New General’s Residence rises from empty lot in Madison after nearly 2 years since demolition

MADISON — Since its demolition nearly two years ago, some who treasured the former General’s Residence worried when they would drive past the empty lot where the iconic house once stood.

In recent weeks, however, passersby could see the see a Tyvek-covered structure begin to emerge. It eventually will become a replica of the 18th century house overlooking Route 1.

Denny Van Liew, chairman of the Preservation Committee of the Madison Historical Society, was happy to see the reproduction being built.

“I am delighted to see that going up,” Van Liew said. “It was always intended to be the last building — people were nervous.”

This final building will be the “manse” in a cluster development designed to look like a village, General’s Residences at Fence Creek, overlooking Fence Creek Marsh, according to Madison architect Duo Dickinson. So far, eight out of nine homes have sold for between $1.1 million and $1.3 million each.

And the exterior of the clapboard house will look authentic, he said.

“This recreation of the General’s Residence basically, simply is The General’s Residence. It’s just a different time we built it, that’s all,” said Dickinson, who designed all of the buildings in the project.

Although demolition of the neglected house was controversial, saving the existing structure was not an option, he said.

“As we learned when we removed it — the center of the back of the house was completely gone. It was coming down, whether we took it down or not,” Dickinson said.

The developers had two options at that point, he said.

“Do you tear it down completely and put brand new things there?” Dickinson said. “I thought it was a terrible idea.”

Instead, “We recreate it. We respect it and we don’t ignore it,” he said.

“You cannot invent history, but this is really a veneration of that building. It’s not an insult. This isn’t a vinyl-sided, developer-windowed thing,” Dickinson added.

He noted the Madison Historical Society and the Madison Historic Commission closely reviewed the plans.

“It’s the best that can be done to meet all the local codes and have the skin be what two groups of volunteers who studied it and know what it is and determined what it should be,” Dickinson said.

Van Liew said, “This final home that they’re building there is in conformance with the Planning & Zoning Commission.”

In addition to getting the approvals needed, “The whole thing has been extremely challenging,” Dickinson said about the timeline. He noted that supply chain issues as well as scarcity of materials due to the recent building boom caused some delay.

The original historic house, a mishmash of styles and historical periods from when it was built in the 1700s and altered over decades, was painstakingly dismantled in fall 2020. Architectural features, woodwork, original timbers and more were catalogued and photographed for Madison Historical Society records.

The developers faithfully are adhering to the design of the original exterior.

“The porches will be identical, the trim is identical, the little overhang is identical, the cornices are identical,” Dickinson said.

“We photographed it and gave a huge array of actual blow-ups of the photographs for the people that are trimming it out so they can see how it was done,” he said.

Historic Preservation Consultant Rachel Carley was hired to make a report on the project.

“The house was not treated well during its time,” Dickinson said. “The interior was pretty hoovered out. It was a pretty tough interior.”

The General’s Residence, called “the Old Ark” by one owner, saw significant alterations over the years, ells and a porch were added, as well as newer, whole sections to the house. Later-period recycled timbers were discovered among original parts of the house, according to Carley’s report.

Other surprises included examples of slapdash construction — some interior walls were sheathed in solid pine planking 2 inches thick. Craftsmanship and joinery was uneven where some construction appeared improvised or “make-do.”

Considered an “old fashioned curiosity” at the turn of the 20th century, the home did not have running water until the early 1900s when its first bathroom was installed, and had rudimentary heating — fireplaces and stoves — and the kitchen was in the cellar, according to the report.

It’s not a simple task to replicate a historic building that continually changed over two centuries, Van Liew agreed.

“One of the challenges with the General’s Residence was it was started in the late 1700s and it was modified and added to its entire life up to before World War II,” Van Liew said.

“So people said, ‘Are they going to build it like the General’s Residence?’” Van Liew said. “The answer is yes, but we had to make decisions. What General’s Residence are we talking about — 1820s General’s Residence or 1920s General’s Residence?”

“It’s going to resemble the way it looked before it was demolished,” he said.

Now the General’s Residence is getting a second life with new construction from the ground up. It will house two units, 2,250 square feet each.

“The big gables are going up, they’re framing the roof right now,” Dickinson said. “I think people are beginning to see the shape is the shape” of the old house, Dickinson said.

Pieces of the original house, now in the possession of the Madison Historical Society, will be used inside as decorative elements.

“We’re going to try to use a lot — we salvaged at least 20 or 30 of the old timbers of the old building and we’re going to use those and also corner cabinets and fireplace fronts,” Dickinson said.

Masons are rebuilding the old stone wall, using “all original materials, all the old stuff because it’s right there,” he added.

And it looks as it did before, Dickinson said. “They’ve repaired some of it, it was so good you can hardly tell it was done.”

The developers are including black wood shutters that appeared in early photographs of the house “because that was really a part of the aesthetic of the building,” Dickinson said.

The Madison Historical Society “found some real cool photographs of it,” Dickinson said. “Nobody that I know has seen that building with the original wood shutters on it.”

There are other features residents easily will recognize, such as the distinctive door, which was “heavily rotted,” that will be replicated, for instance.

“They basically salvaged the door when it was reconstructed,” Van Liew said. A millwright is using the original door as a template to build a reproduction that’s “supposed to look like the door that was there.”

Sometime after the house is built, the historical society plans on holding an exhibit on the General’s Residence or doing an online exhibit, Van Liew said.

“So that history of that building and what it represents to Madison is not going to go away,” Van Liew said. “We captured it all.”