Dover’s Scull Mansion in crosshairs of history, progress

The reason the Scull Mansion is threatened by a parking lot is because the National Register of Historic Places designation that the house holds offers no protection from demolition — the National Register leaves that action to local government. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

DOVER — Just a short drive down South State Street from Dover’s historic district, history appears to once again be standing in the way of perceived progress.

And that has many residents concerned about the future of the Scull Mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Greenwold.

A city of Dover Development Advisory Committee meeting in late September revealed a proposed site development master plan in which Bayhealth, Kent Campus, is seeking the construction of 453 new parking spaces that will be built over the course of three phases in Dover.

However, the plan shows the possible demolition of buildings on the east side of South State Street in each phase, for a total of seven buildings demolished — including the historic Scull Mansion — to accommodate the new parking.

Bayhealth’s master plan was scheduled to proceed forward at an Oct. 19 meeting of the city’s Planning Commission, but city staff read a letter from Bayhealth that stated the application for its site plan approval was deferred to a later date to be determined by the applicant. The reason given was for the organization to continue stakeholder outreach.

“We asked the Dover Planning Commission to table our plans to expand parking for our Kent Campus so that we can meet with those community members who expressed concerns,” Michael Metzing, Bayhealth’s vice president of corporate support services, said in a statement. “Our mission is to improve the health of our community, one life at a time.

“Continuing to grow to meet the needs of our community presents unique challenges for a health system located in an urban environment. We are open to hearing from those who may have ideas that would help us maximize our limited resources to ensure we can effectively care for our community. We look forward to the discussion to come and sharing our plans.”

Danielle Pro-Hudson, spokesperson for Bayhealth, said Tuesday that hospital officials are still in the planning process to meet with members of the community and do not have a date to share for a meeting yet.

The reason the Scull Mansion is threatened by a parking lot is because the National Register of Historic Places designation that the house holds offers no protection from demolition — the National Register leaves that action to local government.

However, the house sits just outside of the city of Dover’s historic district, which would have offered the city review authority over its demolition.

Upon hearing the news of the possible fate of the Scull Mansion, Dover resident Nathan Attard organized a petition to save it on the Friends of Old Dover’s Facebook page, which has accumulated more than 452 signatures.

“It shows that Bayhealth is reconsidering its approach, which is positive,” Mr. Attard said. “However, we don’t know what they are considering with this delay. All I know about the delay is what was read in the delay request from Bayhealth to the City of Dover.

“Bayhealth purchased a house on the National Register of Historic Places and should be credited for taking care of it for more than 40 years. Listing on the Register is not an easy process, and it is done by people in the community, not by people who come to town looking for landmark buildings. It’s long been accepted as a city landmark. It’s not surprising there is opposition.”

Mr. Attard was shocked to learn that the Italianate-style stucco house that sits at 625 S. State St. was not a revered piece of Dover’s history, but rather a building that stands in the way of additional parking spaces. The house, which was built in 1863, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

The style of the Civil War-era Scull Mansion was relatively rare in Dover due to the community’s interest in Colonial Revival designs at the time of construction.

“The Scull Mansion was arguably the grandest house in Dover for a century,” Mr. Attard wrote, in an Opinion column that appeared in the Delaware State News on Oct. 15. “It was built in 1863 by Manlove Hayes, a Kent County farmer, steamship line owner, clerk of the Delaware Senate and state representative. It was passed on to his heirs, the Wilson family, who sold it to Sarah Scull and her husband, Dr. Carl Scull. Sarah Scull sold the house to Kent General Hospital (now Bayhealth), which has stewarded this structure ever since.”

Bayhealth’s initial plan to add parking would increase the facility’s parking spaces from 227 to a total of 680 spots on the Scull property.

Phase 1 proposes 290 parking spaces, followed by Phase 2’s 72 parking spaces and Phase 3’s 91 parking spots, plus a connection to South State Street at the South Street intersection.

The properties that will be turned into parking lots measure 11.43 acres and are located on the east side of South State Street in the block between South Street and Scull Terrace. The owners of record are Bayhealth Medical Center Inc. and KGH Development Corp. The parcels are proposed to be consolidated before the project begins.

“Like many of you, I do not want to see a division between the city and our hospital over this issue,” Mr. Attard wrote in his letter. “The hospital only exists because we are here to be its patients, and we depend on the hospital for medical care. I implore Bayhealth to consider other options. This building is a wonderful asset to your campus and can continue to be.

“A commercial rehabilitation of this structure provides you eligibility for the federal historic preservation tax credit, which a skilled preservation consultant can help you take advantage of as a nonprofit. A sale of the structure to a preservation-minded buyer could also support the hospital’s bottom line and core mission of providing quality health care.”

Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen is among those who has expressed concern with preserving the Scull Mansion. He hopes the hospital and the community can come to a resolution that is amenable to both parties.

“My projection is the Scull parking lot is going to give (the hospital) ample parking,” Mayor Christiansen said. “I hope that they are able to maintain that historic building (Scull Mansion) because the Scull property was the first hospital in Dover with a doctor’s office, and it was the first medical facility the city of Dover had.”

Mr. Attard said that Bayhealth officials have not reached out to him specifically, but he didn’t expect them to.

“No, but I am just one person in a community who put together a petition,” he said. “The entire city is with whom they need to find an amicable solution. Many people in our city are committed to historic preservation.

“Some show it actively, but many more show it every time they put money into their old houses. In our city code, we have a local historic district, and are a Certified Local Government (https://www.nps.gov/clg/) with the National Parks Service, which indicates that our elected leaders have taken actions to show that Dover cares about historic buildings.”

Mr. Attard is hoping that Bayhealth can find a way to preserve the Scull property and find a creative use for it.

“We appreciate Bayhealth’s stewardship of this property until the year 2020. Bayhealth has found numerous acceptable uses for this house since it took ownership, and ideally, these would continue,” he wrote. “We ask that you continue in this stewardship role of this piece of Dover’s history or allow others the opportunity to do so through sale of the historic house, with requisite protection, such as a preservation easement, that will allow for its restoration. “We are aware that the city of Dover has created no form of legal protection for this property or any properties outside its designated historic district, and technically, this can take place without review by the Historic District Commission. We implore you as our community’s hospital to please consider the good of the community in this action. Once lost, this piece of history cannot be replaced. Its removal will forever change the landscape of South State Street and erase the memories above that belong to it.”

Mr. Attard added that he wasn’t a member of the Friends of Old Dover until he realized what all the organization does. He has since become a member since putting up his petition to save the Scull Mansion.

“I was not (a member) when I created the petition, but I joined after some of their members reached out,” he said. “It’s great we have an organization who advocates for historic preservation and I encourage others who care about this issue to join, as they have been working on efforts like this for a long time.”