Historic Columbus Building Sits Empty, Deteriorating After Money Spent To Restore It Years Ago


UPDATED: Thursday November 8, 2012 11:15 PM

Frank Dematteo wishes the walls of the Griggs Reservoir dam tender’s house could talk.

Dematteo, from Demarco Roofing, said that the house was built in 1816 by the Richards family, on land deeded by President John Adams. It was one of the first houses in Perry Township.

After Grigg's Dam was built in 1908, they needed a place for the dam keeper, or dam "tender" to live. The Richards place was perfect.

Over the years, it became an eyesore and was destined to be demolished.

“You don't want to get rid of this type of history. The setting is great. It's in a park. You couldn't ask for any better of a location,” said Dematteo.

The city agreed. In 2003, WBNS-10TV took you inside the then-187-year-old house just before restoration work was to begin.

The city had just approved money to stabilize the building and work was expected to begin immediately.

However, nothing happened for three more years, and the building continued to deteriorate.

Photos from 2006 show the structure covered in graffiti. It was a home for vandals and the roof caved in.

Dematteo said it was still a solid stone building with walls a foot thick.

Eventually, Dematteo's company won the $200,000 job to begin stabilizing it.

“We did this job in about 90 days, and we did it under budget,” he said.

The city proudly announced restoration was completed, and promptly put a fence around it.

An $8,000 study was done to determine what to do with the space. Suggestions included turning it into a restaurant, events center, boathouse or office space.

That was in 2007.

The ideas seem to be frozen in time, while time continues to weather away at this unique piece of Columbus history.

The home's roof collapsed again in last summer's severe windstorm.

“Disappointment, you know.  You don't want to see things like this happen,” said Dematteo.

Watchdog 10 is now asking the city what the ultimate plan is for this building.

“It's a house, and it's a difficult facility to find a public use for,” said Alan McKnight, Director Columbus Recreation and Parks.

McKnight said that there are no immediate plans to spend taxpayer money to restore the building, other than stabilize the broken roof.

“So the city basically spent $200,000 to clean it up, and fix it up, and then moth-balled it for the past six years. Is that basically what happened?” asked Watchdog 10’s Kurt Ludlow.

“I think that as a historic structure the city felt it had merit to try to preserve the facility,” responded McKnight.

McKnight watched the 2003 WBNS-10TV story, and it reminded him of what appeared to be the building’s promising future.

"It's an interesting structure. It's got a lot of history to it and because of that history is why we're taking our time to do this.  It's not that we're neglecting it.  But we need to see what that best use is, and we really haven't found that to date,” said McKnight.

The house remains empty and secluded as it has for the past six years.

The Richards family is long gone. Their family plot is just across Riverside Drive from the home they built and from which the dam tenders opened the city's water valves.

For now, Dematteo can only wait, and watch and wonder whether the Richards dam tenders home's best days are over, or if they are yet to come.

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