"Nightmare on Elm Street" House Threatened
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | July 22, 2010
UPDATE: The Dewey House was demolished in November 2010.
Built in 1895 by local businessman F. L. Dewey, the three-story house Queen Anne Victorian once boasted pocket doors, stained-glass windows, and onion turrets. It became a fraternity house in 1956, and, predictably, its deterioration began.
In 1968, three Theta Chi brothers and their Clarkson University humanities professor, Wes Craven, conceptualized a short horror film set in 18 Elm Street. Craven wrote a screenplay that became the basis for the 1984 movie. When production began, however, the director chose to shoot in California and not inside the house that inspired the film.
By 2006, the house was in such disrepair that Potsdam's code-enforcement department cited the owner, another fraternity. "They were either unwilling or unable to do the repairs necessary, so they just abandoned it," says Marie Regan, town supervisor. Two years later, brothers Kip and Kevin Blanchard, bought the house and stripped out its windows, doors, copper pipes, and other architectural elements, according to Regan. "The building is now a shell," she says. "It really is not in good shape."
Potsdam bought the house from the Blanchards earlier this year as a possible site for new town offices. Regan hopes to move out of the existing 115-year-old town hall, which is under restoration, and move to new offices on the site of 18 Elm Street, but no plans have been finalized.
This month, a contractor is assessing the toxic materials in the house. That report, Regan says, "will determine how or when or if it will be demolished."
So far, more than 7,000 people have joined a Facebook group, "Save the Nightmare on Elm St. House," and 812 people have signed a petition urging Potsdam to restore the structure. Local resident Ryan Meashaw, who wrote the petition about a month ago, believes that a historic preservation society incorporated locally could save 18 Elm Street.
Village Historian Mimi Van Deusen, director of the Potsdam Public Museum, agrees, and is in the process of forming just such a nonprofit society. "We want to get everything done right and not hurry into it," Van Deusen says.
"We'd like to save the house, however it comes about," Meashaw says. "I'm perfectly fine with a [new] town hall, as long as it's in a restored, 1890 Queen Anne building … not some ugly box of a building." At a town board meeting last Tuesday, Meashaw and four other people spoke in favor of preserving the Dewey House. He hopes to raise about $60,000 to buy it from the village.
His efforts notwithstanding, town officials suggest that 18 Elm Street will in all likelihood be razed. "[Meashaw's group] would be better served to raise that money and save two or three buildings that could be saved," Town Supervisor Regan says.
The Dewey House isn't the first—or last—fraternity-owned house threatened in Potsdam, home to Clarkson University. "We have a lot of historic houses that unfortunately been turned into student housing," Meashaw says."There are lots of houses that the [future] preservation society could potentially save in the future."
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