The historic Whitney House is now facing imminent demolition following a devastating fire on Jan. 20, 2023.
The incident was thoroughly investigated by the University of Connecticut’s Fire Department Fire Marshal Unit; Building Official David Houseman Jr. provided support and facilitated inspections. The fire’s origin was pinpointed: they determined the fire began in the first floor west wall bathroom area due to an electric cable blowout. It was ruled an accidental fire with no signs of human tampering. The case was officially closed for investigation on Feb. 24, 2023.
The Whitney House’s demolition will follow a two-phase plan. Phase one involves the development of a comprehensive decommissioning plan, featuring experts in various fields. Phase two includes the removal of materials, including asbestos, as well as disconnection, removal
, and disposal of utilities. A specialized demolition company will be engaged to ensure a thorough removal process.
This 19th-century building, constructed between 1802 and 1807, holds a rich history that once housed the International House and Rainbow House. Despite its significance, the Whitney House has remained vacant since 2004 and has since been deemed unfit for occupancy and beyond feasible repair, as confirmed by UConn’s University Planning, Design and Construction website.
Ann Galonska, the museum director of the Mansfield Historical Society, has referenced Mansfield land records spanning volumes 1-54 in her research of the Whitney House. Her research highlights that the Whitney House’s original owner was John Gilbert Jr. Over time, it changed hands, including ownership by the Storrs family, before becoming the residence of Edwin Whitney. Whitney later donated it to the state, where it served as the Connecticut Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home. The property eventually passed into the hands of Augustus Storrs, who offered it to the state for the establishment of the Storrs Agricultural School before it became UConn.
In response to the upcoming demolition, the university has engaged with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the Town of Mansfield. They have also submitted a Project Review Cover Form to SHPO, seeking approval for asbestos abatement.
On July 3, 2023, UConn published a Notice of Scoping in the Environmental Monitor to gather public input on the project. A public scoping meeting was held on Oct. 3, 2023, as announced by Sean Vasington, director of site planning in the University Landscape Architect Office.
Regarding the preservation of historical aspects or commemorations, Thomas Haskell, currently overseeing the project, mentioned that there is “ little left for salvage.” However, efforts are being made to save the stone foundations in order to indicate the location and site coverage of Whitney House. Consideration is also being given to the installation of a historic plaque or marker. The project is being closely coordinated with the SHPO.
Aside from the environmental permitting processes, there appears to be limited engagement with the local community and stakeholders.
While the project primarily focuses on demolition and asbestos abatement, environmental considerations related to hazardous materials are being addressed. However, there are no specific sustainability measures incorporated into the demolition plans for the Whitney House.