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By Hiroko Sato


GROTON — Saying the Old Groton Inn destroyed by fire on Aug. 2 holds irreplaceable significance in the town’s history and its social fabric, the Historical Commission vowed to help preserve any piece of the 333-year-old landmark.

“We do intend to do whatever we can to retain pieces of the culture that the inn demonstrates,” Commission Chairman Alvin Collins told the standing-room-only crowd that gathered for the board’s meeting on Aug. 5.

“For the past couple of days, we have been hearing that the heart of the community is gone or severely damaged,” Commissioner Michael Roberts said. “We need to have it healed some way.”

Nearly three days after the Old Groton Inn, a downtown landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, went up in flames, the Historic Commission gathered in an emergency meeting to collect public testimonials about the structure’s historic significance. The commission typically holds such a hearing when a property owner seeks a permit for demolition of a historic building so that the board can place a delay on the demolition process while determining the structure’s historic value and working out ways to preserve it. In case of the Old Groton Inn, there is no application for demolition. But Collins said the building inspector could order the building be torn down for safety reasons at any time, and that the commission could use the information gathered in the hearing to buy some time.

“The concept of delay allows clear-headed thinking for the future,” Commissioner Richard Dabrowski said.

“The purpose of this meeting is to clarify and validate there is a strong sentiment in this town to preserve our history in architectural examples,” Historic District Commission Chairman Daniel Barton, who sat in the audience, said during the meeting.

Built on the land that the Rev. Samuel Willard, the first pastor of the First Meeting House, owned in 1659, the circa-1678 inn undoubtedly has historic significance, the commissioners said. Around 1800, Groton was a hub for stagecoach lines coming from Boston, Lowell, Nashua and Amherst, N.H., and Burlington, Vt., and the Old Groton Inn, which was then called the Central House, was regarded as the stagecoach inn, Collins said.

But the building that stands in the town’s center, showing off its “old charms that could not be replicated,” means more than just a piece of history to many residents, Collins said. Roberts said he, for one, hopes to see the structure replicated.

Dabrowski, Barton and town Land Use Department assistant Paula Martin reminded people, however, that the property belongs to inn owner George Pergantis. In response to questions from the audience, Collins noted that the commission may have some clout in what could happen to the site should Pergantis decide to demolish it.

“The site is clearly and completely covered in the historic district,” Dabrowski said. And, therefore, “a certificate of appropriateness” is required whatever may be constructed there, he said.

Martin noted that little could happen to the site until fire officials conclude their investigation and the property is released back to Pergantis. Selectman Stuart Schulman said safety should be the top priority in determining what can be done to the building.

The commission had a consensus that it will communicate the board’s and residents’ desire to see pieces of the inn preserved and do whatever they could to help him do just that. Roberts said the fact that the inn is on the National Register makes it possible for the town to tap into the Community Preservation Act funding to help its preservation.

Schulman said after the meeting that the fire remains under investigation. Fire officials are looking into several possible causes, including a lightning strike, Schulman said.

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