October 22, 2019

Highland Hall – A Part of the Town’s Cultural History

To The Editor:

We recently learned that the former Essex Elementary School (aka Highland Hall) is again slated for demolition. After a hiatus of almost five years its owner, Our Ladies of Sorrows Catholic Church, has again requested a demolition permit from the Town. The building is located behind the Church on Prospect St. and abuts and overlooks the Grove St. Park and Town Hall properties. It was constructed in 1920 and served as the Town’s elementary school until 1954, when it was sold and used as a convalescent home until its acquisition by the Church in 2004. The building has been vacant and unused for several years, thus one can presume that its condition has deteriorated, however the reason for demolition and future plans for the property have not been announced.  The Church has been asked to delay demolition in accordance with the Town’s delay of demolition ordinance, which gives interested parties the opportunity to explore and discuss ways to save the building.

Essex has lost many of its historic buildings to the wrecking ball over the past several years, a trend which is both alarming and likely to continue unless measures are taken to curb this trend. Each time a historic building is destroyed, a part of the Town’s culture and history is destroyed with it. The Town’s many wonderful old buildings are essential to the charm and character of Essex; they are, in a sense, its heart and soul and have drawn many of us to this community. Historic preservation is desirable because it enriches our lives and makes us proud. The Town has established an Architectural Design Review Subcommittee to study and recommend ways to preserve the integrity of the Town’s heritage, however its work is not yet complete.

We believe the School holds fond memories for many townspeople and is significant in terms of Town history; it is a “soul” worth saving and should not be hastily eradicated without exploring other alternatives. Surely there are many uses for this centrally located historic building that are far superior to alternatives involving demolition. However preservation requires commitment, imagination, time, effort, and money, all of which are scarce commodities. Whether or not the School can be preserved remains to be seen, however at the very least it deserves a thoughtful and meaningful discussion on preservation and reuse possibilities and  we urge the Church, all  interested parties, and the public at large to explore realistic options  for reuse and preservation, in accordance with the delay of demolition ordinance.

Sincerely,

Frederick and Mary Ann Pleva
Essex, CT

 

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