Save This Old House: A Queen Anne Catalog House in Need of Some Love

The historical relic deserves that "needle in a haystack" type of buyer who will bring it back to life.

The term “catalog house” sounds like a bit of a yawn, doesn’t it?

In the late 1800s, the carpenter and self-trained architect, George Franklin Barber, created some of the first mail-order catalogs for home blueprints, offering two options per design and moderately priced customization services, as well. The catalogs were marketed to the growing middle class, which might lead one to believe the designs were generic and uninspired. To the contrary: They were grand yet whimsical, often combining the best bits of disparate aesthetic movements to make beautiful abodes for the everyman.

Some Barber catalog houses have stood the test of time; more than fifty are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Others — like 14 Park Place in Woonsocket, design number forty-one in Barber’s Cottage Souvenir No. 2, A Repository of Artistic Cottage Architecture — have withered over the decades. But, under the right stewardship, 14 Park Place could be magical once again.

“We’re looking for that ‘needle in a haystack’ buyer who’s looking for something like this,” says real estate agent Michael Tessier of Nathan Clark and Associates, which listed the nearly 4,000-square-foot home last week. It was built circa 1889 by Joseph Bouvier, a grocer-turned-real estate broker and the first French-Canadian immigrant to participate in Woonsocket politics. The home is currently owned by a pair of antiques dealers.

There’s plenty of room for pause here. The property will not qualify for an FHA loan. The kitchen is in functional shambles. Even the most capable DIYers will call in reinforcements for the extensive plasterwork and exterior painting.

But the nearly acre-and-a-half lot is one of the largest in the city. The slate roof — slate roof, people! — is in good condition. Pocket doors — pocket doors are also worthy of exclamation marks! — are plentiful and the original oak floors need little more than a cleaning and light waxing. A massive carriage house sits out back. And the price is right (read: really, really cheap for the square footage).

One of the biggest drawbacks, Tessier admits, isn’t even on the property; it’s across the street. For more than a decade, the former Woonsocket Middle School/Junior-Senior High School has sat vacant, attracting vandals and squatters and, ironically, sometimes serving as a police training site. (More irony: The problematic land was originally part of the Bouvier estate; he sold the parcel to the city in 1913 for a sum of $20,000.)

After years of negotiations, a deal between a condo developer and the city fell through. Now, Woonsocket officials are considering demolishing the middle school altogether and building a park — a potential boon for whoever invests in 14 Park Place, but a tenuous one, considering the City Council’s track record.

Nevertheless, Tessier says, “I think it’s a great property; it’s from a different day and era. The character and charm is all there, it just needs someone who’s going to love it.”

Won’t somebody save this old house?

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