Commentary: Dover landmark Scull Mansion must be saved

By Nate Attard

For anyone who has walked on South State Street recently, an ominous yellow sign sits outside the Scull Mansion. The sign mentions an upcoming meeting of the city of Dover Planning Commission on Oct. 19. At this meeting, the commission is being asked to review a master plan application that would result in the demolition of this landmark building.

Scull Mansion in Dover.

Like many of you, I was shocked to learn that this remarkable Italianate-style stucco house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Greenwold, was not an object of admiration and pride to Bayhealth Hospital, but a structure in the way of additional parking spaces.

The reason this house is threatened by a parking lot is because that, contrary to popular perception, the National Register designation that the house holds offers no protection from demolition — that action is left by the National Register to your local government. Unfortunately, the city of Dover did not place the house in the historic district, which would have offered the city review authority over its demolition. Though I want to fault the city for this, I also empathize with city officials, who likely perceived the demolition of this house as almost unimaginable.

The city of Dover has decided on this issue before. The National Register of Historic Places is very much a misnomer; the listing for the Scull House was initiated locally, as are most listings on the register. When the house was listed on the register in 1973, it showed the remarkable foresight of Sarah Scull and her understanding of the value of the National Register program, which was initiated only seven years earlier. We are having this debate today because this house is a remarkable building, but also because this house was listed on the National Register. The listing solidified the position of the house as a Dover landmark.

The Scull Mansion was arguably the grandest house in Dover for a century. 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.

Since channeling my shock into an online petition, more than 360 people, including more than 160 Dover residents, have signed my request that has asked Bayhealth to preserve the house or sell it to someone who will. I am appreciative of everyone who has signed on to this petition and shared it with others.

Like many of you, I do not want to see a division between the city and our hospital over this issue. 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.

It is imperative that those in opposition to this application continue to make their voices known to the Planning Commission, which can reject this application under the provisions of the city of Dover Zoning Code, Article 5, Section 11. A subsection of this section calls on the Planning Commission to consider the preservation and enhancement of scenic resources potentially affected by proposed development, to include buildings listed on the National Register. This application fails to consider the scenic resource that is the Scull Mansion. If demolished, even if commemorated, it will no longer be a scenic resource to the city of Dover.

If this application is rejected by the Planning Commission, the City Council needs to step up and find a way to provide historic district protections to this structure at its next council meeting. The city of Dover decided this building to be a landmark with its listing in 1973. At this writing 360 people and counting have validated this landmark status to date by signing on to a petition seeking its protection.

We do not need to decide the landmark status of the Scull Mansion again.

Nate Attard is a resident of Dover.