shelters.
According to Lentz, preservation is a townwide effort encompassing structures and more than 1,000 acres of protected land.
“Many town residents are involved in preserving Killingworth. They serve on elected and appointed committees and commissions, including the Planning and Zoning Commission, Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, Conservation Commission, Historic Review Committee, and Open Space Committee. Volunteers serve on the Killingworth Land Conservation Trust and participate in the activities of the Killingworth Historical Society. These volunteers work to preserve the character of Killingworth and ensure that it remains an attractive and pleasant place to live,” Lentz said.