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The ‘Haunted House’ of Middlesex: A Window on the Past or a Neighborhood Eyesore?

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The historic ‘haunted house’ of Middlesex, in its prior state; photo by Dave Smith.
I love old houses. I like to imagine the generations who have called the building home as I pass by, playing a version of “if these walls could talk” in my head. For the past 40 years, I’ve watched a house in the center of Middlesex gradually fall apart, walls claimed by twisty grape vines, leaning precariously, but still standing — like a punch-drunk boxer. Folks in town call it the Haunted House, although there are no spooky stories of ghosts. It certainly looks the part. Middlesex resident Stanley Scribner remembers his childhood visits, when the local Fire Department decorated the house for kids at Halloween.

Patricia Wiley of the Middlesex Historical Society once considered buying and restoring the house but soon realized that it was too big a task. So the house sat empty, and for the past three months I’ve watched it gradually reduced to a skeleton as workers from Southgate Steeplejacks have taken the house down board by board. Although it was clearly a wreck, I still felt sad.

Assistant Town Clerk David W. Smith lives next door to the Haunted House. For 15 years he has grown fond of his decrepit neighbor, admiring its sturdy construction, which has been revealed as it has slowly been taken apart. ”I wanted a respectful end to the building,” he says.

Restoration specialist Jay Southgate began work in April, saving the floorboards and labelling the posts and beams, while Smith, a professional videographer, captured the demolition on video.

Southgate clearly loves and respects old houses, and has discovered some of its past by the slow demolition — a 60-foot ridge pole, the wide spruce floorboards, pine panel doors, beams up to 30 feet, evidence of two ten-foot deep sleeping porches on each level. He dates the house from about 1850 based on the saw blade marks on the boards, the horsehair in the plaster, and the framing and joinery.

Southgate holds out antique buttons found in the house. Photo by John Lazenby.
Stanley Scribner remembers that in the pantry, there was not one crack in the ceiling, and that it was “in remarkable condition” for its age. “Those massive beams were probably the reason it stood so long without falling over.”

Town historian Wiley remarks that the structure was likely used as a boarding house for the Irish workers who moved U.S. Route 2 to make way for the railroad in 1849. There were 19 rooms, with a barber shop, a tannery, and other businesses on the first floor, across from the Middlesex store. Surveys show more buildings and a barn in the back. The stone retaining wall that I admire passing by is in good shape.

A century ago, the Haunted House was known as the old Stockwell place, renting rooms until about 1920. For the next 40 years, the building was empty. 

State Archivist Alan Soule, who loved old houses, bought it at a tax sale in 1963 for $558, perhaps intending to restore it someday. When he died in 2016, his estate began the demolition process. 

Tools of the trade. Photo by John Lazenby.
Dave Smith and his family plan to purchase the property in order to increase their available land and, he says, “remove a possible temptation to firebugs.” Smith’s feelings about the demolition are complicated; his video chronicle will not only document the end of the Haunted House, but also examine the paradox of admiring and witnessing the end of such an aged structure.

By saving the timbers, there is a chance for another life for the Haunted House. ”It was unquestionably time to take the building down,”said Smith. “But we’re losing a valuable tie to the history of this village. It’s particularly sad after losing the local Methodist church to a fire in February.”

The building is expected to be entirely demolished by the first week of July.

When I pass by, I can see more and more of the beautifully laid stonework on this small plot formerly hidden by the house and appreciate what we can learn from this building about life in downtown Middlesex in the 19th century. 

If you have stories or memories of the Middlesex Haunted House on U.S. Route 2, contact David Smith at dave@davecaptures.com.

Linda Radtke lives in an old house in Middlesex.

Special thanks to Patricia Wiley, Stanley Scribner, Dave Smith, and Jay Southgate, and photographers Don Hirsch and John Lazenby.

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