For several years, three 19th century buildings in the heart of downtown Bristol had been largely vacant. The Tomasi House, built in 1813, required extensive renovations, and, with its ancient steam boiler and scant insulation, promised a future of high energy costs. Next door was a former boarding house, originally constructed in 1810, whose poor upkeep and construction had made it a virtual teardown. A third building, an Italianate jewel, was built in 1863. It was once the home of the prominent Peake family, which had owned the house for 120 years. It had been lovingly preserved and retained many original details, but was becoming rundown.
These three buildings play an important role in the village – located across from the town green, featured in local murals celebrating the town’s past, and forming an important part of the residential neighborhood adjoining the downtown business district. The economics of restoring any of these houses was not encouraging. It would take a community with a charitable impulse to pull this off.
The urge to preserve the existing streetscape was part of what motivated the developers of Bristol Village Cohousing to acquire the three properties. The plan was to create 14 units of housing on the three parcels. Five small cottages were built on the rear of the property and a triplex designed to match the local vernacular filled in a gap in the North Street frontage. In addition, the existing 19th century houses were afforded a new life:
• The Tomasi house was divided into two energy-efficient townhouses without affecting the building’s exterior. Replacement windows match the original window patterns. Many original interior details were maintained.
• The Peake house has been repurposed as a cohousing Common House. With upgrades for fire safety and accessibility, some paint and plaster , the building now bustles with activity. It is the center point for cohousing community meals, and creative and recreational pastimes. It has also been used by the broader Bristol community for educational workshops, community meetings and celebrations.
• The former boarding house could not be saved. But before the building was torn down, the original façade was preserved, and then reattached to the new structure built in its place. The new structure mimicked many of the original building’s design details, including reconstructing the large porch that fronted North Street. The building now houses four energy efficient condominium apartments.
The new cohousing development was completed in June of 2017, with homeowners moving in over the next few months. Bristol’s newest neighbors have contributed to the economic vibrancy of the downtown area, shopping and dining at the nearby commercial town center and actively volunteering in the schools and local nonprofits. We hope that the Preservation Trust will recognize this effort to give new life to the village and these important Bristol community landmarks.